Houghton Library, the rare book and manuscript repository of the Harvard College Library, recently acquired the papers of author Gore Vidal. These papers together with the near-complete set of Vidal printed materials, collected over the years by Houghton’s retired keeper of printed books James Walsh, make Houghton Library the center of Vidal studies.
It was a recent chance meeting of Walsh and Vidal that precipitated the current acquisition. Walsh took a trip sponsored by the Boston Athenæum to Italy where one of the destinations was Vidal’s villa outside Ravello. Author and bibliophile spent the afternoon conversing and an idea was born. According to Vidal, he was already seriously considering Harvard as a repository for his papers as a result of conversations about the nature of his work with former Harvard professor and Lincoln scholar David Donald. Houghton Library has long been regarded as a major repository for 19th and 20th century literary papers, and Vidal felt it was an appropriate place for his collection.
“The papers of Gore Vidal will be part of a world-renowned collection that includes the papers of American writers from Henry Adams and Henry James to Sarah Orne Jewett, Lousia May Alcott, and John Ashberry. My colleagues and I are pleased that Mr. Vidal has decided to entrust his papers to us and we are honored by his trust,” said William P. Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library.
Vidal’s career embraces multiple genres. Initially, his work focused on theater, television, and film. However, his career took a turn and literature – not film – became his passion. Vidal’s novels of contemporary drama explore lives at various strata of society; his historical fiction, such as best-seller “Julian” and his series of seven novels examining the history of America from the Revolutionary War to the present, bring the complexities of historical fact into popular fiction. Vidal is also well-known for his acerbic, insightful nonfiction.
“Gore Vidal’s involvement in the literary world is richly reflected in his correspondence, as is his political activity, making the archive a window not only on his own work but on many of the cultural issues occupying mid- to late 20th-century America,” said Leslie A. Morris, curator of manuscripts in the Harvard College Library. Morris, who will hire a project cataloger to process and catalog the Vidal papers, predicts that the archive will be fully accessible to students and scholars by 2007.
The papers come to Houghton via the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the University of Wisconsin. Vidal initially placed his collection there in the 1960s when theater, television, and film were his focus.