So What’s an SF/F Archive All About?

In the past, I’ve talked a bit about archiving my manuscripts. It’s a strange thing to think of my stuff as being packed away for ‘posterity’, but I do participate in the process. My materials are archived at Texas A&M. (I chose that institution because members of my family go there….and I am a Texan, so…)

(ETA: I should add that I’ve also used A&M as a setting, in my story “Afterimage”)

But here to talk about the topic a bit more today is Jeremy Brett, the Curator of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection at Texas A&M University.  The collection there holds works from many Texas authors, as well as other notables in the field.

 

1) So to start out, what’s the general purpose of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection at Texas A&M University

The SF&F Collection here at Cushing (Library) is designed primarily as a top-notch and comprehensive research tool. We believe that science fiction and fantasy are not only genres that are of intense and passionate interest to fans and other members of the general public, but also are of true cultural and literary significance and so deserve the same scholarly treatment that other literary and broadcast media genres receive. For that reason, we work to be a collection that appeals both to serious scholars and to interested laypeople, that welcomes all comers and has materials that will appeal to everyone. So we include novels, anthologies of short stories, nonfiction studies of SF and fantasy, magazines, manuscript collections, artifacts, and all kinds of fanworks (such as fanzines, filk  and vids).

I should also point out that in addition to the SF&F Research Collection at Cushing, I also work to make sure that the circulating collection of SF & fantasy works at Evans (our main campus library) is large and representative of the best of the genre. Nothing at Cushing – because we’re a special collections library – can leave the building, although virtually all our materials are open to the public and can be accessed on site. But materials at Evans can be checked out just as any other university library, so we want to be sure that students and others can have access to interesting SF&F works when they go home at the end of the day.

 

2) You have some impressive names in your stable, like G.R.R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, and Joe Lansdale.  On the other hand you’ve also got some little-known writers as well…like me.  What are your main criteria for choosing your writers?

Well, *I* find you very impressive, Jeannette!   That said, I (like the curators before me) look for writers that we think for any number of reasons (such as literary ability, their invention or use of interesting or important tropes, critical acclaim, even intense popularity) are going to last, their work likely to be considered important and entertaining for years or even generations to come. I may not be able to say for certain who’s going to be the next Bradbury or Le Guin or Tolkien, but I like to think that I’ve read enough SF and fantasy over the years to be able to identify potentially significant writers. At least some of the time!

We also look towards collecting writers from Texas, the Borderlands, and the surrounding regions (you mentioned Joe Lansdale above, and he’s a great example). There is *such* a rich ongoing tradition of SF & fantasy writing here, and it’s worth preserving. Because Texas A&M is a public institution and one of the best universities in the state, I think we have something of a special responsibility to try and document and preserve this tradition.

I also want to continue to develop our collections of writers from groups that I worry have been to a degree underrepresented in the genre as a whole: women, racial and ethnic minorities, and so on. Certainly from the mid/late-20th century on we start to see less dominance of the field by white males, and so we want to be sure to capture the evidence of this trend.

 

3) Among other things, the collection archives writing materials of many writers. What types of materials are you looking for? Mostly manuscripts?

We would like to have whatever sorts of materials truly represent and document the author and his/her work. Certainly the actual manuscripts are the clearest example, but we also like things like drafts and working notes (those give researchers and others an understanding of how a novel or other production changes over time), as well as correspondence (to understand the author’s life, relationships, and comments on her work) and be able to place those in relation to their work). We also like to have, of course, the final product – the actual published text.

 

4) But some writers don’t print out copies of their work, preferring to do everything on their computers. Are the archives interested in that kind of information as well?

Oh, totally! Whether paper or electronic, a record is a record is a record. Just because a manuscript or letter or draft or whatever is in electronic format rather than being a tangible object like a piece of paper, doesn’t make it any less valuable. (In fact, in many ways it’s much more crucial that materials in electronic format be archived as soon as possible, because they so quickly become unreadable due to media format changes.)

 

 5) In my case, I’ve sent in multiple copies of the same manuscript at various stages in the editing process. What’s the value in having those multiple versions of the same manuscript?

Having multiple iterations of the same novel (or short story, or poem, or whatever) allows us to see how the work changes over time –how do characters change and evolve from the first draft to the published book? What characters are introduced when the author started the story, but by the time several drafts have been written, which ones have been dropped altogether? How does the plot change? If we have a series of evolving drafts we get a real and visible understanding of how the author saw her own work. For example, in your case, Jeannette, we have several drafts of The Golden City, two with edits and notes plus the final revised version. A future researcher studying you would be able to see how both you and your editor saw the book and produced or suggested changes that would polish the work to a shine.

Here’s another case, which we’ve mentioned elsewhere. We hold all of George R.R. Martin’s papers, including the various drafts for the books in his Song of Ice and Fire series. Readers will remember in the first book that when Jon Snow is leaving Winterfell to travel north to the Wall, he gives Arya Stark a sword that he had commissioned for her. The published version has Jon’s famous line “Stick them with the pointy end”, when Arya asks him how to use the sword. Well, early drafts lack that line; Martin added it later. The final version thus has an additional element of humor and lightheartedness to the conversation between Jon and Arya that early versions lacked (and makes published Jon a little wryer than early draft Jon). Those kinds of textual variances are very interesting and can be significant, I think. And we only get those if we have multiple versions of a manuscript.

 

6) So if a writer wants to start sending in their manuscripts to an archive, what steps do you suggest they take?

Well, of course, I’d love it if writers and other creators out there would think of Texas A&M first, and get in touch with me! J

But seriously, what’s really important is that the writer find an institution that best suits her and that she thinks will do a good job at preserving their materials and making them accessible. Many go first to institutions that have some personal significance to them – their alma mater, a local institution close to their home, or a university where they teach, for example. Others look to institutions that collect science fiction and fantasy: Texas A&M has one of the largest SF&F collections in the country, but there are certainly others out there that would welcome new acquisitions.

If a writer finds a repository they like, he or she can contact their Special Collections Department (or Archives, or whatever title the department chooses to use) and just ask whether they would be interested in acquiring her archives. Ideally, the institution will jump on this opportunity! But, sometimes – for example, because of lack of resources, or due to a collections policy that doesn’t allow for collecting literary manuscripts – the writer’s first choice can’t accept the collection. However, because everyone wants these collections to be kept safe and secure, institutions can work with the writer to help her find a suitable place.

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Thanks for being my guest today, Jeremy! (and there’s a really heavy box on its way to you via Fedex.) 

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There are actually several awesome archivists out there, BTW. So if you’re a writer looking to stash your work somewhere, I suggest checking your alma mater, or chatting with some of your author friends to see if they have a favorite archive to try. (I know that Lynne Marie Thomas runs the SFWA Collection at Northern Illinois University, for example).

Steven Savage has another excellent interview on the collection here, talking to both Jeremy Brett and Lauren Schiller, which mentions their Zine archive as well.

 

#SFWAPro

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “So What’s an SF/F Archive All About?

  1. Pingback: Earthquake Day | BethCato.com

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