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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Remembering James E. Gunn and His Alternate Worlds

July 7th, 2021

July 12 would have been James E. Gunn’s 98th birthday. Though KU’s legend of science fiction died on December 23rd of last year, Gunn (1923-2020) leaves a legacy as one of the genre’s most notable writer-scholars. An author and editor of roughly 50 books (critical studies, works of fiction, and anthologies) with more than 100 short stories to his name, Gunn helped to make Lawrence, Kansas a hub for science fiction. Chris McKitterick, a writer and former student of Gunn’s who succeeded him as Director of KU’s Center for the Study of Science Fiction, affectionately referred to him as “Science Fiction’s Dad” in an illustrated memorial on the Center’s website.

Photograph of James E. Gunn during the 1960s while working for KU’s Chancellor’s Office
James E. Gunn during the 1960s while working in Public Affairs with KU’s Chancellor’s Office. University Archives. Call #: RG 41: Faculty Photos: Gunn, James. Click image to enlarge.

It’s easy to see how Gunn earned that moniker. As one of the first professors to offer courses devoted to science fiction at the college level, he was a teacher and mentor to countless students. The summer institutes and workshops that Gunn established at KU attracted attendees from across the country, and his connections and programming meant that Lawrence received visits from numerous SF luminaries over the years, from Frederik Pohl and Theodore Sturgeon to Nancy Kress to Cory Doctorow. Among Gunn’s scholarly contributions to the field was Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (1975), which drew a number of its images of from Spencer Library’s collections. Of course, at the same time, Gunn was instrumental in building Spencer ’s science fiction holdings. Not only did he donate books and magazines, but he encouraged others to do so as well, helping writers and SF organizations to place their papers and records at the library up until his death. Gunn won a Hugo Award (one of science fiction’s top honors) for another of his works of criticism, Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982). In a 2007 ceremony, he was honored with the “Damon Knight Grand Master Award” by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2015.

  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975) Photograph of James Gunn with his 1983 Hugo Award in the category of “Best Related Work” for his study Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982)

Left: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598. Right: Gunn with his 1983 Hugo Award (in the category of “Best Related Work”) for his study Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982).  University Archives. Call #: RG 41: Faculty Photos: Gunn, James.  Click images to enlarge.

Given what he achieved, it’s easy to forget his humble beginnings, but materials from his papers on deposit at the Spencer Research Library offer a glimpse of what it was like to be a young science fiction writer in the 1950s.

To this day, most speculative fiction magazines pay writers by the word. Current rates include 8-12 cents per word for stories published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, 8-10 cents per word for Asimov’s, and 10 cents per word for the online Uncanny Magazine. An early letter in Gunn’s papers from 1952 reports the income from some of his first science fiction sales. In his memoir Star-Begotten (2017), Gunn recalls that Planet Stories paid a rate of 1¼ cents per word for his 12,000-word “Freedom, Inc.,” but then (to Gunn’s chagrin) changed the title of the novelette to “The Slaves of Venus.”[i] Observant readers will note that the letter comes from another famed SF writer Frederik Pohl, who was still then working as a literary agent, though Pohl would soon abandon agent work to devote himself to writing and editing science fiction.

Photograph of letter from Frederik Pohl to James Gunn, reporting on Gunn's early story sales, 5 March 1952
Letter from Frederik Pohl to James E. Gunn, reporting Gunn’s fiction sales, March 5, 1952. James Gunn Papers. Call #: MS 92, Box 1, Folder 7

Being paid for one’s writing has always been important point of pride for the genre of science fiction. Early in his career, Gunn made a decision:

…I would write my novels in the form of short stories and novelettes that I could get published first in magazines and later collect as books. When I became a teacher of fiction writing, I passed this along to my students as “Gunn’s Law” (Sell it twice!).[ii]

