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Harvard Acquires Gore Vidal Papers

Houghton Library, the rare book and manuscript repository of the Harvard College Library, has acquired the papers of author Gore Vidal. Together with the near-complete set of Vidal printed materials collected over the years by Houghton's James Walsh—retired keeper of printed books—the acquisition makes Houghton Library the center of Vidal studies.

A chance meeting between Walsh and Vidal led to the current acquisition. Walsh took a trip sponsored by the Boston Athenaeum to Italy where one of the destinations was Vidal's villa outside Ravello. Vidal informed Walsh that he was considering Harvard as a repository for his papers, largely as a result of conversations about the nature of his work with former Harvard professor and Lincoln scholar, David Donald. Houghton Library has long been regarded as a major repository for 19th—and 20th—century literary papers, and Vidal felt it was an appropriate place for his collection.

"The papers of Gore Vidal will be part of a world-renowned collection that includes the papers of American writers from Henry Adams and Henry James to Sarah Orne Jewett, Louisa May Alcott, and John Ashberry. My colleagues and I are pleased that Mr. Vidal has decided to entrust his papers to us, and we are honored by his trust," said William P. Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library.

Vidal's career embraces multiple genres. His initial work was in theatre, television, and film. Later, he turned to historical fiction, such as his best-selling Julian and his series of seven novels examining the history of America from the Revolutionary War to the present. His work also includes experimental "inventions," such as Myra Breckinridge.

"Gore Vidal's involvement in the literary world is richly reflected in his correspondence, as is his political activity, making the archive a window not only on his own work but on many of the cultural issues occupying mid- to late-20th-century America," said Leslie A. Morris, curator of manuscripts in the Harvard College Library. Morris, who will hire a project cataloger to process and catalog the Vidal papers, predicts that the archive will be fully accessible to students and scholars by 2007.

The papers come to Houghton via the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the University of Wisconsin. Vidal initially placed his collection there in the 1960s when theatre, television, and film were still his focus.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.