The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas said Wednesday that it spent $2.2 million to acquire the archive of Latin American literary giant Gabriel García Márquez.
It was ordered to do release that figure by the office of the Texas attorney general Feb. 19, in response to freedom of information requests filed by the Austin American-Statesman and The Associated Press.
The school announced the purchase on Nov. 24, and the American-Statesman and AP asked for the sale price the same day. Ransom Center officials refused, citing state law protecting details of contracts in a competitive bidding process. After the American-Statesman and the AP filed formal requests for the contract under state public records law, the University of Texas System asked the attorney general’s office for permission to withhold the price.
The university had argued that the amount should be kept secret because its disclosure would put the university’s Harry Ransom Center “at a disadvantage in negotiating advantageous prices on future acquisitions,” according to a letter sent in December to the American-Statesman.
“This is particularly true when the Center acquires the archive of a major figure for a substantial sum,” the letter said. “The release of that price information becomes a new benchmark by which future archives are valued.”
The García Márquez acquisition was negotiated by director Stephen Ennis, who had worked previously at the privately held Folger Shakespeare Library and Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.
“Protecting the confidentiality of sale prices of cultural property, which is the practice followed by the vast majority of the Ransom Center’s research library peers, would have allowed the center to compete on equal footing in the highly competitive marketplace for major archives,” Ennis said Wednesday.
In the past, the university has provided such information, and the resistance in the García Márquez archive was unusual. In 2005, the Ransom Center paid $5 million for the Watergate coverage from reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It paid $2.5 million for the archive of writer Norman Mailer in 2008 and $1.5 million for Nobel prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee’s archive in 2011.
The attorney general ruled that the school failed to prove harm by disclosure. Therefore, according to a letter from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s open records division, the school cannot keep the contract and purchase price secret: “We find you have failed to demonstrate the release of the information at issue would cause specific harm to the university’s marketplace interests.”
The ruling also said that even in a competitive bidding process, state law generally does not allow withholding a final bid once a contract has been executed. Open records advocates had warned that a ruling in favor of the school would have crippled a major portion of the state’s public records law.
Spanning more than half a century, the García Márquez archive includes original manuscript material, predominantly in Spanish, for 10 books, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of 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.
Additional material from the Associated Press.