It was a law that Gunn often followed. His novel The Immortals (1962), which presciently imagines a dystopian future where advances in medicine have enabled the richest to live increasingly long lives, while most in society suffer under staggering medical costs, was comprised of four previously published novelettes. When The Immortals was adapted (with significant changes) into a popular TV movie of the week as The Immortal, Gunn also wrote a novelization of the script. Likewise, Gunn’s novel The Listeners (1972) was first published as a series of stories in Galaxy magazine (and one also appearing in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy) between 1968 and 1972.  The novel, which explores interstellar communication and the effects on individuals and society of the attempts at first contact with distant alien cultures, was dedicated “To Walter Sullivan, Carl Sagan, and all of the other scientists whose books and articles and lectures and speculations provided, so clearly, the inspiration and source material for this book […].”  It seems Carl Sagan’s imagination was also stirred in return. As Gunn reports in his memoir, Sagan later sent him his own novel of interstellar communication, 1985’s Contact, “inscribed with ‘thanks for the inspiration of The Listeners.’”  Gunn’s story received accolades from the broader field as well. The first of the sections published in Galaxy (“The Listeners”) was nominated for the 1969 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and the subsequent novel was in 1973 the runner-up for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel.

Typescript with instructions for the printer and some editorial marks for the first of the quotation-laden “Computer Run” interchapters that appeared after each chapter of The Listeners, 1972. Cover of James Gunn's novel The Listeners (1972)

Left: Typescript with instructions for the first of the quotation-laden “Computer Run” interchapters that appear after each chapter of The Listeners, 1972. James Gunn Papers. Call number: MS 116A:1a. Right: Gunn, James E. The Listeners. New York: Scribner’s, 1972.  Call #: ASF Gunn C26 Click images to enlarge. 

And though with endless energy and good will James Gunn helped his students navigate the practical and business aspects of the field science fiction, it was his belief in the genre’s ideas and their potential to bring about change that arguably stands as the most potent force across Gunn’s fiction and criticism. It was this potential that James Gunn heralded in his remarks at his 2015 induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. “A lot has happened to science fiction since I sat in a garret writing my first story in 1948,” he explained;  

[…] The world has changed, too, often in positive ways, sometimes in ways that threaten its survival. It’s the job of science fiction, it’s our job, to observe those changes and consider their implications for human lives and maybe even do something to make those lives better, more livable, more human—whatever “human” turns out to be.  Let’s save the world through science fiction.[iii]

Over the years, many of Gunn’s students and readers have taken up that call and will continue to be inspired by it, even in his absence.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[i] Gunn, James E. Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017: 68.

[ii] Gunn, James E. Paratexts: Introductions to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2013: 10.

[iii] Gunn, James E. Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017: 189.

Irish Manuscripts for Beyond 2022

March 17th, 2021

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week we are highlighting KU’s participation in Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury. On June 30, 1922, in the midst of the Irish Civil War, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) was destroyed by an explosion and fire at the Four Courts in Dublin.  As the Beyond 2022 website explains, seven centuries’ worth of Ireland’s historical records were lost in this fire.

To overcome this harm to “Ireland’s collective memory,” Beyond 2022 is undertaking an international collaboration to digitize copies of records held across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and beyond in order to launch a “Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access, virtual reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922.” One particularly exciting aspect of the initiative is its work with Transkribus to employ HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) to automate the transcription of manuscript records.

Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.  A short video about Beyond 2022, explaining the project. Video available at Photo Credits: UCD Archives; National Archives of Ireland; Irish Architectural Archive; NoHo; Trinity College Dublin; ADAPT Centre.

To assist in this ambitious effort, Spencer Research Library is digitizing several manuscripts from its collections that Beyond 2022 has identified as pertinent to its treasury. These manuscripts bearing on Irish history include volumes containing civil and military establishments for late 17th and early 18th century Ireland (MSD88, MS B86, and MS A42), a “Galtrim Parish tithe composition book,” Co. Meath, 1825 (MS P403A), and a volume containing “Copies of informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal,” 1863-1901 (MS E109).  Such manuscripts are the types of records that might have once been held in the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI). 

Image of five manuscripts pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library's collections digitized for inclusion in Beyond 2022: Ireland's Virtual Record Treasury
Five manuscripts (MS A42, MS P403A, MSD88, MS B86, and MS E109) pertaining to Ireland from Spencer Research Library’s collections that are being digitized to contribute to Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury.

