THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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188 posts categorized "USA"

02 September 2016

Stranger Things at the British Library

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If Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things has taught us one thing this summer, it’s that even in 2016 we have serious nostalgia for all things 1980s. From Toto’s Africa to Dungeons & Dragons the show celebrates all that was great about the 80s. But there’s one reference most cultural commentators have missed – microfilm.

In Episode 3 Police Chief Jim Hawkins visits his local Library and makes full use of the Library’s microfilm collection to research the LSD mind-control experiments of the creepy Dr. Brenner. It’s a triumphant moment and one which celebrates a technology most modern researchers overlook.

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Figure 1:© Netflix

The British Library has an extensive microform collection relating to the American government and so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a modern day Chief Hopper then the Social Sciences Reading Room is the place to start. And don’t worry if you haven’t used microform before, our reading room staff are on hand to guide you through the simple process and that eighties technology is much more robust than today’s!

So what collections do we have available?

Well, we can’t promise you’ll find things on LSD mind-control but the British Library has an extensive collection of U.S. government documents and archive materials available on microform. As a federal government depository library, the Library holds a vast set of U.S. Government Printing Office documents, including Congressional reports, committee hearings and bills. These can be accessed via the CIS Indexes on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

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Figure 2: Example of some of the CIS Indexes in the Social Sciences Reading Room

The Library also holds a significant number of NARA documents, including Presidential Papers. The full collection is listed by subject in the Social Sciences Reading Room card catalogue and most collections have indexes available on the reading room shelves. Some of the collections we hold include, Nixon’s Presidential Papers relating to China-Vietnam negotiations and the Department of Justice’s Classified Subject Files on Civil Rights.

 

 

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Figure 3: Examples of some of the microform collection subject guides available

If Stranger Things has prompted you to revisit your favourite books, films and songs from the 1980’s, why not hop on your BMX? and come down to the British Library and get hands on with the microform collections to boost your research project?

 

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Figure 4: © Netflix.

A detailed description of the collections is available in our ‘Guide to United States Official Publications in the British Library’ (PDF format). - See more at: http://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/united-states-federal-government-publications#sthash.uMGqFc21.dpuf

 

Mark Eastwood

 

19 August 2016

Dialogue with a Dead Poet: Jack Spicer's After Lorca

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This week marks the 80th anniversary of the death of the the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, murdered by a Nationalist firing squad at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. One of the best known European poets of his time, he soon became a martyr for the international anti-fascist cause. Lorca’s poetry and drama have influenced the works of many American poets, including Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes, who translated his play Blood Wedding into English. Leonard Cohen based the lyrics for his song ‘Take this Waltz’ on Lorca’s poem ‘Pequeño vals vienés’, and named his daughter Lorca after the poet.

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Cover of Jack Spicer, After Lorca (San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1957) [YA.1994.a.5955]

In 1957, the American poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) published After Lorca, a book containing his translations into English of several poems by Lorca alongside his own work. One of the key texts in the collection is Spicer’s translation of Lorca’s ‘Ode to Walt Whitman’, suggesting Spicer’s intention to outline a genealogy of queer poetry.

After Lorca plays with post-modern theories about authorship. Spicer’s translations appear together with his own poems written in Lorca’s style, but the book presents all works as translations and does not provide any indication of their original author. In addition, Spicer intercalates a series of conversational letters to Lorca discussing poetry writing.

Amusingly, the book contains an introduction by Federico García Lorca himself, who at the time of publication had been dead for more than 20 years. Writing from his grave located ‘Outside Granada’, the ‘Lorca’ invented by Jack Spicer appears bemused by the project, and warns the reader that this is no ordinary poetry collection:

 The reader is given no indication which of the poems belong to which category, and I have further complicated the problem (with malice aforethought I must admit) by sending Mr. Spicer several poems written after my death which he has also translated and included here. Even the most faithful student of my work will be hard put to decide what is and what is not Garcia Lorca as, indeed, he would if he were to look into my present resting place. The analogy is impolite, but I fear the  impoliteness is deserved.

 

Mercedes Aguirre

 

19 July 2016

Kay Boyle, American in Paris

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Among the American expatriate writers who congregated in Paris in the interwar period, Kay Boyle was one of the most prolific. In her long and varied career she published fourteen novels, among them Death of a Man (1936) and Avalanche (1944), several collections of short stories, essays, poetry and translations. 

