With research at the Harry Ransom Centre finished and with me and Professor Rachel Potter at work on a report outlining our findings so far, it was time to head off for another slice of PEN’s archives, this time at the McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Before taking up the position of Director of the Harry Ransom Centre, Thomas F. Staley served as Chair of Modern Literature and Provost at the University of Tulsa and it was here that he first began acquiring parts of the PEN Archive.
He continued collecting in his new role at the HRC, which is why the other parts of the archive are in Texas.
The collection of materials at Tulsa is the first part of its archive that PEN sold, and was acquired by the library in 1984.
It consists of 28,300 letters by writers in correspondence with English PEN, including Arthur Koestler, T.S. Eliot, Agatha Christie, Sam Selvon, Rebecca West and Kingsley Amis.
Covering the period from 1932 to 1983, the letters offer unique insights into these writers works and their lives, as they discuss everything from wartime paper shortages to the challenges of seeing the organisation through the perils of the Cold War.
In many ways they complement and expand the findings from the Ransom Centre offering behind-the-scenes insights and off-the-cuff remarks pertaining to the big literary and political scandals of the day, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to T.V. censorship, the actions of the Soviet Writers Union to discussions of the organisation’s core aims and ideas.
Most excitingly, they offer a great insight into the everyday workings of PEN through the decades, providing a full record of events, who attended, what hospitality was on offer and even what writers thought of one another!
We see the personalities of PEN’s hardworking International Secretaries come to the fore in their letters and responses to even the most menial of requests. We will be publishing some blogs on these unsung heroes – Hermon Ould, David Carver and Josephine Pullein Thompson based on our findings.
We even learned that there was an informal expectation that members contribute to the “PEN Cellar” – the communal bar at their one-time headquarters in Glebe House – a bottle of spirits for every book published in a given year! While we see contributions from such as Cynthia Asquith and Vera Brittain, Enid Blyton wins the day after publishing 12 books in one year and contributing no less than 12 bottles (6 vermouth and 6 gin)!