Of these, MS E109 is particularly intriguing. The manuscript volume contains copies of depositions, informations, statements, and declarations of complainants, witnesses, and occasionally defendants taken between 1863 and 1901 in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district of Co. Donegal, a county in the northwest of Ireland bordering the Atlantic ocean. Petty Sessions were “courts held by the justices of the peace to try minor criminal offences summarily—i.e. without a jury.”[i] More serious cases would also be referred to other court proceedings, such as quarter sessions and assizes. (For a brief overview of the legal system in Ireland during the 19th century, visit the “History of the Law in Ireland” page on the website of The Courts Service of Ireland.)

Manuscripts such as the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district copy book can be particularly interesting to historians and genealogists alike because they offer views of the experiences and conditions of individuals for whom other types of written evidence may not exist or survive. For example, a significant number of those providing sworn informations and depositions in the Dunfanaghy copy book are recorded as having signed with their mark—the x or symbol that individuals unable to write would use in place of their signature. Such individuals are unlikely to have left other written documentation of their lives, such as letters or diaries, so their statements (though filtered through the clerk’s transcription) may be all that survives of their voices. Of course, it is worth remembering that a volume like the copy book for the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district isn’t necessarily capturing everyday life, but the experiences of individuals—whether complainants/victims, defendants, or witnesses—as their lives intersect with the legal system and crime.

Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Gallagher signed with his mark (x)  Image showing how the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109) records that James Lindsay used a signature to attest to his sworn testimony (information)

Details from the sworn “informations” of James Gallagher (Item 5) and James Lindsay (Item 6) concerning the theft of clothes hanging in their respective gardens in December of 1863. The notations in the copy book suggest that Gallagher (left) signed with his mark, whereas Lindsay (right) used a signature. “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copybook, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109.  Click here to see the full page containing the sworn information of both Gallagher and Lindsay. 

The types of offenses recorded in the copy book include fights, theft (of clothes, of oats, of horses, sheep, and cattle, etc.), unlicensed guns, misappropriation of letters, threats of violence, and resisting the bailiff’s confiscation of a horse, to name a few. Occasionally the volume also contains accounts of more serious and violent crimes, such as assault and battery, murder, and rape. The witness and complainant statements for these matters can be quite harrowing to read. These cases would be referred to the assizes, the courts where the most serious offences (felonies) were addressed.

Several sworn statements offer glimpses into some of the difficult conditions of the lives of women. One example involves the case of Mary McBride, who in the spring of 1871 is accused of the concealment of the birth of a child. The sworn informations associated her case can be challenging to read, not only because of the difficult subject matter, but also because they make reference to no fewer than three Mary McBrides:  1) the woman who gave birth (sometimes referred to as Mary McBride junior); 2) that woman’s mother (Mary McBride senior); and 3) Mary McBride junior’s sister-in-law (Mary McBride, wife to Michael McBride). However, it is worth pushing through the confusion that the shared names might pose since the content of the statements is likely to hold much interest for researchers in the field of women’s history; women, gender, and sexuality studies; and the law.  

Detail showing the beginning of Item 76, the sworn information taken on May 27, 1871 of Mary McBride (wife to Michael McBride) concerning her sister-in-law Mary McBride (junior), who is charged with concealing the birth of her child. From: “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

Though most of the cases are non-political, a few have a larger political valence. One notable instance relates to William Harkin of Creeslough, who is accused of inciting a meeting (which some witnesses referred to as a Land League meeting) to violence. The Land League was political agrarian organization that campaigned against landlordism and its more predatory practices, seeking rights for farmer tenants, such as fair rents, rights to sale of occupancy, and security of tenure. The date of the incident recorded in the Dunfanaghy copy book, July 11, 1881, falls during a period of heightened agrarian agitation referred to as the Land War, and indeed, later that year, the Land League would be suppressed and several of its national leaders, including Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, jailed. The Dunfanaghy copy book contains witness statements of three members of the Royal Irish Constabulary against Harkin.  Constable Joseph Lougheed’s brief deposition reports, “In [Harkin’s] address or in the concluding words of it, he said ‘have no mercy on Landlords. Kill them, send them out of the country into Boersland.[’],” although he also notes, “When the word kill was used some voices in the meeting said, ‘no-no.’” News of the charges against Harkin reached as far as New South Wales, where Sydney’s The Freeman’s Journal reported on it a month and a half later as part of a section on the Land War, under the heading “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder.”[ii] The depositions surrounding Harkin’s case may appeal to students and scholars studying Irish nationalism, reform movements, and agricultural history alike.

