Tuesday, August 7th, 2012...10:00 am

Remembering Gore Vidal

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Gore Vidal with Houghton archivist Jennifer Lyons, looking through the Vidal papers in the Houghton Reading Room (June 2007)To the various epithets used to describe Gore Vidal—“elegant,” “acerbic,” “provocative,” “witty”—should be added “generous.” Harvard was the receipient of a magnificent gift from Mr. Vidal, his papers, in 2002.

Vidal first began to consider Harvard as a home for his papers while working with the late Lincoln scholar David Donald, Charles Warren Professor of History (1973-2001), for his novel Lincoln. Long noted for its strong holdings of 19th- and 20th-century literary papers, Houghton Library was a logical place to steward the papers of the eminent novelist and critic. That idea came to fruition after a chance meeting with the late Houghton Keeper of Printed Books James Walsh, and an enthusiastic collector of Vidal’s work, in Ravello, Italy, where Vidal had a home for many years. Combined, Walsh’s collection of Vidal’s published work and the papers themselves have made Houghton Library a center for Vidal studies since the collection opened for research in 2007.

“Gore Vidal was one of that rare breed, a public intellectual,” remarked Leslie A. Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, who was instrumental in bringing the collection to Harvard. “His deep engagement in the literary world is richly reflected in his manuscripts and in his correspondence, as is his political activity, making the archive a window not only on his own work but on many of the cultural issues occupying mid- to late- 20th-century America.” Vidal continued that initial generosity by continuing to send manuscripts and correspondence until quite recently, she said. “The Harvard Library has lost a generous friend.”

Photo: Gore Vidal with Houghton archivist Jennifer Lyons, looking through the Vidal papers in the Houghton Reading Room (June 2007)

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