Minneapolis Center Stage

A number of us have just returned from Minneapolis. There we attended the Preconference of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

The preconference theme was performance in special collections, broadly interpreted—from the refectory use of the earliest printed books to medical texts and the operating theater, to hip-hop archives, to “bibliography in action.”

It was an appropriately lively gathering, and we pay tribute to it here by an eclectic selection of Minneapolis-centric works from the Rare Book Collection: the city as setting for poetic expression, criminal doings, and collective action—all being varieties of performance. We begin with a nice segway from our last blog post, “Sisters Outsider.”


Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, cover art by Alex Katz

Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20

Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20

Diane di Prima, “Waikiki Room, Minneapolis” in  World, no. 28 (May 1973), mimeographed publication of the famous Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, New York. The Waikiki Room was a drinking/dining establishment located in a succession of Minneapolis hotels. Apparently, it made poet di Prima feel more at home in the Midwest; doesn’t everyone feel more at home in a Tiki room lounge?  St. Mark’s Church was, of course, the ultimate New York poetry performance venue of its era.

Mystery-Detective H921

Mystery-Detective H921

Ellen Hart, Death on a Silver Platter: (A Culinary Mystery) (New York : Fawcett Books, 2003), one in the series of mysteries featuring restaurant reviewer-sleuth Sophie Greenway, set in Minneapolis. The food in the fair city is a real draw: lots of farm to table, no scary servings as pictured on this paperback’s cover. In particular, French Meadow Café represented an outstanding dining act for some of us. And we didn’t feel threatened for one moment. Perhaps these Minneapolis mysteries are in the tradition of Scandinavian crime novels: safe societies longing for the drama of surprising violence.

William F. Dunne and Morris Childs, Permanent Counter-Revolution. The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes (New York: Workers Library, [1934]), no. [8] in a vol. with binder’s title: Communist and Socialist Pamphlets. We all felt the power and plight of workers on Tuesday evening, taking in the exhibitions and film at the Mill City Museum, located in what was once the nation’s largest flour mill. This pamphlet on Depression-era strikes in Minneapolis pits the Communist Party of America against Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party and Trotzkyite leaders. Its card-carrying Communist authors are William F. Dunne, who grew up in Minnesota, and Morris Childs, who later would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Intelligence—in 1987—for his decades of work as an anti-Soviet secret agent. Although Childs was not working for the F.B.I. in 1934, the title of this writing—Permanent Counter-Revolution—ends our Minneapolis production with unexpected retrospective irony. As we’ve come to learn, however, rare books always bring us the unexpected.

HX40 .C6 no. 8

HX40 .C6 no. 8


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Sisters Outsider: Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde


Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968)  /            PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

UNC’s Rare Book Collection has extensive holdings of twentieth-century print materials, many of which provide insights into literary friendships, partnerships, and circles. History has placed the poets Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde in separate camps—di Prima with the Beat Generation and Lorde with the Black feminist movement. However, the RBC’s rich Beat holdings tell a very different story.

Di Prima and Lorde were both born in 1934 and attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. As teenagers they were close friends. According to Alexis De Veaux, together they “wrote poetry and skipped classes. . . . They held séances, burned candles, and ‘called up the poets.’” The two young women later went their separate ways. Lorde stayed on in New York City and earned her bachelor’s degree at Hunter College. Di Prima went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, dropping out in 1953 to return and join the bohemian scene in Greenwich Village. In the ten-year period after 1958, di Prima published five volumes of poetry and founded Poets’ Press with her husband Alan Marlowe. Lorde published sparingly but gained a reputation as an important up-and-coming young poet. In an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde recalled di Prima urging her to publish her poetry and saying, “You know, it’s time you had a book. . . . You have to print these. Put ’em out.”


Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968) / PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

Lorde followed her advice and prepared to publish her premier volume, The First Cities, with di Prima’s Poets’ Press. In 1967, while the book was in production, di Prima was pregnant with her second child. On Christmas Eve she went into labor in her Greenwich Village apartment and called on Lorde, who arrived just in time to deliver the baby. In her introduction to The First Cities, di Prima memorializes this event and their sustained friendship:

I have known Audre Lorde since we were fifteen,
when we read our poems to each other in our Home
Room at Hunter High school. And only two months
ago she delivered my child.

A woman’s world, peopled with men & children
and the dead, exotic as scallops.


“Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde read at Intersection” (San Francisco) / PS3507.I15 Z58 1970z / Lawrence Foushee London Fund

The two women continued to support each other’s work over the next decade, as evidenced by a broadside advertising a poetry reading they performed together in the 1970s. In 1974 di Prima founded another press called Eidolon Editions. Lorde sent her seven poems, which Eidolon Editions published as Between Our Selves in 1977. The cover shows a West African Adinkra symbol of Siamese crocodiles.