Image of a detail from Constable Joseph Laugheed's deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141) in the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions copy book (MS E109)
Detail from Constable Joseph Lougheed’s deposition regarding William Harkin (Item 141). From “Copies of Informations &c taken in Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions district, County Donegal.” Dunfanaghy, copy book, 1863-1901. Call #: MS E109. Click image to see full page.

In the coming months, the five selected manuscripts will be made available online through Beyond 2022’s Treasury and in KU Libraries’ own digital collections, enabling researchers around the world to make new investigations into Irish history. On this St. Patrick’s Day, following a full year during which so many of our activities have migrated online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s exciting to think that students, scholars, and members of the public will soon be able to read (and make discoveries with) several of Spencer’s Irish manuscripts from wherever they can access a computer.  

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[i] Mulholland, Maureen. “Petty sessions,” in The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford University Press, 2015.

[ii] “A Land League Secretary Charged With Inciting to Murder,” The Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW). Vol. XXXII, No. 1958 (17 September 1881): 7.

Pulitzer Pride: Gwendolyn Brooks in the Kansas Collection

April 8th, 2020

You are a very dear person indeed to think of me and the word Pulitzer within the same moment. I was amazed to read your letter. It must be every verse-writer’s dream to be considered, some day, for such an honor – but, to say nothing of other poets, this has been a ROBERT FROST year.

–Letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, Call #: RH MS 152:A:1

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1950 Pulitzer Prize win for her volume of poetry Annie Allen (1949). Illinois justly claims Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) as one of the state’s most-celebrated literary citizens. Her first collection of verse, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), offered portraits of life in Chicago’s South Side, where Brooks grew up and lived, and she would return to that setting across many of her works. She also served as Illinois’s poet laureate from 1968 until her death in 2000. However, Kansans are quick to remember that Brooks also had ties to the sunflower state. She was born in Topeka in 1917, before she moved a month later with her Kansan parents two states to the east. Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection holds first editions of many of Brooks’s books, particularly her early ones, and although her papers reside at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Illinois, Spencer houses a small but significant collection of the poet’s correspondence with Van Allen Bradley (1913-1984). Bradley served as literary editor of the Chicago Daily News, and Brooks occasionally wrote book reviews for the newspaper. Though her relationship with it wasn’t as longstanding or deep as with the Chicago Defender, the influential African American newspaper that combated segregation and racial injustice, several of the letters with Bradley in Spencer’s collection offer insight into her 1950 Pulitzer win. 

Dust Jacket of Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Annie Allen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949. Image courtesy of The Pulitzer Prizes website. Kenneth Spencer Research Library copy at call #: RH B1594.

On April 19, 1950, Van Allen Bradley wrote to Brooks, 

I have just tried to call you at the South Side Community Art Center [where Brooks worked as a part-time director’s assistant] but got no answer there. 

What prompted it was this –

The Saturday Review asked for my Pulitzer choices, and it occurred to me that you are going to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry.  Nice thought, isn’t it!  Seriously, I hope you do – and I have you as my choice.

But what I am writing about is this –

Suppose you were to win it: We’d want to carry a story about you, who you are, what you have written, etc. etc.  A profile no less.  And I’d like to write the piece. I wonder if you can supply me – at the earliest moment possible – with the relevant detail: all facts, a biography in brief, your likes and dislikes, your life, your family, etc. etc. […]

Carbon copy of lettter from letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating that she may win the Pulitzer prize and requesting that she send biographical information for a profile
Carbon copy of letter from Van Allen Bradley to Gwendolyn Brooks, April 19, 1950, speculating about her possible Pulitzer win. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was not the first awards attention directed at poems from Brooks’s second collection. In November of 1949, Brooks had closed a letter to Bradley with good news. “Guess what:” she wrote, “I won a prize from Poetry Magazine this month – The Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize of one hundred dollars!” The award honored “a poem or a group of poems by an American citizen published in Poetry,” and Brooks had won it for “Four poems” published in the magazine’s March issue (three sonnets from the sequence “The Children of the Poor” and the poem “A Light and Diplomatic Bird,” all also included in Annie Allen).

