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Archive of Writer David Foster Wallace Now Open for Research

The archive of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), author of “Infinite Jest” (1996), “The Broom of the System” (1987), “Girl with Curious Hair” (1989) and numerous collections of stories and essays, is now open at the Harry Ransom Center. A finding aid for the collection can be accessed online.

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The archive of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), author of “Infinite Jest” (1996), “The Broom of the System” (1987), “Girl with Curious Hair” (1989) and numerous collections of stories and essays, is now open at the Harry Ransom Center. A finding aid for the collection can be accessed online.

Opening page of corrected proof of Wallace

Opening page of corrected proof of Wallace’s 1996 essay “Shipping Out: On the (Nearly Lethal) Comforts of a Luxury Cruise” for Harper’s magazine. 

The Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, acquired Wallace’s archive last year. The collection is made up of 34 document boxes and eight oversize folders and is divided into three main sections: works, personal and career-related materials and copies of works by Don DeLillo. The works section covers the period between 1984 and 2006 and includes material related to Wallace’s novels, short stories, essays and magazine articles. The personal and career materials section covers 1971 through 2008 and includes juvenilia, teaching materials and business correspondence. Most of the correspondence in the collection is between Wallace and his editors and is related to his work. The third, and smallest, section includes photocopy typescripts of three works by Don DeLillo, one of which, “Underworld,” contains extensive handwritten annotations by Wallace. DeLillo’s archive also resides at the Ransom Center.

“We have been contacted by many scholars eager to study both the manuscripts and books,” said Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center. “Notably, we’ve had particular interest from younger scholars, including students working on dissertations — and even undergraduate theses — who hope to visit the archive soon enough to incorporate their findings before impending deadlines. It is quickly becoming apparent that this is an opportunity for the Ransom Center to welcome a new generation of scholars into our reading room, just as the Wallace papers themselves mark a new generation of writers to be acquired by the Center.”

The archive also contains more than 300 books from Wallace’s library, many of them heavily annotated.

“We expect that researchers will be particularly struck by the rich materials to be found in Wallace’s library,” said Schwartzburg. “The Ransom Center holds the personal libraries of several writers, such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton and many others. But I can’t think of another author’s library here that contains as much — or as consistently substantive –marginalia as Wallace’s. And in many of the books, the marginalia can be linked to specific projects Wallace was working on at the time, whether a novel, story, essay or even an undergraduate class he was teaching.”

Materials for Wallace’s posthumous novel “The Pale King” are included in the archive, but the bulk of those materials will remain with Little, Brown and Company until the book’s publication, which is scheduled for April 2011.

Since the center announced its acquisition of the archive, a few small collections have arrived that complement the materials acquired from Wallace’s estate, including copies of surveys that Wallace completed as a member of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel. Though most of the survey questions were designed to be answered with a mere check mark, the surveys Wallace completed are covered with his comments and questions.

Also, Jay Jennings, the former editor of “Tennis Magazine,” who in 1996 commissioned Wallace to write an article about the U.S. Open (published as “Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open”), donated a file of corrected proofs and correspondence related to the article.

Because of anticipated high demand for study of this collection, the center requests that researchers inform curatorial staff of their research plans in advance. To enable staff to best serve researchers’ needs, the center asks that researchers include the dates of their planned visit and a brief description of the sections of the collection they expect to study.

A small selection of materials from the archive will be displayed in the Ransom Center’s lobby through Oct. 17.

The Ransom Center commemorates the opening of the archive with public readings of Wallace’s work by writers and actors on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. (C.S.T.) in the university’s Jessen Auditorium in Homer Rainey Hall. The event, which is co-sponsored by “American Short Fiction” and Salvage Vanguard Theater, will be webcast live.

Select materials from the Wallace archive will be included in the upcoming spring exhibition “Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century,” which opens Feb. 1, 2011.

High-resolution press images of items from the archive are available.