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By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kay Boyle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1902. In 1922 she moved to New York, where she became an assistant to Lola Ridge, the editor of Broom magazine. Boyle attended Ridge’s literary gatherings, where guests included William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. In June of the same year she married her first husband, the Frenchman Richard Brault, and the couple moved to France in 1923. While in Paris, Boyle met the writer and founder of Contact Editions Robert McAlmon, who became both a friend and a literary mentor.

In 1928 Boyle became acquainted with Harry and Caresse Crosby, founders of the Black Sun Press, one of the most renowned private presses run by American expatriates. The press, which was originally set up with the name Éditions Narcisse, published works by celebrated modernist writers including D H Lawrence, Hemingway and James Joyce. In March 1929 the press published Boyle’s Short Stories in a limited edition of 150 [Cup.510.fa.7.]. Some of the seven stories that form the collection had previously appeared in little magazines of the period, including transition, and all of them were reprinted alongside new work in the later collection Wedding Day and Other Stories (1930).

During the late 1920s and 1930s Boyle worked on several literary translations from French into English, including Joseph Delteil’s novel Don Juan. In 1931 the Black Sun Press published Boyle’s translation of a work by the surrealist writer René Crevel, Mr. Knife and Miss Fork, an extract of Crevel’s novel Babylone. The book was illustrated with nineteen photograms by the German artist Max Ernst. Boyle’s full translation of the novel into English was published in 1985 by North Point Press.

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René Crevel, Mr. Knife, Miss Fork (being a fragment of the novel Babylone), trans. by Kay Boyle.  Paris : Black Sun Press, 1931. [C.184.f.4] From top to bottom: cover, detail of the spine, front page and photogram by Max Ernst.

 

The following year Boyle’s poem ‘A Statement’ was published by a lesser known American private press, The Modern Editions Press, founded by the African American writer Kathleen Tankersley Young . The press produced two series of beautifully crafted short story and poetry pamphlets in 1932 and 1933. Boyle’s poem included a frontispiece by the cubist artist Max Weber. The Modern Editions Press was a short-lived project, as Young died unexpectedly in 1933 during a trip to Mexico.

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Kay Boyle. A Statement. New York : Modern Editions Press, 1932. [RF.2016.A.26]           From top to bottom: front cover and frontispiece by Max Weber.

 

The Library has recently acquired Kay Boyle: A Twentieth Century Life in Letters, a volume that collects Boyle’s correspondence, edited by Sandra Spanier. Boyle’s selected letters, spanning eight decades, bear witness to her central role in several modernist networks and presents a fascinating picture of American expatriate life in Paris and beyond during the twentieth century.

 

Further reading:  

Boyle, Kay. Kay Boyle: A Twentieth-Century Life in Letters, ed. by Sandra Spanier. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. [YD.2016.a.2187]

Ford, Hugh. Published in Paris: American and British Writers, Printers, and Publishers in Paris, 1920-1939. London: Garnstone Press, 1975. [X.981/20326]

McAlmon, Robert and Kay Boyle. Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930. London: Michael Joseph, 1970. [X.989/5601.]

Spanier, Sandra Whipple. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986. [YC.2002.a.22409]

22 March 2016

Langston Hughes translates Nicolás Guillén

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Langston Hughes is well known as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, primarily for his poetry. However, there is a side to his work which has received comparatively less attention: his literary translations.

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Langston Hughes in 1936, by Carl Van Vechten

Hughes was not a professional translator, and indeed most of his translations did not do very well commercially. His translations were driven by his interest in writers with whom he felt a connection, particularly authors who explored the representation of black identity beyond European literary models. Hughes felt a kinship with writers of the African diaspora in the Americas, whom he saw as linked by a similar cultural heritage and history of racial oppression. These included the Haitian writer Jacques Roumain, whose posthumous novel Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée) was translated by Hughes circa 1947.

In 1948, Hughes (together with Ben Frederic Carruthers) translated a selection of poems by the Cuban writer and activist Nicolás Guillén. They were published under the title of Cuba Libre by the American Ward Ritchie Press, in a beautiful limited edition of 500 with illustrations by Gar Gilbert.

