AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center has acquired the archive of critically acclaimed American novelist Don DeLillo.
The papers of DeLillo, author of 13 novels and three plays, find a fitting home in the center’s collections. Among the 120 boxes of materials are notes, drafts and typescripts for DeLillo’s novels and plays, as well as a comprehensive collection of articles and stories, correspondence and unpublished material for the screenplay “Game 6.” The materials range from 1959 through 2003.
One of several notebooks kept by the author for his novel “Underworld” (1997).
“The acquisition of the DeLillo archive is especially poignant, for besides the opportunity the archive gives scholars to study his creative process, it provides a bridge from the work of earlier postmodernists, such as Thomas Pynchon, to the current zeitgeist represented by modern young writers, such as Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers and Zadie Smith, all of whom have elicited comparisons to DeLillo,” said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley.
The son of Italian immigrants, DeLillo grew up in the predominantly Italian-American Fordham section of the Bronx with his immediate family as well as his grandparents, an aunt and uncle and three cousins.
DeLillo cites New York itself as an early influence, mentioning the Museum of Modern Art, the Jazz Gallery and the Village Vanguard as important places in his formative years.
It wasn’t until he was 18 that DeLillo became a serious reader; working as a playground attendant, or “parkie,” he consumed Faulkner, Joyce and Hemingway, developing an affinity for the “sculptural quality” of words.
“Perhaps it is Bill Gray, the protagonist in DeLillo’s novel ‘Mao II’ (1991), who best encapsulates the author’s sentiments about the power of words when he states, ‘The language of my books has shaped me as a man,’” Staley said. “‘There’s a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer’s will to live.’”
After attending Fordham University, DeLillo worked as a copywriter for the advertising firm of Ogilvy Benson and Mather in New York. He began work on what was to become his first novel, “Americana” (1971), in 1966, and spent the next four years completing it, setting in motion a career that has produced such highly praised works as “White Noise” (1985), “Libra” (1988) and “Underworld” (1997).
DeLillo’s work has earned him such honors as a National Book Award (“White Noise”), a PEN/Faulkner Award (“Mao II”), the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (“Underworld”) and the Jerusalem Prize (1999) for lifetime achievement.
DeLillo sums up the significance of archives in a quote from The Paris Review, “Discarded pages mark the physical dimensions of a writer’s labor—you know, how many shots it took to get a certain paragraph right. Or the awesome accumulation, the gross tonnage of first draft pages. The first draft of ‘Libra’ sits in 10 manuscript boxes. I like knowing it’s in the house. I feel connected to it. It’s the complete book, the full experience containable on paper.”
The archive is available to researchers and the public.
The Ransom Center and the university’s James A. Michener Center for Writers will host DeLillo at a public lecture on campus on Feb. 10, 2005.
The Ransom Center’s collections include more than 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, 100,000 works of art and design as well as holdings in film, and French and Italian collections.
For more information contact: Travis Willmann, Ransom Center, 512-232-3667.