September 11, 2000
Volume 53, No. 3
Special Collections features Dickey, Warren
By Eric Rangus
One of the country's finest collections of Southern literary manuscripts and material sits high atop the Woodruff Library in Special Collections.
Begun in 1983 by Emory English Professor Floyd C. Watkins, the American Literary Manuscripts Collection, which bears Watkins's name, has been growing steadily and made one of its most important acquisitions-letters, correspondence and memorabilia from the county's first poet laureate, Kentucky-native Robert Penn Warren.
"He challenged the University to fund ongoing acquisitions for American literature manuscripts," said Stephen Enniss, curator of literary collections, of Watkins, who died earlier this year.
Watkins' original gift consisted of his personal papers, which included documents, interviews, letters and research covering several Southern writers such as Warren, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. Watkins used the information contained in the donation to write two books on Warren. The two were so close that Watkins referred to the poet by his nickname, "Red."
Many of Watkins's former students have donated to the American Literature Manuscripts Fund, which is now valued at more than $400,000 and is consistently put to good use.
Materials are acquired in several ways, many of them expensive. Emory's Flannery O'Connor collection, for example, has been built through several individual purchases on the rare book and manuscript market. Emory has purchased the papers and materials of several Georgia writers as well.
Special Collections acquired the literary archive of Southern poet and author James Dickey in 1993. A professor at the University of South Carolina until he died in 1997, Dickey was born in Atlanta and one of his sons attended medical school at Emory. That gave the Univer-sity an inside track to the collection.
"Atlanta was his home, and he knew Emory well," Enniss said. "More to the point, he knew the kind of collecting that we were doing and that his collections would be appreciated and cared for." The collection also provided writer Henry Hart with much of his primary research on a biography he just completed of Dickey.
Acquiring materials is not always as clean and neat as it was in the case of Dickey's papers. Sometimes Emory is just lucky, as in the case of the new Warren acquisition.
The collection actually is named for Emma Brescia Gardner, to whom Warren was married from 1929 to 1951. After their divorce, Brescia remarried and moved to Connecticut, eventually teaching at Mitchell College in New London. After her death, several boxes were discovered in the basement of the college's library, and in them sat 30 years worth of Warren's correspondence with his wife, other family members and other writers.
Several of the highlights (a postcard from F. Scott Fitzgerald, a rare copy of Warren's first book of poetry, a letter written from a friend on White Star Line stationery-shipping line of the Titanic) sit under glass in the main lobby of Special Collections.
"There's a great deal of institutional pride attached with such collections, but for good reason," Enniss said. "These are one of the ways universities can serve a larger research community, not only their own students, but well beyond their own students and faculty members. When a library holds materials that exist in no other place, it means you're suddenly part of a larger research community."
Most often one person is assigned the task of processing an individual collection and the time it takes to complete depends on its size. The processors could be staff members, undergraduate students or graduate students; and tackling the challenge of processing a collection can be a big payoff for students.
"It's often a very good experience for them," Enniss said. "Many students have not previously encountered primary materials in the course of their work. They only think of the books downstairs [in the library] as the place to go for research into a writer's life. They may not always realize that the library also holds primary materials that exist in no other place and that these are also accessible."
More than one-third (37 percent) of the people using the materials in
Special Collections are students. That, Enniss said, is above average and
an encouraging sign that Emory's students fully utilize the sources available