Category Archives: Literature Collections

Newly Acquired | Papers of author Lydia Davis

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve acquired the archives of multi-award winning author Lydia Davis.

Her archive features corrected drafts of her 2004 novel, The End of the Story, and stories, personal correspondence and journals dating back to her adolescence, as well as notes and drafts relating to her translation projects and her 35 years of teaching.

Continue reading

Talk | An aftertaste of dread: Cornel Woolrich in fiction and film

27 March 2019 | 7:30pm | Lenfest Arts Center

This Rare Book & Manuscript Library event marks the opening of the The Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival hosted by Columbia University’s School of the Arts. It will feature James Naremore, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus, Indiana University.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds the Cornell Woolrich Papers.

The festival’s themes is The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Paris 1946 and American Film Noir and is curated by Rob King, Film and Media Studies.

Co-sponsored by the School of the Arts. RSVP is required.

RBML is hiring a Curator of Literature

bookstore shelves with levitating book

This is not how RBML handles books. Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

We’re pleased to announce an opening here in Columbia University Libraries’ Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a new Curator of Literature.

The ideal candidate is an accomplished and creative professional with an MLIS or PhD in English, American Literature or related fields.

Primarily, the Curator develops, manages and actively promotes the use of RBML literature collections through programmatic outreach, awareness, public programs and instructional activities.

The Curator is responsible for developing holdings in literature in all formats (e.g., print and archives) through purchase and donation.

Key to the Curator position are archival and/or librarianship skills related to stewarding literature collections that are in place, prioritizing their organization, description, conservation, digitization, and security.

Though very broad in scope, RBML’s Literature collections concentrate around the history of publishing, “obscene” or erotic literature, poetry between the World Wars, the European realist novel, the Beats, African-American literature of the twentieth century, and contemporary poetry, as well as eighteenth-century belles lettres, the novel, fine press and artist books, and twentieth-century small press production.

Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and strongly encourages individuals of all backgrounds and cultures to consider this position.

Please see the full advertisement for more details, qualifications and how to apply. PDF: Curator of Literature Ad

Book Talk | Susan Orlean on her book, The Library Book

November 29, 2018, 6 pm
523 Butler

woman in wallpapered library

New Yorker Staff writer and author Susan Orlean will talk about her latest work, The Library Book, which is both an investigation of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire and a meditation on her lifelong love of books and libraries. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired Orlean’s archive in 2015.

This lecture is a part of the Book History Colloquium series. This event is now fully booked but you can join the waitlist.


rows of archival boxes in a white room

New and Updated Collections | November 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened or updated by RBML archivists.

Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
“Ian and Betty Ballantine were book publishers who contributed to the
growth of paperback book sales in the United States between the 1940s
and the 1990s. The Ian and Betty Ballantine Books and Business Records
include the Ballantines’ materials related to Penguin Books USA,
Bantam Books, Ballantine Books, and Peacock Books. Administrative
documents cover the management of these presses as well as the
editorial, sales, inventorying, and advertising processes. In
addition, the collection contains the bulk of the editorial libraries
of Penguin Books USA, Bantam Books, and Ballantine Books.”

Pamela Moore Papers
“Pamela Moore (1937-1964) was an American novelist, best known for
Chocolates for Breakfast (1956). The papers contain correspondence,
clippings, contracts, diaries, drafts, manuscripts, memorabilia,
photographs, notebooks, notes, outlines, proofs, school materials,
sketch books, and a collection of published editions of Moore’s

Li Huang papers, 1928-1981
“The Li Huang papers contain manuscripts of his political writings
dating from 1929 to 1971, as well as reference materials for his

Kwang Pu Chen papers, 1936-1958
“The Kwang Pu Chen papers consist of documents and printed materials
assembled during Chen’s career in banking and finance, including his
negotiations for American loans (1938-1940), his affiliation with the
Universal Trading Corporation (1938-1958), Foreign Trade Commission
(1939-1940), Burma Road (1939-1940), Chinese Currency Stabilization
Fund and the Stabilization Board of China (1939-1943), and Foreign
Exchange Equalization Fund Committee (1947-1948)”

