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Houghton Library Offers New Exhibition of Gore Vidal Papers

Carl Van Vechten, photographer. Gore Vidal, 1948.  (c) The Van Vechten Trust.

June 1, 2007 – For 60 years, novelist, essayist, playwright, and public intellectual Gore Vidal (1925- ) has kept his pencil sharp and his tongue even sharper as a witty and provocative commentator on American politics and letters. Vidal is the author of 29 novels, six theatrical plays, and numerous short stories, essays, screenplays, television scripts, and books of nonfiction, and there are few writers whose careers so nearly encompass the rich variety of 20th-century American life. This small exhibition, which celebrates the completion of the cataloging of the Gore Vidal Papers, provides a first glimpse of the large collection of material now available to researchers at the Houghton Library.

Among the materials on display in Houghton’s Amy Lowell Gallery are the manuscript for Williwaw, Vidal’s first novel, based on his experiences in World War II; The City and the Pillar, America's first openly homosexual novel, which provoked responses from many, including Alfred Kinsey, whose letter is included; photographs, including campaign photographs with John F. Kennedy; and letters from friends such as Tennessee Williams.

"The exhibition can give only a tiny sampling of the research possibilities offered by the Vidal Papers," says Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library.

Morris was responsible for negotiating the acquisition of the Vidal papers and supervised much of the cataloging process. She also worked with project archivist Jennifer Lyons, Manuscript and Visual Resources Cataloger in Houghton’s Technical Services department, as well as the curator of the new exhibition.

 "I can think of few figures who combine politics and literature in such richly interesting documents as these," says Morris, "and we hope the exhibition will lure scholars into visiting our Reading Room to explore for themselves."

A gift from Vidal himself to Harvard University in 2001, the archive is the largest collection of personal papers at Houghton Library. Occupying some 250 shelf-feet, and ranging in date from Vidal’s childhood into the 1990s, the collection includes manuscripts of novels, essays, speeches, short stories, and other works; letters from more than 3,500 correspondents; photographs; political papers from his 1960 run for Congress; legal and business papers; interviews; biographical materials; fan mail; film, audio, and video tapes; and more. The four-year project to organize, describe, and rehouse the collection was completed in March 2007.  These papers, together with the library's extensive collection of rare and first editions of Vidal's books, a gift to the library in 2002 from James Walsh, makes Houghton Library the center of Vidal studies.

"Gore Vidal at Harvard: Celebrating a Beginning" runs May 29 through
September 4, 2007, in the Amy Lowell Gallery, Houghton Library. Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri 9am-5pm; Tues 9am-8pm; Sat 9am-1pm