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The Writer’s Life

Collections, Contemporary Literature, Finding Aids

Finding Aid for the Cynthia Macdonald Papers Now Available Online

What does it mean to live the Writer’s Life? We often hold to the stereotype of the solitary writer, alone among her books in a cramped apartment above a laundromat or a Greek restaurant, hammering away at the keyboard (or better yet: typewriter) to the strains of the city outside her window, the cacophony of sirens and taxicabs and nightclub jazz and the whistle and scream of anguished souls on the streets below. Or the even more hermit-like author, tucked away in a mountain cabin, sitting in a rocking chair he carved himself while ruminating on the beautiful mysteries of Mother Nature and the folly of humankind.cmac003-cc

But there is another way, and Cynthia Macdonald, co-founder of the UH Creative Writing Program, has lived it. The Writer’s Life can be one that is fully engaged with the world around her. The writer can laugh and cry and struggle and celebrate with an unrelenting vigor. The writer can draw people into her orbit; can follow her curiosity down myriad paths to become an eclectic expert; can live firmly on the ground in the real world and turn its drudgeries and heartbreaks and ecstasies into Art.

The finding aid for the Cynthia Macdonald Papers is now available online, and the collection is a treasure trove for researchers, writing students, fans of Macdonald’s poetry, and anyone interested in seeing how a writer makes a go of it in this world.

Special Collections houses more than 45 boxes of Cynthia Macdonald’s work and personal materials. The collection includes multiple drafts of her cmac002_horizontalpoems, both published and unpublished, both typed and handwritten, from scrawls on paper napkins and backs of envelopes to fully polished manuscripts. In addition to Macdonald’s writings, the collection also highlights the business and publicity surrounding a modern writer: contracts and royalty statements; writing proposals, grants, and awards; news clippings, book reviews, and poetry readings.

The abundance of correspondence is especially rich, featuring letters to and from Macdonald’s writing friends, teaching colleagues, and family members. Among the many noteworthy contributors are famous poets and writers such as Louise Erdrich, James Michener, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton, as well as artists in other fields such as painter Helen Frankenthaler, photographer Gay Block, and singer Judy Collins.

The collection also provides a window into Macdonald’s long career as co-founder and teacher at UH’s acclaimed Creative Writing Program; her early, budding career as an opera singer; and her later, successful career as a professional psychoanalyst. The diligent researcher can also piece together other aspects of Macdonald’s life from a vast array of personal and family mementos and photographs, collected over almost the entire course of her life, from early childhood onward.

For more information about what is contained in the collection, be sure to take a look at the detailed finding aid. The original materials can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.

So, what does it mean to live the Writer’s Life – or any life, for that matter? One way is to hunker down, hole up, and protect one’s writing and one’s heart in the safety of one’s own company, alone, but safe, but alone. Another way, though, as Cynthia Macdonald has demonstrated, is to reach out for all of life, to embrace life fiercely and expressly, to share bravely our thoughts and opinions and hearts with others, to write and live and write again and live some more, to dare to engage every aspect of the world around us, opening ourselves to the possibility of pain, yes, but to that of love as well.

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