Even with that win under her belt, Brooks’s response to Bradley’s Pulitzer speculation was modest. In the remark quoted at the beginning of this post, she ventured that the prize would go instead to Robert Frost. “I’ll never forget that with all of the other poets to choose from, you voted for me,” she wrote to Bradley, “Thank you; thank you!” 

Detail from the beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950, in which she thanks Bradley for recommending her for the Pulitzer but notes that "this has been a Robert Frost year."
The beginning of a letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

While 1949 had been a banner year for Frost—it saw the publication of his Complete Poems and his 75th birthday—the 1950 Pulitzer Advisory Committee was interested in celebrating fresh work rather than past glory. It marveled at the achievement of Frost’s career-spanning collection, but noted he had been awarded the Pulitzer four times previously for essentially the same poems. “A further ‘honor’ to Frost would be not only superfluous but so repetitious as to seem silly,” commented poet and committee member Louis Untermeyer.[i] In Annie Allen, however, the committee saw “a volume of great originality, real distinction and high value as a book, as well as poetry.”[ii] Committee member Alfred Kreymborg commended Brooks’s volume as introducing “further characters out of her South Side background, with Annie herself as the central figure with her peregrinations from childhood through girlhood to womanhood.” He singled out for particular praise The Anniad, “whose title” he wrote, “deftly parodies The Aeneid and whose intellectual sweep over common experience is not only brilliant but profound in its tragic and tragicomic implications.”[iii]

In spite of her assertion that it would be Frost’s year, Brooks nevertheless sent along a biography to Van Allen Bradley with her letter of April 21st. Ten days later, on May 1, 1950, she made history. Annie Allen took that year’s prize for poetry and Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American writer to win a Pulitzer. “I am a very fortunate person, and can’t help but wonder what tragedy is about to befall me, as a sort of ‘compensation,'” she wrote to Bradley on May 6th.

Closing of letter dated May 6, 1950 from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, discussing her sense of disbelief.
“I am just beginning to believe it really happened”: Closing of letter from Gwendolyn Brooks to Van Allen Bradley following her Pulitzer win, May 6, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call #: RH MS 152 A1. Click image to enlarge.

The brief two-page (auto)biography that Brooks sent to Bradley on the eve of her win is worth reading in its entirety. We encourage you to come in and examine it (alongside other Brooks materials) once the danger of coronavirus subsides and our reading room re-opens or to submit a remote reference request. Typed on South Side Community Art Center letterhead, Brooks begins her biography with a recognition of her familial ties to Kansas.

Detail from the beginning of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter to Van Allen Bradley dated, April 21, 1950, providing information about her birth and Kansas Roots
Kansas roots: The beginning of a biography Gwendolyn Brooks sent to Van Allen Bradley with her letter dated, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

After providing further biographical details and information on her family, schooling, career, past honors, and projected future publications, the thirty-three-year-old Brooks, with a mix of good humor and commitment, offers up a brief account of her literary start. She also provides, in response to Bradley’s request, her likes (“Country peace, fresh air, elbow room, affectionate friends, book-stores, music, modern art, looking at other people’s beautiful houses, strawberries in rich, cold cream, orange pie, apricot pie”) and dislikes (“cruelty and confusion”). She then concludes her biography with one final self-effacing but playful detail: “Date of death from shock: The day I win a Pulitzer prize.”

Detail from the end of a biography of Gwendolyn Brooks that Brooks enclosed with a letter dated, April 21, 1950, detailing her early literary life, likes and dislikes.
Likes and dislikes on the eve of the Pulitzer Prize: Detail from the end of the biography Brooks enclosed with her letter to Van Allen Bradley, April 21, 1950. Gwendolyn Brooks Correspondence Collection. Call#: RH MS 152 B3. Click image to enlarge.

