Category Archives: Literature Collections

1962: Connecting Amiri Baraka, Angus MacLise and La Monte Young in Recent Additions

Cover of audio reel from the Amiri Baraka Papers (Box 91)


A recent acquisition by Karla Nielsen, Curator of Literature, of material relating to La Monte Young and Angus MacLise from Kenneth Mallory Booksellers coincides with a unique, historical audio recording discovered recently in the Amiri Baraka Papers (pictured above).  The set of 1964 concert posters for La Monte Young’s performing ensemble, then consisting of John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Marian Zazeela, represent the beginnings of The Tortoise His Dreams and Journeys, a well-known yet sparsely publicly-documented work by Young and the Theater of Eternal Music that came to be a musical turning point for Young and his colleagues.

Even more obscure than The Tortoise are the precursors to that work, yet a moldy audio reel box discovered in the papers of Amiri Baraka with the inscription “La Monte Young Concert August 26, 1962” came to light during digital preservation of the collection’s audio-visual materials.   With the help of Jung Hee Choi, friend and collaborator of La Monte Young, we were able to identify more exactly what the contents reflect.

The tortoise recalling the drone of the holy numbers as they were revealed in the dreams of the whirlwind & the obsidian gong & illuminated by the sawmill, the green saw-tooth ocelot & the high-tension line stepdown transformer : [advertisement]. Call number: ML45 .P63 1964g. ML45 .P63 1964g

The concert took place August 26, 1962  at 10-4 Group Gallery, 73 Fourth Avenue, New York, NY and was titled “26 VIII 62 Evening NYC.”  The ensemble consisted of La Monte Young, Soprano Saxophone; Angus MaClise, Hand Drums; Marian Zazeela, Voice Drone; Billy Linich (later Billy Name), Voice Drone.  The pieces they presented in this concert were [Untitled].  La Monte wrote of the program, “These pieces were evolved during the daily rehearsals of my Theatre of Eternal Music over the period from Spring 1962 until the inception of The Tortoise in the Winter of 1964. The work of this period involved static permutation techniques of my own design applied to constellations of pitches over various stationary and movable drone combinations.”

While the box containing the tape indicates an hour of music, in fact there is not much more than ten minutes worth of the concert reflected on the tape.  The majority of the tape consists of an extended interview with saxophonist Archie Shepp.  We could presume that at that time, when La Monte was primarily playing saxophone in the group rather than singing alongside Marian, Amiri Baraka saw a common interest in the two musicians with a more direct association than would be obvious today.  Beyond just conceptually overlapping for Baraka, it also appears that the Shepp interview is recorded over the missing minutes of the La Monte Young concert on the tape.

The second portion of the recent acquisition is an addition to our existing collection of Angus MacLise Papers. MacLise, who plays hand drums on the August 26, 1962 concert recording aforementioned, in 1962 also published an alternative calendar entitled Year.  Previously not well-represented in our MacLise collection, our 2017 Addition now includes several typed and handwritten manuscripts and revisions for Year, as well as correspondence, around the publication.  The MacLise Year calendar, since its publication, has maintained interest in the avant-garde music and poetry communities, and there is even a Twitter feed (@MacLiseYEAR) which bills itself as a day-by-day recitation of the work.

Tom McCutchon, Public Services Specialist

Note in MacLise’s hand, affixed to “YEAR” manuscript in the 2017 Additions to Angus MacLise Papers.





12/3 @ 6:00 PM, Butler 523 – The Book History Colloquium: How Radical was Joseph Johnson and Why Does Radicalism Matter? with John Bugg, Associate Prof. of English, Fordham University

JohnsonJoseph Johnson

Romantic-era publisher Joseph Johnson (1738-1809) was the dynamic center of the London dissenting community and is best known today for his work with politically progressive writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, William Blake, Charlotte Smith, and Erasmus Darwin. But Johnson also published “conservative” writers such as Thomas Malthus. In this talk, John Bugg analyzes the larger contours of Johnson’s extensive publication catalog (over 4,000 titles) and asks what it means for us to think about a publisher (rather than a writer) as “radical.”

John Bugg is an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University where he teaches British Romanticism, legal and political history, and Romantic-era print culture. He is the author of Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism (Stanford University Press, 2014), which examines the relations between literary culture and political repression at the end of the eighteenth century. His critical edition of the correspondence of Joseph Johnson will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.


The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

All sessions take place at 6:00 PM in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.


Go Set a Watchman in the papers of Harper Lee’s literary agents


Nelle Harper Lee, photographed by friend Michael Brown in October 1957, the same month that she signed the contract with Lippincott.

HarperCollins publishes Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman today, July 14, 2015.  With an initial print run of 2 million copies, this is the most highly anticipated book release of the year, carefully promoted by HarperCollins since their February 3rd announcement .

