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Royal Dixon Papers Now Available

Contemporary Literature, Finding Aids, Guest Posts

The following comes to us courtesy of Elizabeth Barnes, who just wrapped up an internship through the Graduate Program in Public History, for which she processed numerous archival collections including the Royal Dixon Papers.

Royal Dixon and bird (December 1956, Royal Dixon Manuscripts)

Royal Dixon and bird (December 1956, Royal Dixon Papers)

Special Collections at the University of Houston Libraries announces the opening of the Royal Dixon Papers to the public.

Royal Dixon was a native of Huntsville where he later attended Sam Houston State University. His academic pursuits continued when he held the status of a special student at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Dixon’s long literary career began with a post at the Houston Chronicle and continued with many short stories and novels. Nearly all of his writing focused on nature and was characterized by the common theme of anthropomorphizing the natural world. His more notable works included The Human Side of Plants (1914), The Human Side of Trees (1917), The Human Side of Animals (1918) and The Ape of Heaven (1936).

Dixon was active in the community and in 1921 he began the First Church of Animal Rights, a short lived group aimed at promoting animal rights. In addition, he wrote on behalf of the plight of immigrants in the United States.

Dixon lived nearly all of his adult life with his partner, renowned local artist, Chester Snowden. The relationship was well documented to family, friends, and business associates. After a debilitating car accident, Snowden was able to take over as Dixon’s power of attorney until he had recovered.

The collection contains typescripts of several of his publications, personal correspondence, minutes and notes from his philanthropic work, and some of his personal teaching notes as well as some of Chester Snowden’s writings. Also included in the papers are many poignant reminiscences and biographical materials Snowden collected in the wake of his partner’s death in 1962.

"Dear Friend: 'THE FIRST CHURCH FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS' IS A REALITY!" (Royal Dixon Manuscripts)


The Royal Dixon Papers make a unique contribution to our Contemporary Literature Collection, providing insight into the naturalist preservation efforts in Houston during the first half of the Twentieth Century, as well as the LGBTQI community during the same time. For further information please consult the newly available finding aid. All of Royal Dixon’s original materials can be viewed in our reading room.

Remembering Poet Cynthia Macdonald

Contemporary Literature, Department News
Portrait of Cynthia Macdonald.

Portrait of Cynthia Macdonald

Cynthia Macdonald, acclaimed poet and co-founder of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, died last month at the age of 87.

Macdonald began her career intending to be an opera singer, then switched to writing poetry. She published seven books of poetry, including Amputations (1972), Transplants (1976), W(holes) (1980), and I Can’t Remember (1997). Her work revealed an interest in the artistic, the freakish, and the domestic, a preference for pithy language, a dark wit, and delight in playing with form. She was honored with a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship among other writing awards.

Macdonald came to the University of Houston after previously teaching at Sarah Lawrence College and Johns Hopkins University. In 1979, she founded the renowned Creative Writing Program along with fellow poet Stanley Plumly. Macdonald was considered an extremely knowledgeable and supportive instructor and mentor. In 1989 she received the Esther Farfel Award, the University of Houston’s highest faculty award.


Early draft of poem “No Time for Suicide”

In addition to writing and teaching, Macdonald was a practicing psychotherapist who specialized in helping people with writer’s block.

Also a mother, she leaves behind two children, Jennifer Macdonald and Scott Macdonald.

In 2010, the University of Houston Libraries acquired the Cynthia Macdonald Papers, a sprawling collection of manuscripts, correspondence, and materials from the writer’s teaching and psychoanalytical careers. Special Collections also holds the Library of Cynthia Macdonald, a collection of over 3000 books, primarily contemporary American poetry, many of which were inscribed to Macdonald by her literary friends.

See also, “The Writer’s Life.”

Literary Manuscripts and Correspondence

Contemporary Literature, Finding Aids
Ezra Pound, handwritten notes on “The Genteel Tradition in Liberal Education” by Harold A. Taylor, undated (Literary Manuscripts and Correspondence)

Ezra Pound, handwritten notes on “The Genteel Tradition in Liberal Education” by Harold A. Taylor, undated (Literary Manuscripts and Correspondence)

The University of Houston Special Collections is excited to announce the publication of the Literary Manuscripts and Correspondence finding aid. Items in this collection, which include letters, notes, and writings by several major literary figures, were previously housed separately in our A-Z files, but have now been gathered into one place to provide easier access for researchers interested in contemporary literature.

In this collection you’ll find items from many recognizable writers, such as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Charles Bukowski, and Eugene O’Neill. The materials also cover a wide range of time periods and locales. The oldest item, a letter from English poet Richard Braithewate, was written in 1634, while the newest, an article written by James Thurber for the magazine Adirondack Life, is from 1991. The collection also contains materials both from close to home, including letters written by Texas’ own Katherine Anne Porter, and abroad, such as letters written by Irish novelist Norah Hoult and an autograph from Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco.

Take a closer look at the finding aid to see which of your favorite authors make an appearance, or better yet, come visit us at Special Collections and see these unique and interesting materials in person!

Olive Hershey Papers

Contemporary Literature, Finding Aids
Page one of "Pigeon Shoot" chapter draft from Truck Dance, featuring edits from Donald Barthelme (Olive Hershey Papers).

