Ransom Center to acquire McEwan archives, pending regents’ approval

The Harry Ransom Center will acquire the archive of well-regarded British writer Ian McEwan for $2 million, pending approval from the University of Texas Board of Regents on May 15.

McEwan is perhaps best known in the United States for his 2002 novel “Atonement,” which was turned into the 2007 film of the same name starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan.

Board approval is required when the purchase price of an archive exceeds $1 million. The archive will be paid for with dedicated endowments and privately raised funds.

“McEwan is unusual in that he has an excellent critical reputation and also attracted a very popular general readership,” Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss said. “That makes it an especially worthy acquisition. I am quite confident that it will be the object of research interest for years to come.”

Enniss says McEwan was a high priority acquisition when he started at the Ransom Center in 2013, taking over from longtime director Tom Staley. “I was delighted to find out there was previous contact with McEwan under Tom,” Enniss said. “I took up the effort when I arrived.”

The archive documents McEwan’s career and includes early material from his childhood and adolescence, as well as his earliest, abandoned stories dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The archive includes drafts of all of McEwan’s later published works including his critically acclaimed novels “Amsterdam” and “Atonement” up through “On Chesil Beach” and “Solar.”

Enniss said McEwan composed his novels partly in longhand, which he would then transfer to a computer, print out and revise by hand. “This gives us really detailed access to his creative process,” Enniss said.

McEwan’s Booker Prize-winning novel “Amsterdam” is represented in the archive in its earliest form as a handwritten notebook, followed by two revised drafts.

The archive includes a large quantity of correspondence with school friends beginning in 1971 when then-23-year-old McEwan spent several months traveling in Europe, Afghanistan and Africa.

The archive is filled with ’80s and ’90s letters written from Christopher Hitchens, David Lodge, Michael Ondaatje, Harold Pinter, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.

From 1997 onward, McEwan’s complete email correspondence is preserved as part of the archive.

“McEwan systematically backed up and saved his email,” Enniss said. “Which means that both sides of the email correspondence are going to be present in the archive. With paper letters, you usually only get the mail an author received. There is a real conversational quality to these emails that will be a rich resource.”

The archive includes scrapbooks, photographs and audio and video recordings, including copies of radio and television broadcasts.

McEwan’s work has been translated into more than 30 languages and has won a laundry list of awards. Among the highlights, McEwan picked up the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Étranger (1993) for “The Child in Time.” He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for fiction numerous times, winning the award for “Amsterdam” in 1998.

Time magazine named “Atonement” the best novel of 2002; it also received the National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award among other honors.

McEwan is an honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

McEwan’s archive would reside at the Ransom Center and would be accessible once processed and cataloged. He is scheduled to visit Austin and speak at the university Sept. 10.

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