Go Set a Watchman’s publication has also generated advance press in the form of controversy. HarperCollins has billed the novel as a sequel to the Pulitzer prize-winning and perennially best-selling To Kill a Mockingbird. But Lee’s biographer Charles Shields asserts that Go Set a Watchman was an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

In The Washington Post, Neely Tucker questioned the timing of the decision to publish the novel sixty years after its composition and within months of the death of Nelle Lee’s protective older sister, Alice.  Alexandra Alter and Serge Kovaleski in The New York Times have pointed out discrepancies in the narrative about GSAW‘s composition and re-discovery given by HarperCollins and Lee’s current lawyer, Tonya Carter.  NPR books also reviews the debate about the novel’s genesis and the decision to publish.

The papers of Nelle Harper Lee’s literary agents, Annie Laurie Williams and Maurice Crain, held by the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library, have factored in these debates.  The visitor cards kept by Williams track the submission of manuscripts by agency authors and provide a detailed timeline for the creation and eventual shelving of the manuscript for Go Set a WatchmanALW_VisitorCard_1 ALW_VisitorCard_2ALW_VisitorCard_3On the series of sequentially numbered cards above, one can see that starting on January 14, 1957, Harper Lee began delivering the pages of Go Set a Watchman at a steady pace of approximately fifty pages per week until it is noted as completed on February 27, 1957.  The manuscript then underwent editing, and by October 17, 1957, a fully edited manuscript was sold to J.B. Lippincott without a title, a fact corroborated by Maurice Crain’s facsimile of the contract in a contracts ledger, the first page of which is pictured below.Crain_Contract-1Lee then spent two years revising the novel. On the third of the sequential notecards pictured above (note the typed numbers in the upper-right corner of the notecards), a new title for the novel contracted by Lippincott emerges: To Kill a Mockingbird.  A separate card (below) from a file that Annie Laurie Williams kept for manuscripts also illustrates the change of title.  Filed under Lippincott, To Kill a Mockingbird appears above Go Set a Watchman, which has been crossed out. This emendation and the sequence of submissions noted in the visitor cards supports Nelle Lee’s comment that GSAW is the “parent” of TKAM, a novel set in Maycomb years after the plot of TKAM but drafted before.ALW_LippincotManuscriptCard_1Annie Laurie Williams (1894-1977) was already a successful literary agent known for Hollywood successes such as Gone with the Wind (1939) by the time she and Maurice Crain teamed up as life and business partners. Together Williams and Crain handled the work of literary greats such as John Steinbeck and Nelle Harper Lee.  Williams donated her and Crain’s papers to Columbia University in 1971.

Nelle Lee first contacted the agents in 1956. The earliest visitor cards in the collection note that Lee first submitted short stories to her agents and that they first received her as a friend of Truman Capote. The papers of Williams and Crain show that they developed a close friendship with Lee, whom they often invited to join them at their weekend home in Connecticut. But documentation concerning Lee’s writing and revision process is scant, perhaps because so much of the discussion was conducted in person.

A statement published in the WSJ yesterday by Tonja Carter, as well as Jonathan Mahler’s New York Times article focusing on Lee’s relationship to her editor at Lippincott, Tay Hohoff, suggests that there is more evidence to consider as this newly visible work changes the conversation about one of the country’s most beloved novelists. Initial reviews of Go Set a Watchman (by Michiku Kakutani in The New York Times and Mark Lawson in The Guardian) have raised questions about the diverging racial politics of the two novels, for example. Hopefully access to a second work by Harper Lee will bring more critical and scholarly attention to her writing as well.

This blog post and a small exhibit of these materials currently up in the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library were put together by Tom McCutchon and Karla Nielsen.

Book History Colloquium: Catalogue as Map in the Library of Ferdinand Columbus

1404767983971Thurs., November 13th at 6:00 PM in 523 Butler Library

Seth Kimmel, Assistant Professor, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Columbia University

Ferdinand Columbus (Christopher’s second son) was an avid bibliophile who amassed one of the largest libraries of the sixteenth century. The series of catalogues that he devised to navigate his collection have long captivated historians of the book. Yet Ferdinand was an accomplished cartographer as well as a librarian. Along with a team of experts based in his hometown of Seville, Ferdinand helped to compile peninsular topographical data and to keep the Crown’s world map up-to-date, even as he worked tirelessly to build his book and print collection. Drawing on Ferdinand’s catalogues as well as a series of testaments composed around the time of his death, this presentation examines the intertwined relationship between bibliography and cartography in the early modern period.

Seth Kimmel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University. His research focuses on Early Modern Iberia, theories of secularism and religion, the history of reading, and cultural exchange and conflict among Iberian Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Kimmel’s current book project is an intellectual history of New Christian assimilation. The book argues that canon law, Oriental Studies, and history writing were all transformed by hotly contested debates over eradicating Islam and Judaism from the Iberian Peninsula and converting non-Christians elsewhere in the Spanish empire.

The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.