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Cover and title page of Cuba Libre (1948)

Hughes met the poet Nicolas Guillén in 1930 in Cuba and they soon developed a friendship. Both men travelled together to Spain during the country’s civil war as war correspondents, an episode that Hughes narrated in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). While the extent to which Hughes influenced Guillén’s style is still up for debate, their works have many aspects in common. Their poetry is a celebration of black folk culture, music and use of language. Often described as ‘poets of the people’, both men were concerned with representing class inequality and racial injustice.

Below is an extract from Guillén’s well-known poem ‘Tu no sabe inglé’, translated by Hughes as ‘You don’t speak no English’. Hughes’s translation used the African American vernacular to reproduce Guillén’s experimentation with the Cuban criollo (Creole) dialect in his poetry:

Con tanto inglé que tú sabía,

Bito Manué,

con tanto inglé, no sabe ahora

desí ye.

La mericana te buca,

y tú le tiene que huí:

tu inglé era de etrái guan,

de etrái guan y guan tu tri.

        Nicolás Guillen, Motivos de son (1930)

 

All dat English you used to know,

Li’l Manuel,

all dat English, now can’t even

say: Yes.

‘Merican gal comes lookin’ fo’ you

an’ you jes’ runs away

Yo’ English is jes’ strike one!

strike one and one-two-three.

Langston Hughes’s translation, published in Cuba Libre (1948)

 

Further Reading

Guillén, Nicolás. Cuba Libre, translated by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1948) [Cup.510.naz.3.]

Kutzinski, Vera M., The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) [YC.2013.a.1917]

Martin-Ogunsola, Dellita, ‘Introduction’. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol 16: The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain, ed. by Arnold Ra``mpersad (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2003) [YC.2005.A.3285]

Scott, William, ‘Motivos of Translation: Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’. CR: The New Centennial Review, 5:2 (2005): 35-71. [3486.443000]

 

 â€”Mercedes Aguirre

18 December 2015

Isaiah Thomas and A Narrative of the excursion and ravages of the King's troops

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Sometimes, we acquire things with the help of the Eccles Centre for American Studies; this was the case in the acquisition of this example of the revolutionary Printer Isaiah Thomas' work, A Narrative of the Excursion and Ravages of the King's Troops (Massachusetts-Bay, Worcester: Isaiah Thomas by order of the Provincial Congress, [1775]; shelfmark RB.23.a.31273). It's quite gruesome stuff, which really catches the flavour of the tumultuous times.  

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Just look at how Thomas printed 'BLOOD'.

The colophon also records Thomas' April 1775 escape from Boston to Worcester, which prevented the British from destroying his presses.

Matthew Shaw

17 December 2015

America Answers Lindbergh!

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More acquisitions from the last decade or so. Today, the Council Against Intolerance in America, America Answers Lindbergh! (1940; shelmark YD.2005.a.422), from the same dealer's catalogue as yesterday's Kingdom of Flying Men.  The Flying Man in question is the aviator Charles Lindbergh, famous for his 1927 non-stop flight across the Atlantic, and infamous for his flirtation with far-right and even fascist popular politics. Lindbergh provided the engine for Philip Roth's counter-historical novel, The Plot Against America, in which Lindbergh trumps Roosevelt to win the 1940 presidential election, with terrible antisemitic consequences.

In this pamphlet, which originally cost 10 cents, a range of leading figures from churchmen to journalists and politicians respond to Lindbergh's ant-intervention and antisemitic speech at Des Moines, Iowa on 11 September 1940 as leader of the America First Committee.  The mayor of New York's response, included on p. 9,  ran as follows

'Carbon Copy of a Nazi Paper

'Replying to your telegram concerning Colonel Lindbergh's injection of race and religious issue into American life, I can only repeat what I have already stated, that no American should read, at a public meeting at any time, from a carbon copy of a Nazi paper

- F.H. Laguardia'. 

 

Matthew Shaw

16 December 2015

The Kingdom of Flying Men

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For various reasons, I have been looking back at my time in Team Americas, and thought it may be interesting to do some short posts about the items we've acquired since 2004. Looking back at the files, the first thing I ordered was a novel from 1956: Frederic Nelson Litten's The Kingdom of Flying Men (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press; shelfmark YD.2004.a.3998). The bookseller noted that it was 'a beautiful copy' and described it as 'a novel about the hazards & difficulties of the relatively new field of air cargo.' Was I, in my then-new post, drawn to the parallel novelty of a new field of work? Was it the $100 cost that swung it? I passed on the Women in Sports Car Competition (1958) that was offered above it in the dealer's list, a decision that time may not have vindicated, given the research potential such an item clearly has given the growth of sports studies (not to mention gender studies). Still, I saved the Library $85, and may have been put off by the cost and the NF DJ (near-fine dust jacket) which we tend to avoid for our collections.

