NIU obtains 20th century manuscripts

By Dawn C. Brown

NIU students now have the opportunity to examine the actual handwritten works of 20th-century authors.

William Baker, a subject specialist in English, has obtained a major collection of manuscripts of 20th-century author James Hanley for students to view in the Founders Memorial Library.

Baker also acquired material by Graham Greene.

Baker was in Britain when he obtained the manuscripts because NIU’s faculty research program awarded him the opportunity to complete research on a descriptive bibliography of 19th-century novelist George Eliot.

While at the home of a friend, Baker came across the original manuscripts and spent several days reading them.

“It would be marvelous to give American students at NIU the opportunity to see and work with the raw materials. Not forms, not copies, but the real materials that the writer used,” Baker said.

Students may be familiar with the late British novelist Graham Greene who died this year, Baker said. Greene was responsible for the film “The Third Man,” short stories, plays and novels.

He said Greene’s books of love poetry were privately printed in 1949 and 1951. Only two copies survived, each of these copies contained poems written in Greene’s handwriting. One with local interest concerned former Illinois Governor and U.S. presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, Baker said.

“The prices of the poems were offered at well over $40,000. Many major prestigious American universities including NIU could not raise the money in time especially during a time of financial constraints,” Baker said.

However, Baker was able to provide the university with an uncorrected proven copy (before publication) of James Purdy’s “Dream Palace and Nine Stories” in which Greene began his own short stories on the pages.

“Students from all over the world will now have to come to NIU library to see this particularly unique Graham Greene item,” Baker said.

For instance, the manuscripts and papers of James Hanley including the “Welsh Sonata,” which contains lengthy personal handwritten letters from Hanley to personal friends.

Baker said his predecessors helped to create the library’s rare collection. “Over a twenty-year period the names that come to mind are Anthony Bliss, who’s now head of rare books in University of California-Berkeley. Also, Dr. William DuBois who is presently retired.