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Salinger's signature and a Gutenberg Bible -- in Texas

December 21, 2008 |  2:26 pm

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The Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, is a monolithic building with few windows. Which is probably for the best, because it holds millions of manuscripts, photographs and artifacts in its literary archives that are best kept out of bright light. They've got an "On the Road" notebook of Jack Kerouac's and manuscripts corrected by James Joyce and J.D. Salinger. They've got pages and pages, photos and paintings, locks of hair and laptops, signed books and illuminated texts.

I decided I'd have to visit after reading about the Ransom Center in The New Yorker last year, and I finally made it on Saturday, one day after the offices closed for the holidays. But the public galleries were open, and they brought me up to the third-floor Director's Gallery, where items from the newly acquired Ezra Pound collection were on display. I was also allowed to bring along a camera. I only wish I'd taken a photo of the grid of draft pages of Don DeLillo's opening to "Underworld," where he reworks a paragraph to its final spare beauty.

If it is not a demure building, neither is it a shy collection: The wide lobby is dominated by a dark-wood enclosure for the center's Gutenberg Bible, one of five in the U.S.

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Inside, there are many works on paper, as you'd expect. But some are quite unexpected, like the paintings below by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. He appears to have been in a dark mood — not only are they a striking black and red, but he stabbed through the paper repeatedly, leaving a series of holes.

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More photos from the current Ransom Center exhibitions, "The Mystique of the Archive" and "A Cabinet of Drawings," plus the new Ezra Pound materials, after the jump.

A postcard, breezily illustrated by Pablo Picasso, is hung perpendicular to the wall so visitors can see both back and front.

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A fan who was trying to put a stop to unlicensed editions of Salinger's work received this 1974 note from the reclusive author. I blurred the city in the return address, but it's there for any visitor to read.

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The upstairs gallery held a few of the new Ezra Pound materials from the collection of Marcella Spann Booth. Booth befriended Pound after his return to the U.S. and later became his secretary. She ended up with some of his childhood memorabilia, such as these photos and lock of his blond hair.

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Among the papers are a snapshot of Pound lounging shirtless in a beach chair during his asylum stay and this striking photo of Spann Booth.

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Mystery writer Earl Stanley Gardner left many of his materials to the Ransom Center — if I'd been there during regular hours, I would have asked to see his complete reassembled study. Below is an illustration for one of his many magazine pieces.

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Some authors created their own art, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Early versions of his watercolors for "The Little Prince" are included in the exhibit "The Mystique of the Archive."

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It was news to me that Henry MIller supported himself by selling watercolors in the years before "Tropic of Cancer" was finally released in the U.S. (I'd thought he relied on the kindness of his wealthy friends and lovers). But this painting shows he had a colorful charm. Actually, his writing shows that too.

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— Carolyn Kellogg

All photos: Carolyn Kellogg

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