But back the the Flying Men. It has provenance: there is a bookplate 'From the Books of Elsie W. Hoffman', and a curious publishing history. Westminster is known for its religious publishing, put produced the odd novel to raise funds. This is a rare example of such a thing. And it's true; it is a beautiful, if slightly austere, example of mid-century printing. Good untrimmed paper, and clean boards, and an object that sits well in the hands, asking to be read.

The author, the Foreward reveals, flew for the Army in the 1930s, when the 'sky kingdom' was 'uncharted, little-known'. Today, he writes with only slight hyperbole, 'Time and linear measurement have lost significance; Europe is within commuting distance'. So, as well as an example of US publishing history, the novel offers an insight into aviation, something which has indeed changed the world, and is now a subject of study from a range of perspectives; not least environmental history. Litten himself was a prolific author (born in 1885), specialising in aeronautical tales, many of which were aimed at a younger audience. Here's his Air Mission to Algiers, via HathiTrust. He also published over 600 short stories, at a time when periodicals were a viable outlet for an author. Indeed, he developed the '8-Step System of Plotting', the secrets of which could be add via Frederick Litten Associates for $1, or advice on 'How to Write for a Living' for $2, according to a contemporary advertisement in The Writer magazine. Again, more examples of how mid-century authors got by. He also seems to have done his research, as there is a considerable list of thanks to those he consulted while researching the book. 

It starts well, with the young pilot Johnny Caruthers returning home from WWI on board the SS Rawlins Victory, writing to the director of Personnel at Trans-American Airlines in Chicago suggesting a scheme employing ex-servicemen as civilian pilots. He, however, needs an airmail stamp, and we are introduced to 'Stormy' Morgan, an injured pilot, who Caruthers persuades to return to skies. Several adventures and 247 pages later, we arrive at the last lines: 'Stormy's vision looked beyond to a sky that was filled with planes. The rolling thunder of their exhaust reached him across the frontiers of the kingdom of flying men.'

Matthew Shaw

26 November 2015

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

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In terms of presidents, we normally think of FDR rather than TR when it comes to Thanksgiving; indeed, the portmanteau 'Franksgiving' coined by an Atlantic City mayor in 1939 is a reminder of the president's decision to move the holiday a week forward in a late effort to boost retail sales in the face of the Great Depression. American presidents had declared an annual day of Thanksgiving since Abraham Lincoln in 1863, but Teddy Roosevelt's 1905 proclamation, shown here (shelfmark 1865.c.7.(30.), image in the public domain), was the first to attribute the custom to the 'first settlers'. Before this date (and, indeed, until long after), States celebrated Thanksgiving in different ways, with by no means all invoking the story of Puritan settlers and American Indians.

Perhaps appropriately, the Declaration shown here (which now I've seen it, will be recommended for some conservation assessment) is bound in a large volume of similar proclamations from around the world, including announcements of days of mourning for British kings, the inauguration of the Second French Republic of 1848, and this reminder (in facsimile) of the backstory of the relations with the native peoples that Thanksgiving (yes, we always think of that scene in The Ice Storm).

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By the King. A Proclamation forbidding the disorderly Trading with the Saluages in New England in America [24 Nov 1630. A facsimile] 1865.c.7.(54.).

More straightforward holidaying is, however, available in the Souvenir of Thanksgiving Day (London, 1896), shelfmark 8176.de.13, produced by the American Society in London.

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Members included Henry S. Wellcome and the 'patriarch of the American colony in London', Benjamin Franklin Stevens (whose brother, Henry, helped us build our collections). Typical of the souvenirs published by such societies at the time, it contains a menu for the main event, including, of course, turkey with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, as well as an amusing history of the colony and a series of cartoons reflecting on Anglo-British connections. The volume is also bound in leather, with a remarkable embossed roundel, shown here: souvenir

Not much fun if you're a turkey, of course:

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But however, and whatever, you celebrate, 'Happy Thanksgiving' from us.

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[Matthew Shaw]