The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired a collection of African, African-American and Native-American literature from Charles R. Larson, a professor at American University who is highly regarded for his work on African and Third World writers.
Throughout his career, Larson befriended many of the writers featured in his collection, corresponded with them and anthologized many of their works. His collection includes signed and inscribed books, rare publications and unique manuscripts and letters. There are more than 1,100 books by African writers, 250 books by African-American and Caribbean writers, and 60 books by Native-American writers.
“I began reading African writers in 1962 when I was sent to Nigeria as a Peace Corps volunteer,” said Larson. “It was immediately apparent to me that a rich and exciting literature was emerging across the continent. My interests expanded when I returned to the United States and discovered similarly important (though sadly overlooked) writing by African-American and American Indian writers. I feel as if I’ve been in a privileged position to observe so many great writers during what is fast approaching a half century.”
“Charles R. Larson has written books on African, African-American, American Indian and Third World literatures, and his library reflects his wide-ranging interests,” said Dr. Bernth Lindfors, professor emeritus of English and African literatures at The University of Texas at Austin. “It is especially rich in books, manuscripts and correspondence by authors Larson was studying, interviewing and writing about. Scholars working at the Ransom Center on any of these literatures will find his collection an invaluable resource.”
Printed highlights include inscribed copies of major works of African, African-American, and Native-American literature; substantial runs of African literary magazines, including the foundational Nigerian journal Black Orpheus; and more than 120 Onitsha Market pamphlets, an important form of Nigerian popular literature.
Manuscript highlights include substantial correspondence with the South Africa/Botswana novelist Bessie Head and the Somali novelist Nuruddin Falah, research material and correspondence with African writers for Larson’s books on African literature and publishing, and a manuscript of the unpublished autobiography of popular Nigerian writer Cyprian Ekwensi.
The acquisition complements the Ransom Center’s existing holdings, including the papers of Amos Tutuola, the first Nigerian writer to reach international acclaim for his book “The Palm-Wine Drinkard,” and the papers of South African writer, editor and literary critic Stephen Gray. Gray’s papers include drafts of his own writing and correspondence and other materials related to the more than 20 books he edited and/or compiled of works by other African authors such as Herman Charles Bosman, Guy Butler, Athol Fugard, Head and Richard Rive.
The Ransom Center also holds the papers of the London-based Transcription Centre, an organization initially funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), which recorded interviews with African and Caribbean writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals for international radio broadcast and promoted African culture through a variety of other media. The Native-American materials in the Larson collection complement the Center’s Oliver LeFarge and J. Frank Dobie libraries.
“The Larson collection contains a wealth of material that will enrich the work of many faculty and students in African Studies, African-American Studies, Caribbean Studies and the developing area of Native-American and Indigenous Studies,” said Dr. Joni L. Jones, director of the Warfield Center for African and African-American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
“This collection will undoubtedly provide a wealth of original research material for faculty and graduate students and will make the university one of the premier repositories of African fiction in the country,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. “The acquisition of this rich collection, which was supported substantially by the President’s Office, shows the university’s commitment to be a leader in the field of African, African-American and Native-American studies.”
The materials will be accessible once organized and housed.
The University of Texas at Austin is hosting the 2009 Africa History Conference, which is themed “Science, Technology, and the Environment in Africa,” March 27-29. In conjunction with the conference, the Director’s Gallery will host a display of materials from the Ransom Center’s African literature collection, including manuscripts and correspondence by Head, Mazisi Kunene, Es’kia Mphahlele and Wole Soyinka, historical materials dating back to the Second Boer War and audio recordings of Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek and Joe de Graft. The Director’s Gallery, on the third floor of the Ransom Center, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
High-resolution press images of some of the new materials are available.