As we mark National Poetry Month during a time of social distancing, we encourage you to explore Brooks and her Pulitzer-winning volume Annie Allen through some of the numerous resources available online:

  • Several poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” from Annie Allen, are available online at Poetry Foundation.  There you’ll also find back issues of Poetry Magazine, including the March 1949 issue containing the four poems from Annie Allen that earned Brooks the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize.
  • Listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read her own poetry in a recording made on January 19, 1961 for the Library of Congress’ Archive of Recorded Poetry And Literature at  Brooks’s reading includes poems from Annie Allen starting at the 11:55 minute mark, including “The Rites for Cousin Vit” (at 19:24), as well as several of her other best-known poems, such as “Kitchenette Building” (at 0:34) from A Street in Bronzeville (1945) and “We Real Cool” (at 22:50) from The Bean Eaters (1960).
  • Finally, commemorate Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize win and her Kansas roots with this trading card produced in 2016 by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

[i] Remarks by Louis Untermeyer, quoted in a letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020.

[ii] Letter from Henry Seidel Canby to Dean Carl W. Ackerman, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on behalf of the Pulitzer committee—Henry Seidel Canby, Alfred Kreymborg, and Louis Untermeyer, [1950]. Reproduced in “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks.” The Pulitzer Prizes. Accessed 6 April 2020.

[iii] Remarks by Alfred Kreymborg quoted in ibid.

Visit “Imagined Worlds: Writers and the Process of Speculative Fiction”

February 12th, 2020

Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Octavia E. Butler, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Joanna Russ, William F. Wu, John Kessel, Mary Shelley, and KU’s own James E. Gunn and Kij Johnson are just a few of the writers featured in Spencer Research Library’s new exhibit, Imagined Worlds: Writers and the Process of Speculative Fiction.

Imagined Worlds: visible in this central case are a notebook of Kij Johnson’s containing story drafts (left), Theodore Sturgeon’s Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter (center), and a letter from and a typescript by Octavia E. Butler (right).

While it’s true that all fiction is imagined (at least in part), writers working in the genres of science fiction and fantasy achieve their dramatic interest, pose their philosophic and scientific inquiries, and address social and political issues by playing with and re-configuring the confines of reality. In writing of other worlds, different times, alternate societies, new technologies, and fantastical circumstances, these writers can transfix readers and, in the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, offer a “convincing picture of alternative ways of doing and being, which can shake readers out of fixed mindsets, knock the blinkers off them.”

But how do they do it?

Imagined Worlds offers a peek behind the scenes to explore the messy, impassioned, deliberative, contentious, and inventive processes of speculative fiction (an umbrella term for those genres–including science fiction, fantasy, and horror–that diverge from reality and realism). Materials drawn from Spencer’s collections offer various points of entry into the writer’s experience. There are cases dedicated to:

  • conversations on the page (correspondence between authors)
  • influence and inspiration
  • from idea to book: the process of writing
  • page to screen (adaptation and writing for film and television)
  • the business of speculative fiction

There are also additional cases devoted to awards in speculative fiction and reading recommendations from KU faculty members, addressing SF books that have been significant to them. There are also paintings by two of the best-known science fiction and fantasy artists of the 1950s and 1960s, Ed Emshwiller and Frank Kelly Freas.

Imagined Worlds: a long view down the gallery space.
One of two cases containing faculty discussions of books that have been significant to them. From left to right: Vitaly Chernetsky (Slavic Languages and Literatures) on Stanisław Lem’s The Cyberiad, Anna Neill (English) on Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland, Giselle Anatol (English) on Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Paul Scott (French, Francophone, and Italian Studies) on Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
Worlds to visit: One of two exhibition cases containing faculty discussions of books that have been significant to them. Left to right: Vitaly Chernetsky (Slavic Languages and Literatures) on Stanisław Lem’s The Cyberiad, Anna Neill (English) on Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Giselle Anatol (English) on Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Paul Scott (French, Francophone, and Italian Studies) on Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

The books and manuscripts on display reflect Spencer Research Library’s historic strength in the science fiction of the 1930s-1960s, with the addition of materials from more recent collections of writers’ papers. Since the exhibition focuses primarily on correspondence and manuscripts, a slideshow in the exhibition gallery also shares over 50 covers of speculative fiction volumes from Spencer’s collections.

