Behind the Facade:
The Lilly Library's Creative Side

Ask a student studying creative writing on the Indiana University Bloomington campus what they do to perfect their craft, and they will probably mention attending workshops and readings, seeking advice from professors and fellow students. Chances are they will not mention doing research in the Lilly Library, the rare book, manuscript, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries system. The Lilly's stately facade seems to speak only of things past, of relics preserved. Yet within the Lilly's collections there are lively exchanges between writers and editors, letters from writers to their colleagues, and the notes and manuscripts of several of the great writers of the twentieth century.

While an author's successive drafts can provide a sort of silent commentary on the creative process, Lilly Library Director William Cagle suggests that "the collections we have that relate to the give and take between an author and an editor are often more revealing of the creative process than are drafts of a work in progress." Cagle explains that collections from authors who were editors themselves "contain much that should be of interest to people studying creative writing," allowing them "to see how the author/editor can influence and shape the style of another writer. It is an interesting aspect of the literary holdings here in this library that has not been mined very much by our students and faculty." Cagle cites the papers of twentieth century poet, essayist, critic, and editor Ezra Pound as an example. Within the Pound collection, there are many letters from T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and other writers that reveal Pound's efforts to encourage and promote the young writers of his day.

Similar collections in the Lilly include the papers of Gordon Lish, a longtime fiction editor for Esquire magazine, Rust Hills, also a fiction editor for Esquire, and Malcolm Bradbury, a British writer who ran the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia in England for many years. "With these authors, we have an exchange between somebody who is an editor interested in creative writing and a younger writer or colleague with whom they discuss the fine points of writing," Cagle says. "In the papers of Gordon Lish, for example, you can see how Lish edited manuscripts of the writers he dealt with—Raymond Carver is a notable example in this particular case. You can see what Carver wrote, how Lish edited it, and the correspondence between the two about the editorial changes. You see the creative process, and you see their discussion and evaluation of the creative process."

Malcolm Bradbury's papers, which arrived in August, are among the Lilly's latest acquisitions. The Lilly also recently acquired all the manuscripts of the novels of Patrick O'Brian, a writer of sea stories set in the Napoleonic era. "They're interesting because for some of his later books we have his working notes—research notes—so you can see the amount of work he had to do to understand the naval tactics of the time, the language of the maritime world, all of those things that go along with creating a good historical novel," Cagle says.

Among literary genres, the Lilly Library's holdings are strongest in poetry. It has the papers of poets Sylvia Plath and Pound, as well as the files of Poetry magazine and the archives of several smaller magazines that emphasize poetry. The Lilly's collections from novelists, which include the manuscripts of Upton Sinclair, Edith Wharton, and Richard Hughes, among others, are also extensive. Although the library is "not particularly strong in manuscripts of plays," according to Cagle, it does have rich holdings in film scripts.

Twenty years from now the author collections that students and scholars comb for clues to creative writing could look very different. As more and more authors use word processors to write and e-mail to correspond with their editors and colleagues, archivists and librarians wonder about the future of manuscript and personal papers collections. "A lot of it is going to have to do with individual habits," Cagle says. "Some people make printouts of drafts and save them, others write and revise on disk without keeping a record of early versions." As Cagle points out, though, "that's been the case in the past, too. Some people were savers and kept every scrap of paper; other people, once they sent off the final typescript to the publisher, discarded their earlier versions. We're just going to have to wait and see what survives."

--Heather Shupp