Author Jayne Anne Phillips’s Papers Acquired by Harry Ransom Center

Sept. 22, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired the papers of American novelist Jayne Anne Phillips.

Jayne Anne Phillips at the Harry Ransom Center
Jayne Anne Phillips at the Harry Ransom Center in September 2009. Photo: Anthony Maddaloni

The papers strengthen the center's holdings in contemporary American literature. Phillips has published six novels and story collections over the last three decades. Her most recent work is "Lark and Termite" (2009).

Born in West Virginia in 1952, Phillips published her first story collection in 1976. The publication of "Black Tickets" in 1979 prompted Nadine Gordimer to call Phillips "the best short story writer since Eudora Welty." Since then Phillips has published one more story collection and four additional novels, including "Machine Dreams" (1984).

Known for her poetic prose and her in-depth study of family dynamics, Phillips has received critical acclaim and major literary prizes, including a Guggenheim fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Phillips is professor of English and director of the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at Rutgers University, Newark.

"We are delighted to have the rich and extensive archive of Jayne Anne Phillips here at the Ransom Center," said Director Thomas F. Staley. "Phillips explores with acuity such difficult themes as loss, the impact of war and family relationships in her finely crafted prose. She is one of the great stylists of contemporary American Literature, and we look forward to following her career as she continues to create important works of fiction."

The acquisition contains manuscripts in multiple states for "Black Tickets," "Machine Dreams," "Shelter" (1995), "Motherkind" (2000) and "Lark and Termite," as well as dozens of individual short stories and essays, some never published. Phillips's school records, early writings, family photographs, notebooks, business documents, fan mail and related ephemera provide insight into the writer's life, writing process, family relationships and publishing history.

"In recent years, the Ransom Center has acquired the papers of several writers deeply interested in America's wars over the last century," said Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center. "Phillips has an enduring interest in war, and the extensive materials for her latest novel, 'Lark and Termite,' are just one of many components in the collection that will offer researchers opportunities to delve deeper into this subject."

Phillips's interest in America's wars relates to the work of two other novelists whose papers were acquired in recent years: Norman Mailer and Tim O'Brien. Phillips has returned to war in many of her works, investigating the human cost of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

"Lark and Termite" explores the effects of the Korean War on a soldier and his family back home. Manuscript material for this work includes several files of documentary material concerning the Korean War and at least 14 drafts of the novel itself.
The World War II novel "Machine Dreams" is also represented in several drafts and with research files that include more than 100 war-time letters between Phillips's parents that document their experiences.

The archive's correspondence files reveal Phillips's associations with many writers of her generation. Correspondents include Frederick Barthelme, Raymond Carver, E. L. Doctorow, Ellen Gilchrest, Nadine Gordimer, John Irving, Tillie Olsen and Michael Ondaatje.

More than 150 letters document her relationship with publisher Seymour Lawrence, and an additional 100 items of correspondence detail her relationship with Houghton Mifflin and overseas publishers. About 50 items document Phillips's work with agent Lynn Nesbit.

The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged.

For more information, contact: Alicia Dietrich, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512 232 3667;  Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512-471-8949.