Cover of paperback edition of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (New York: Ballantine Books, ©1953). Call #: ASF B294, which features a man an an eye in a cosmos.   Cover of paperback UK edition of Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon (2014), which features a figure in a wildlife filled ocean under a cityscape

Left: Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. New York: Ballantine Books, ©1953. Call #: ASF B294; Right: Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon. London: Hodder, 2014. Call #: ASF C1260

To give a sense of the exhibit, we share something we had we couldn’t quite fit, a memo from Star Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry to writer Theodore Sturgeon about Sturgeon’s script draft for “Shore Leave.” One of the more surreal episodes in Star Trek‘s original TV run (1966-1969), “Shore Leave” sees the thoughts of crew members come to life when they beam down to a planet for some rest and relaxation. Roddenberry’s memo suggests the collaborative process involved in making the episode, and it reveals the mix of frankness, humor, and knowing cynicism he employed in guiding his writers.

Image of the beginning of a Memo from Gene Roddenberry to Theodore Sturgeon regarding the Shore Leave episode of Star Trek
Beginning of a memo from Gene Roddenberry to Theodore Sturgeon regarding Sturgeon’s draft of the first act of the “Shore Leave” episode of Star Trek, June 8, 1966. Theodore Sturgeon Papers. Call #: MS 303, Box 5, folder 10

He balances praising Sturgeon for his successes, with addressing logistical matters—such as the necessity of breaking down the script shot by shot for the sake of the costume, casting, and special effects departments—and then pushes Sturgeon toward what he judges will connect best with viewers. “Wouldn’t your teaser be richer if just one person saw Alice and the rabbit, say McCoy?” Roddenberry asks, “When two people see it, you’ve got a witness. But the poor devil who sees it alone, he’s got trouble.”

Of course, writers like Sturgeon might also push back regarding script changes. During the shooting of “Shore Leave,” Sturgeon would complain about a scene in which the resurrected Dr. McCoy enters with a woman on each arm. This is a “first order vulgarism,” Sturgeon wrote to Roddenberry, arguing that it undercut the emotional development of McCoy’s relationship with the character of Tonia. Roddenberry’s own memo to Sturgeon ends with a serio-comic sign-off that highlights the blend of art and business that television entails: “You’re lovely, inventive, wonderful. Now be commercial.”

Image of the closing line of Gene Roddenberry's memo to Theodore Sturgeon, "You're lovely, inventive, wonderful. Now be commercial."
The closing line of a memo from Gene Roddenberry to Theodore Sturgeon concerning his script for the “Shore Leave” episode of Star Trek, June 8, 1966. Theodore Sturgeon Papers. Call #: MS 303, Box 5, folder 10

Founded in 1969 by a financial gift from a student who thought KU should be collecting science fiction, Spencer Research Library’s SF collections continue to be built largely by donation. Over the decades, they have grown appreciably thanks to the support of James E. Gunn (writer, critic, Professor Emeritus, and founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction). He has not only donated books and periodicals, but has encouraged others to make gifts as well, including fellow writers, whose papers now reside at KU. These efforts have been continued in recent years by writers Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson (the current Director and Associate Director of the Gunn Center, respectively). We hope to continue to grow our science fiction and fantasy collections to better reflect the diversity of voices writing in the field.

Imagined Worlds: Writers and the Process of Speculative Fiction is free and open to the public and will be on display in Spencer’s Gallery through July 31st, 2020. We invite you to visit and explore the forces at work as writers imagine worlds!

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Meet the KSRL Staff: Elspeth Healey

July 23rd, 2019

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Elspeth Healey, who joined the Spencer Research Library in 2011 as a special collections librarian. 

Where are you from?
I was born in the U.S., but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. From time to time, I’ll have a student come up to me after a class session and say “where are you from?” I have lived in the U. S. since college–so more than half of my life–but sometimes that Canadian accent still shines through!

Elspeth Healey in Spencer Library's North Gallery

Elspeth Healey, Special Collections Librarian, in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery. Click image to enlarge.

