UT’s Ransom Center acquires archive of famed writer García Márquez

2:51 p.m Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 Insight and Books

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas announced Monday that it has acquired the literary archive of Gabriel García Márquez, one of the most significant collections of Latin American literary history to become available in the last few decades.

The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” died in April at the age of 87.

Spanning more than half a century, the García Márquez archive includes original manuscript material, predominantly in Spanish, for 10 books, including “Solitude” and “Cholera.” Highlights include multiple drafts of García Márquez’s unpublished novel “We’ll See Each Other in August,” research for “The General and His Labyrinth” and a heavily annotated typescript of the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”

There are also more than 2,000 pieces of correspondence, including letters from Carlos Fuentes and Graham Greene, as well as drafts of his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech; more than 40 photograph albums; two Smith Corona typewriters; five computers; and scrapbooks documenting his career via news clippings from Latin America and around the world.

UT is also planning an interdisciplinary symposium on García Márquez and a public exhibit of the material in fall 2015, after the collection has been processed, with much of it being digitized to make it widely available on the Internet, Harry Ransom Center director Stephen Enniss said Monday.

“We view this as a university acquisition as much as a Ransom Center acquisition,” Enniss said. The university declined to name the archive’s price, and the American-Statesman has filed a request for that information under the Texas Public Information Act.

“It is very exciting for all of us,” said Jose Montelongo, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection librarian.

The university was approached in late 2103 about acquiring the archive. Montelongo and Enniss went to Mexico City, where García Márquez made his home, to examine it in July of this year.

“You feel a slight sense of indiscretion peering at documents that were not meant for publication,” Montelongo said. “His family told us he was a perfectionist, he didn’t love for people to see the creative process, but it was fantastic that so many pieces have survived. Being able to see his corrections, to see how he managed to produce the rhythm and the cadence that are so unique to his style was most striking to see.”

When asked if this signaled a growing interest in Latin American authors, Enniss said, “I think this acquisition makes a dramatic statement” but added that it reaffirmed a commitment to Latin American literature.

The Ransom Center is also home to a small archive of work by legendary Argentinian writer Jorge Luís Borges, Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz and the archive of Latina writer Julia Alvarez, as well the archives of translator Margaret Sayers Peden — who translated Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes — and papers by Mexican-born composer Daniel Catán.

The center also holds the archives of literary critic Angel Flores, who first applied the term “magical realism” to Latin American literature in the 1950s, a term closely associated with García Márquez, whose epic novels spanned generations and often incorporated lush language and fantastical elements, redefining the parameters of Latin American literature. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” has become a staple of high school and college curricula.

García Márquez was one of Latin America’s most noted leftists. For several years, he was denied visas to the United States, but former President Bill Clinton eventually lifted the travel ban.

“The (Benson collection) has been acquiring very meticulously Latin American material in history, literature, art and politics since 1920,” Montelongo said. “The Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies has been a strength of the university for decades. This is not last-minute interest; it is the opposite.”

Literary archives are a prestige item for research universities and draw scholars from around the world. The Ransom Center’s vaunted collection includes James Joyce’s literary archive and papers by William Faulkner, both of whom influenced García Márquez. Other Nobel laureates represented include J. M. Coetzee, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Lessing, John Steinbeck and W. B. Yeats.

In the last couple of years, the Ransom Center has acquired the archive of poet Billy Collins for $425,000 — with private contributions — and the archive of prints, notebooks, photographs and other material belonging to pop artist Ed Ruscha, with donors providing about $1.6 million of the $2 million price.

While the Ransom Center is well-known for its wide-ranging collection, Princeton University is considered to have one of the most prestigious collections of Latin American literature. That collection includes some of the papers of Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Miguel Angel Asturias, Julio Cortazar and Elena Garro.

The flow of Latin American literary archives to U.S. institutions such as Texas and Princeton has caused consternation in the past, with leading intellectuals such as Guillermo Sheridan of Mexico lamenting such appropriations in a 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times. But many scholars acknowledge that U.S. libraries are better-equipped to handle archives because of lower funding of libraries in Latin America.

Enniss clearly sees the García Márquez collection as one of the most significant in recent years, and there was widespread speculation about who would get the archive after the author’s death in the spring.

“You want to get acquire collections that will be heavily used by scholars,” Enniss said. “I am certain this will be one of them.”

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