William Lambert Papers
“This collection consists of journalist William G. Lambert’s
(1920-1998) collected investigative materials such as correspondence,
news clippings, notes, notebooks, photographs and transcripts related
to his award winning reporting for The Oregonian, Portland, and for
Life magazine. In 1957, Lambert and his colleague Wallace L. Turner
(1921-2010) received the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting, which
uncovered widespread vice and corruption within the municipal Portland
city government that involved labor union officials of the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and
Helpers of America, Western Conference. In 1970, Lambert accepted the
George Polk Award for his 1969 Life magazine reporting, which revealed
that U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas (1910-1982)
accepted and later returned a suspect $20,000 fee, spurring Fortas’

Laura Engelstein Collection of Research Note Cards on Social and
Cultural History of Late Imperial Russia, bulk 1982 – 1992
“This collection is a wonderful glimpse into the research process of
distinguished professor Laura Engelstein, and also brings a great deal
of otherwise scattered (in Russian archives) material together on
topics of human sexuality in Imperial Russia. ”

Newly available RBML collections – September 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened by RBML archivists.

A large addition to the New York Clearinghouse records was processed,
and the finding aid substantially improved: “New York Clearing House Association (now The Clearing House Association) was founded in 1853 as the first banking clearing house
in the United States. The records include amicus briefs, constitutions
and amendments, letter books, meeting minutes, financial ledgers and
statements, photographs, publications, and reports. ”

The finding aid for the Nicholas Murray Butler papers has been
encoded, with over 33,000 names of correspondents listed.

Columbia University Cuneiform Collection
“The collection consists of 625 cuneiform tablets (dating from circa
3100-539 BCE), and some ancient clay objects. Accompanying these are
some twentieth century casts, and a collection of catalogs of the
collection, articles about various parts, especially Plimpton 322, and
correspondence about the tablets, including a number of letters,
mostly from Edgar J. Banks, to George A. Plimpton, and others about
tablets now in the Columbia collection.”

A. J. A. Symons papers
“A small group of materials, chiefly consisting of English writer and
bibliographer A. J. A. Symons’ correspondence and records related to
the First Edition Club, which Symons founded in 1922. Stuart B.
Schimmel collected the materials.”

Susan Orlean papers
“This collection documents Orlean’s career as a writer and a
journalist, and also includes some personal materials and school
papers. The collection includes address books, appointment books,
audio recordings, clippings, computer files, contracts,
correspondence, drafts, interviews, notes, notebooks, photographs,
proofs, publications, research materials, school records, and video
recordings. ” Continue reading

Book History Colloquium 2018 | Huxleyed into the Full Orwell

September 26, 2018, 6:00pm
Butler 523

Cory Doctorow at lecture podium

Photo by Brendan Lynch via Flickr

Journalist and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow will talk about the millennia-old social compact of the book, and the arbitrary renegotiation of that contract in the age of ebooks, where prior restraint, restrictions on lending, donation and gifting, and invasive, surveillant technologies have become the norm.

He will investigate how technology and license agreements have gone on to colonize our relationships with other devices and systems, from voting machines to tractors, insulin pumps to thermostats.

Co-sponsored by the Brown Institue for Media Innovation, Heyman Center. RSVP here

What is this place? A short intro to RBML

That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”

pink castle design and acronym rbml

Is there difference between a “castle” and a “palace?”

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections.  The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.

Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.

Continue reading

Researcher Profile: Dana Williams

 We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.
In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Dana Williams, Professor of African American Literature and Chair of the Department of English at Howard University in Washington D.C., about her research on Toni Morrison’s work as an acquisitions editor at Random House. Dr. Williams obtained her Ph.D. from Howard and first became interested in this topic as a graduate student. After completing several other book projects, Dr. Williams has returned to Morrison and to the Random House Archive at the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where she she has made several trips to the archive over the years to review Morrison’s editorial files.


What is your research project? 

I’m currently writing a book on Toni Morrison’s editorship at Random House Publishing Company. For now, I’m calling it “Toni at Random.” The project involves considering Morrison’s role as editor of over 50 trade books in different genres–novels, short story collections, poetry collections, autobiographies, non-literary books, and a cookbook among them.  Continue reading

RBML Researcher Profile | Wouter Capitain, Fulbright Scholar

We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.

In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Wouter Capitain about his research in the Edward Said Papers. He’s visiting Columbia’s Music Department as a Fulbright Scholar from the University of Amsterdam.

photo of cassette tapes

Select interviews, lectures and music from the Edward Said Papers.