What does your job at Spencer entail?
With my colleague Karen Cook, I am one of two special collections librarians. My curatorial responsibilities include materials for the Americas, including Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. In addition to building Spencer’s collections by working with donors and booksellers, I collaborate with cataloging and conservation to make the library’s collections accessible, lead instruction sessions, engage in outreach (through events, blog posts, exhibitions, etc.), answer reference queries for researchers on and off site, and contribute to digital projects.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?
As an undergraduate, I had worked in the preservation department of my university’s special collections library, making mylar wrappers, drop-spine boxes, and other protective enclosures. I was fascinated by the variety of books that would come across my work bench, from 20th century poetry and plays to 18th century mathematical treatises. Later, as I was researching my dissertation in English literature, I came to realize that the moments that excited me most were those spent conducting archival research. I was energized not only by the materials I examined that related to my specific project, but I also enjoyed encountering materials that related to the projects of friends and colleagues and would alert them to those materials. That is what this job is at its heart: helping to connect researchers (of all types) with the materials that have the potential to advance and transform their understanding of a particular question or subject. I applied to library school as I was finishing my dissertation, and attended a program where I had the opportunity to work 20-hours a week in a special collections library while taking the coursework for my MSIS (Master of Science in Information Studies) degree. I always advise those who want to enter the field that gaining hands-on experience working in a special collections library and archives is one of the most important things you can do in library school: it is what will help you secure a job following graduation, and it is what will enable you to determine if this is really what you want to do as a profession.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s Collections?
There are so many strange and interesting things in Spencer’s collections. We have a three volume scrapbook containing rare ephemera for Astley’s Amphitheatre, which opened in London in the late 18th-century and was originally known for its equestrian spectacles and show riding. As it developed, it incorporated circus-type features alongside other types of performance, so it is often recognized as London’s first circus. The posters, flyers, clippings, and ephemera in the scrapbooks offer a fascinating record of its history, and we hope to feature them at greater length in a future blog post. Other unusual items that pop to mind include 1930s form rejection letters from a science fiction pulp magazine, early Don Quixote fan fiction, and locks of hair (a favorite 19th century keepsake). I love that each day I might come across some new intriguing item that I can then share with others.

Scrapbook page containing flyer for "The Amazing Exhibition of the little Conjuring Horse," Astley's New Entertainments.   Scrapbook page containing "Ducrow's First Appearance this Season" with picture of a man with one foot on the back of each of two horses, April 1831. Astley's Royal Amphitheatre

Image of scrapbook page containing a poster for Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, advertising a Grand Equestrian evening and events featuring Pablo Fanque, Young Hernandez, etc.  Poster for "Astley's on Thursday, November 6, 1845 ...Gala Night," with pictures of show riding along the exterior of the poster in Astley's Amphitheatre scrapbook, volume 3, p. 237

Posterbills for Astley’s performances and Astley’s Amphitheatre in Astley’s Amphitheatre scrapbooks. Posters shown are circa 1775-1847. Call Number: G126, volumes 1-3. Click on images to enlarge (it’s worth it!)

What part of your job do you like best?
See above! I relish connecting researchers–whether students, scholars, or members of the public–with materials that will open up new perspectives and avenues of inquiry.

What are your favorite pastimes outside of work?
The usual things like reading, walking, movies, and travel, but I also love tracking down some of my favorite Canadian delicacies whenever I can: Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, poutine, and candy bars like Eat-more and Coffee Crisp. I’m still waiting for the day when they open a Tim Horton’s in Kansas… Lawrence certainly has much better (and less corporate) coffee and pastries, but some things just remind you of your youth…

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
Not everything is in the online catalog. We aspire to get it all there one day, but every special collections library holds materials that haven’t quite made it into the catalog yet for one reason or another. Accordingly it’s always worth speaking to the librarian who oversees the subject area in which you are conducting research to see if there might be materials you that have missed.

The other piece of advice is to enjoy the research process. Sometimes the thing that you came to the library to examine won’t end up being the thing that really captures your intellect and imagination. Instead, it will be a folder of letters you might come across in the box next to the manuscript you were seeking to examine. This unanticipated discovery may lead your project in a new direction. Embrace the serendipity that archival research permits!


Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian