Gore Vidal was driven, brilliant, irascible, irreverent. He was a public intellectual, author, political candidate, autodidact, essayist, playwright, and provocateur.
He was also generous to Harvard.
Several years ago, Vidal left his papers and library to the University. Now the fruits of that gift, combined with an earlier gift of a portion of his papers in 2001, have been meticulously cataloged and archived at Houghton Library. The expanded collection captures the varied accomplishments of Vidal, who died in 2012, and traces the arc of his personal and professional life.
Spanning his boyhood to his final years, the roughly 500 shelf feet of material includes correspondence, drafts of his books and plays, photographs, videotapes, fan mail, and material related to his famously fiery exchanges with conservative author and commentator William F. Buckley Jr.
“He was involved in so many cultural issues of 20th-century America and contributed such an important voice, and his papers capture that,” said Leslie Morris, Houghton’s first Gore Vidal Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts, who worked with the author through the years to fulfill his desire to bring the archive to Harvard. “From a historical and a cultural point of view, it’s an incredibly interesting and important collection that will continue to support research, teaching, and creativity at Harvard.”
In addition to the newly named curatorial position, Vidal’s gift also supports the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing. Author and essayist Teju Cole holds the position that began this academic year.
“It is very gratifying to see Leslie Morris become the first Gore Vidal Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, as her work on the collection and the relationship she fostered with Vidal and then his estate over the past two decades led to this transformative gift to the University,” said Thomas Hyry, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library and director of arts and special collections of the Harvard College Library.