Another feature of my library and one of its strengths is my collection of original unpublished nonbook material. Manuscripts, typescripts, and letters are the jewels in every collector’s crown, and they are increasingly difficult to obtain. Ever since the manuscript of Ulysses was stolen at auction by Dr. Rosenbach, writers have been sensitive about the market value of their product. Many prefer to sell or donate their papers to institutions and universities.
Under the circumstances I am lucky to have important book-length manuscripts by Thomas Merton, Stanley El-kin, James Purdy, Grace Paley, Nick Delbanco, Elmore Leonard, and Craig Nova, as well as more modest works by Steinbeck, Bellow, Wolfe, Agee, Lowell, and Elizabeth Bishop.
I’m also fortunate to be the custodian of an extensive archive of unpublished letters, many of which provide unique insight into the writer and his work. Like the letter Henry James wrote to William Dean Howells describing his first impressions of London; Sylvia Plath’s letters to William Merwin expounding the joys and terrors of childbirth; John Cheever’s war letters to his wife; the reclusive Thomas Pynchon’s chatty correspondence with his literary agent, now ex-agent.
Finally I should mention the material that to some extent represents a new field of collecting screenplays and playscripts. At one time or another almost every important American writer has toiled in the vineyards of Hollywood or Broadway. They churned out a great deal of schlock, but occasionally a great writer produced a true work of art. Like Faulkner’s adaptation of The Big Sleep, Fitzgerald’s work on Gone with the Wind, Steinbeck’s Viva Zapata!, Hammett and Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine, Welles and Man-kiewicz’s Citizen Kane. These writers’ screenplays are all part of my library. And there are other film writers, who, I believe, are equally deserving of recognition and respect: Ben Hecht, Dalton Trumbo, Billy Wilder, Terry Southern, and Woody Allen, among others. No collection of American literature can be considered complete without examples of their work, and most of their work remains unpublished.
In the same way, for every published book by playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet, there are half a dozen unpublished works in the form of rehearsal scripts, story outlines, tele-plays, radio plays, scenarios, and film treatments. No one, including the bibliographers, really knows how much material there is. I own more than fifty important unpublished dramatic works by Tennessee Williams, and they represent only a small percentage of his total output. Finding and assembling this kind of material is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the modern collector.