What is a literary archive, anyway?

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What is a literary archive?

Students of this year’s MA in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) attended a session in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing to look through some of our literary collections. MA Creative Writing dissertations were deposited at the University of East Anglia as part of Malcolm Bradbury’s archive and include the authors John Boyne, Tracey Chevalier, Anne Enright and Andrew Cowan. There are also files charting the history of the emergence of UEA’s MA.

Naomi Alderman’s archive includes the annotated workshop scripts from her entire MA year and shows the transformation of her first novel, Disobedience, under the influence of students and tutors.

We also exhibited diaries and writers notebooks from Amit Chaudhuri, Roger Deakin and Snoo Wilson showing how ideas evolve in the earliest stages.

Correspondence between authors and their agents, publishers and other writers was also on display including:

  • Graham Greene’s 1962 letter to Charles Pick, announcing his intention to leave Heinemann after many years
  • Letters from JD Salinger to an old school friend in which he raises the prospect of a new publication but makes clear his dislike of publishers
  • Kurt Vonnegut’s thank you to Doris Lessing for the review of a re-released novel
  • Doris Lessing’s correspondence with her long time editor and friend, Tom Maschler
  • Salman Rushdie’s correspondence with Doris Lessing in April 1989 during the fatwa

We discussed the nature of the literary archive in the digital age and the challenges of curating a creative process when it exists in purely digital form. A number of the students still write in longhand while others work exclusively on the screen. UEA, along with other literary archives, are grappling with how to capture and present access. This was an opportunity to instil useful working practices and to raise awareness of the importance of retaining certain papers and correspondence.

 

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