Page one of “Pigeon Shoot” chapter draft from Truck Dance, featuring edits from Donald Barthelme (Olive Hershey Papers).

We are very pleased to announce the recent publication of the Olive Hershey Papers finding aid.

Born in Houston, Texas in 1941, Olive Hershey was educated at Connecticut College and the University of Texas at Austin before attending the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program.  Studying under trailblazing postmodernist Donald Barthelme and alongside the likes of Tracy Daugherty, Hershey earned her M.A. from UH in 1987.  Her published works include a collection of poems entitled Floating Face Up and her novel Truck Dance (originally her thesis while studying at UH).

The Olive Hershey Papers contain drafts, revisions, editorial notes, and writings from a handful of Hershey’s projects, however the bulk of materials are related to Truck Dance.  Particularly noteworthy are the drafts of the various chapters filled with the edits and suggested revisions of Daugherty and the unmistakable scrawl and insight of Barthelme.

A fine complement to our Contemporary Literature collections, the Olive Hershey Papers help provide even more context for a community of authors that established the University of Houston as a destination for emerging and talented literary voices.  For more information on the life and work of Olive Hershey we invite you to consult this newly published finding aid.  The original materials of the Olive Hershey Papers can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Remembering Lauren Bacall

Contemporary Literature, In the News

Lauren Bacall, a legend (though she despised the word) and icon of Hollywood’s golden era who taught the world how to whistledied in New York on Tuesday.

Born Betty Joan Perske to working-class immigrants in Brooklyn, her parents divorced when she was six years old.  Her mother, Natlie Perske (maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal) moved to Manhattan and young Betty Joan would go on to usher theaters on Broadway and model dresses on Seventh Avenue before her enigmatic beauty drew inquiries from Hollywood.  She left for the West Coast in 1942, reemerging as Lauren Bacall (“Lauren” at the behest of producer and director Howard Hawks, the additional “L” to assist in pronunciation), catching the silver screens aflame with a mystique and unmistakable, smoldering vocal delivery.

“Betty” to long-time friends and family, but always “Baby” to “Bogie,” she sometimes bristled at the attempts of others to define her in the context of that other iconic actor, her screen foil, and her husband (until his death in 1957), Humphrey Bogart.  “Being a widow,” she once told an interviewer, “is not a profession.”  Bacall and Bogart sparked on and off screen in To Have and Have Not (1944), married in 1945, and would go on to star opposite one another in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948).

detail from Larry McMurtry's notes, working with Lauren Bacall and George Stevens, Jr., from the Larry McMurtry Papers

detail from Larry McMurtry’s notes, working with Lauren Bacall and George Stevens, Jr., from the Larry McMurtry Papers

Others will offer up more appropriate insights into the artistry and legacy of Bacall.  Today, however, while obituaries abound generously peppered with the name “Bogart,” as she’d once predicted and lamented long before her passing, an interesting item from the Larry McMurtry Papers provides even more context to the Bacall-Bogart dynamic.  In 1977 McMurtry worked with Bacall and George Stevens, Jr. as part of “The Stars Salute America’s Greatest Movies,” honoring the best 500 films to date.  Bacall was to introduce The African Queen (1951, John Huston), starring her late husband.

McMurtry quotes Bacall on her recollections of the filming of African Queen and Bogart’s co-star, Katharine Hepburn:  “John knew what he wanted.  Bogey and Kate were the only two stars crazy enough to follow him and [producer] Sam Spiegel to Africa… It was the beginning of my friendship with Katie–an important part of my life and it still is.”  Twenty years after Bogart’s death, however, it was clear he still served as a foil.  Reflecting on their conversation, McMurtry writes, “In terms of the introduction, she would like it to be clear that she has a reputation of her own–that she is not simply Bogey’s widow.  Obviously, it will be clear in her presentation that it is not purely coincidental that she is doing the introduction to AFRICAN QUEEN which starred Bogey.”

She must have known, however, that her legacy remains quite her own.  Honored throughout her life by a list that includes the Screen Actors Guild, the Tony Awards, and the Golden Globes, she also received a National Book Award for her autobiography By Myself (1978).  While she does recount those famous loves lost (Frank Sinatra once reportedly proposed to Bacall), she also recounts her rise as a starlet in a very particular heyday for Hollywood, including this interesting tidbit on how she went about acquiring her signature sound at the direction of Hawks:

He wanted me to drive into the hills, find some quiet spot, and read aloud. He felt it most important to keep the voice in a low register. Mine started off low, but what Howard didn’t like and explained to me was, “If you notice, Betty, when a woman gets excited or emotional she tends to raise her voice. Now, there is nothing more unattractive than screeching. I want you to train your voice in such a way that even if you have a scene like that your voice will remain low.” I found a spot on Mulholland Drive and proceeded to read The Robe aloud, keeping my voice lower and louder than normal. If anyone had ever passed by, they would have found me a candidate for the asylum. Who sat on mountaintops in cars reading books aloud to the canyons?

The Larry McMurtry Papers are available for study, along with twenty-one other Contemporary Literature collections, in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room.

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