All sessions take place 6:00 PM in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

Now Online: Jack Agüeros Papers, 1914-2012

Agüeros pictured in 1967, far right, then the deputy director of the Puerto Rican Community Development Project–the nation’s first Puerto Rican anti-poverty organization

(Image credit: Agüeros Family)

The papers document the life of Jack Agüeros, a Puerto Rican-American poet, community activist, translator, playwright, educator and a former director of El Museo del Barrio.  The papers reach as far back as his high school yearbook and include his personal and professional correspondence over fifty-one years, drafts of published and unpublished work ranging from plays and novellas to a description of Agüeros’s experiences riding the New York City subway’s from 1987-1989.  Agüeros saved and documented his research (for poems translation work and lawsuits); he framed his hate mail and carefully stored his fan mail from students and fellow poets.  The Jack Agüeros Papers include artifacts from his collection of old tools and metal findings, detailed records of his submission rejections as well as copies of his accepted works, timelines and ephemera from his many readings, slides from gallery installations at El Museo del Barrio, and many of the articles that he wrote for New York newspapers.

See, “The Agüeros Archive: Preserving New York’s Latino Heritage” at Columbia E-News.

See also, “Columbia preservará historia de hispanos en NY” at El Diario.

Now Online: Joseph McCrindle Papers, 1895-2003

Joseph McCrindle was a literary agent, art collector, and philanthropist. He founded the Transatlantic Review in 1959, and created the Henfield Foundation which awards grants to arts, music, and social justice organizations in 1977.

The collection contains both personal and professional papers of Joseph McCrindle. The professional papers are centered on the records of his literary agency, while the personal papers include photographs, correspondence, and ephemera related to McCrindle and his family. See,

McCrindle was born in 1923 to Odette Feder and J. Ronald McCrindle and raised primarily by his grandparents on the Upper East Side of New York. He attended St. Paul’s School in Manhattan before attending Harvard University where he earned his BA. He served in World War II as a translator and, after his service, attended Yale Law School where he received his JD in 1948.

McCrindle worked briefly in publishing and on Wall Street starting his own literary agency where he worked with authors such as John Updike, Philip Roth, and L.P. Hartley. In 1959 he founded The Transatlantic Review, a literary journal dedicated to publishing both American and British writers. The journal ceased publishing in 1977, and McCrindle remained editor for the entire life of the magazine.

McCrindle was also an enthusiastic and discerning art collector. He began collecting art and antiquarian books at a young age; over the course of his life amassed a large and impressive art collection with a special focus on old master drawings.

McCrindle’s lifelong interest in the arts is reflected by his establishment of the Henfield Foundation, now known as the Joseph McCrindle Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to promoting arts, music, and social justice.

“Mr. Farley! This is War!”

Annalisa Pesek, RBML Intern (summer, 2011)

Today’s climactic moment as an RBML intern arrives at that time in the day when your fingers are beginning to tingle from the constant re-foldering and you start to question whether or not the demise of your career as an archivist will be the result of your enduring curiosity.  As my fits of laughter interrupt the silence resonating in the basement of the Lehman Library, I can’t help but share the contents of an impassioned fan letter addressed to Mr. Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion series. I’d been waiting for this moment after spending the past two months assembling some order to approximately 22 boxes of Farley’s personal papers (only 22 or more to go) and now I am perhaps discovering more about the man’s shortcomings from his readers than from what I find to be often queer but informatively creative stories involving so far not only a Great Stallion, but also a Great Dane, and now a Girl.  Farley’s series has and continues to attract readers of all ages.

However, stumbling upon this particular correspondence between Farley and a devoted fan, who describes herself as, “ . . . a girl, a 13 year old girl in love with horses” deserves a second, third, and even fourth reading. Writing in a voice reminiscent of a youthful Cleopatra ready to wage war, the writer confronts and demands revision if not at least reconciliation regarding Farley’s decisions for the actions of his main character, Alec, (Farley’s leading man) who appears in nearly every book.

The Black Stallion and the Girl, one of his later stories published in 1971 received more attention than his previous works, according to my knowledge from his archive. For some, the book was considered sexist, for others, not sexist enough as was in the case of the letter you are about to read.

This fan letter prompted Farley to write a semi-curt reply, defending his book and encouraging the haughty youth to relax and reread the content due to her lack of fully understanding the context.

His reaction leads the girl to feeling remorse (unfortunately) which leads to her confession – the truth behind her angry words was her imagination and her desire for young love with ALEC, thus her impulsive jealousy of The Girl, Pam who gets to be with Alec prompted her war bent pen to the point of raising hell!

As a newbie archivist opening box after box of unsolved mysteries and untold stories, I will never know anything more about this reader or the influence Farley’s books may have had on her life, but I am certain the three of us in Lehman that day, including Chris, Carrie, and myself strongly identified with the spirit of the 13 year-old girl in love with a fictional character, sharpening her sword, wishing she was the one Alec loved, wishing she was The Girl.

C’mon, haven’t we all experienced or imagined we experienced unrequited love with a fictional character(s) or a living/dead author(s)? I know I have plenty of confessions . . .