Wouter Capitain first showed up in the Columbia RBML this past January. He is here for three months as a Fulbright scholar to do research on the Edward Said Papers. He is working on his doctoral dissertation at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (University of Amsterdam). Edward Said was internationally recognized as a literary critic and postcolonial theorist but less well known is his work related to music. Wouter Capitain’s research foregrounds Said’s interest in music, both as a performer and critic, and offers a re-reading of Said’s significance from that perspective. He proposes a contrapuntal theory of reading an archive that should have resonance beyond this particular project.

What is your research project?

I am writing my PhD dissertation about Edward Said’s work on music and its interactions with his theoretical and political engagements. I try to understand Said’s “work” or oeuvre as broadly as possible, not restricting it to his published output. The Edward Said Papers offer me the opportunity to study his unpublished work, such as teaching materials and personal correspondence. In this study I am influenced by Said’s “contrapuntal” perspective by paying attention to how different voices interact and overlap. Within the archive, I study the interactions between his various musical, theoretical, and political engagements, and his different professional activities as an author, teacher, and public intellectual.

How did you become interested in Edward Said?

I have a background in musicology, yet I am not necessarily interested in music as such but rather in how music interacts with other domains, and specifically with social and political issues. Many scholars have studied the ways in which society has an impact on music, but Said was also interested in how music has the potential to influence society. Through my former professor Rokus de Groot I became acquainted with Said’s writings about music and I wrote my master’s thesis about Said’s essay on Verdi’s Aida. I continued this research for my PhD dissertation on his work on music in general. Although many scholars have already written about Said, my dissertation will become the first book-length study of his work on music.

With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities.

What are you finding in the archive that is relevant to your project?

Much more than I can deal with in only three months. I am interested in the development of Said’s ideas about music and society, and the archive includes many documents that help me to trace these developments. These documents relate to his activities as a teacher, such as course descriptions and teaching notes, but also to his published writings themselves. For example, I have found many different drafts of his essays and books, as well as outlines and book proposals, which demonstrate the genesis and development of his ideas before they were published. In these three months I do not have the time to study all of these documents in detail, but I have already taken over fifty thousand words of notes and have photographed hundreds of documents which I will study more closely back home.

What is the most interesting thing that you have found in the archive? The most surprising?

I find Said’s handwritten drafts most interesting. Said always wrote with a pen; he didn’t use a typewriter or a computer. Obviously his published writings are typed out, but that was done by his assistant, who was Zaineb Istrabadi for most of Said’s later career. She would type out his handwritten draft, hand it back to him in print, and he would make handwritten corrections and additions, which she would incorporate in the typed version. This process would be repeated for perhaps three or four drafts before the text was finished, and most of these drafts are in the archive. It is thus relatively easy to trace how Said’s texts developed, although his handwriting is sometimes difficult to read. Interestingly, Said’s first handwritten drafts are often fairly close to the final published version of the text. (By the way, Said’s typed letters, faxes, and emails were also written by his assistant, based on his handwritten notes.)

These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading.

What I find most surprising is that Said was in frequent contact with musicologists. In his published writings it seems as if he was criticizing musicology from a distance, because he was of the opinion that the discipline was not paying sufficient attention to the social and political aspects of music, but from his personal correspondence it becomes clear that he was actively intervening within musicology. These materials illustrate that exclusive attention to Said’s published output can be quite misleading. He supported young and progressive musicologists in early stages of their career, for example by helping them to get their research published and by writing letters of recommendation. Besides, he evaluated the Music Department of Columbia in the late-1980’s and was on a number of tenure committees related to musicology, although the access to some of these documents is restricted. Even though I have studied Said’s writings for several years, I was not aware of the extent to which he directly interacted and intervened in musicology.

How do you think your project will change the way that we think about Edward Said?

Said’s work is often read rather monophonically, where the wide scope of his professional activities is reduced to just one publication, Orientalism (1978), and where his complex identity is similarly reduced to a singularity, Palestinian. With a “contrapuntal” perspective on his work I try to demonstrate that Said had multiple voices which interact and overlap with each other, sometimes sounding harmonious but at other times dissonant. The archive enables me to study the interactions and tensions between his different professional activities. Although I focus specifically on his work on music, I believe that this contrapuntal approach is also relevant to his legacy in other domains.

Anything else that you want to say?

This archive is enormous, with over a hundred and eighty large boxes full of paperwork. For my research it is extremely helpful that the documents are organized and indexed in a very accessible and systematic way. Without this organization it would cost me much more time to find and research the relevant materials, and I very much appreciate the effort that is spent on the structuring and indexing of the documents.