Audre Lorde, Between Our Selves (Point Reyes, 1976) / PS3562.O525 B4

Both di Prima and Lorde wrote from marginalized points of view and were on the outside of mainstream literary culture. These material examples of their alliance attest to their efforts to promote themselves and each other in a literary landscape dominated by male voices. Such intersections cannot be understood by reading individual poems isolated in anthologies or in collected works. The original, often ephemeral, editions to be found at the RBC demonstrate in a tangible way how poets work to create communities of poets.

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Happy Bloomsday; Happy Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. It is also Bloomsday, that being a commemoration of the events of the great James Joyce novel Ulysses, which took place on June 16, 1904, in Dublin. The Rare Book Collection is enthusiastically celebrating both by posting here a serendipitous recent acquisition.  The RBC is pleased to hold now the first publication of Joyce’s novel Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, in all its serial installments in the Modernist periodical the Egoist. In Portrait, Joyce introduces the character Stephen Dedalus, who reappears in his later masterpiece Ulysses. Ulysses protagonist Leopold Bloom might fairly be seen as a father figure to Stephen. 

William A. Whitaker Fund

William A. Whitaker Fund

William A. Whitaker Fund

William A. Whitaker Fund


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man debuted in the February 2nd 1914 issue of the Egoist, in the company of an editorial on “Men, Machines and Progress,” an article on Irish playwright J. M. Synge, and poems by H. D.  It finished in the September 1st 1915 issue, which also included a piece on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the French sculptor who had been friends with Ezra Pound and had just died tragically in World War I.

The Egoist set acquired by the RBC has 48 issues: volume 1 number 1 to volume 3 number 12, in the publisher’s original blue half-leather binding. It is in remarkably clean and stable condition for a publication usually found in a fragile state.

This marvelous survival joins many splendid Joyce volumes donated to UNC-Chapel Hill by Mary M. Patton and James R. Patton (A.B. 1948). These include the famous first edition of Ulysses (1922)—number 20 of the first 100 copies printed on Dutch handmade paper—as well as the first book edition of Portrait of an Artist as Young Man (1916), inscribed by Joyce.

More than just a mere rarity, the Egoist periodical gives us the broad, Modernist context for Joyce’s novel, intellectually amplifying the author’s opening quotation from the Roman writer Ovid on turning the mind to arts unknown.

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Calling All Playboys: June 16

In the RBC’s outstanding W. B. Yeats Collection—given by the Hanes Foundation as UNC-Chapel Hill’s five millionth volume—there are extensive materials relating to the Irish playwright J. M. Synge. Among these are first, early, and theater editions of the plays he wrote for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, including the controversial Playboy of the Western World.

That drama is about one Christy Mahon, a young man who flees home after killing his father with a loy (or shovel). He finds refuge in a Mayo village, where the locals laud him as a romantic hero for the story of his patricide—until his father shows up.

J. R. Synge from The Abbey Row (Dublin, 1907). Hanes Foundation. /  PR5532.P53 A3 1907

Yeats PR5532.P53 A3 1907 / J. M. Synge, “I Don’t Care a Rap,” from The Abbey Row (Dublin, 1907). Hanes Foundation.

The Yeats Collection is rich in ephemeral items related to The Playboy of the Western World and the riots it inspired. The Abbey Row is one example of a satirical account that features caricatures of Synge, Yeats, and others.

This coming Sunday, June 16th, at 2 p.m, Wilson Library’s own Emily Kader will be speaking about a comedic adaptation of Synge’s acclaimed work, Tennessee Playboy, at the Triad Stage in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more information on the performances, which begin tonight, June 14th, and Ms. Kader’s talk, see the Triad’s website.

Do introduce yourself to Emily if you’ve read this blog post and are at the event!

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Spanish Civil War Novels

Professor Lo Re with one of the novels

Professor Lo Ré with one of the novels

The Rare Book Collection was delighted to receive a visit this spring from Professor Anthony George Lo Ré, UNC alumnus and retired faculty member of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Professor Lo Ré received his doctorate from Chapel Hill in 1965 with a thesis entitled The Novel of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1960. To complete his dissertation, he corresponded with forty novelists and collected first and significant editions of their books. In 2004, he honored the University Library by donating his collection of over one hundred Spanish Civil War novels to the RBC.

The Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) began when armed Nationalists rose up against the Popular Front, a coalition of Liberals, Socialists, and Communists that was elected to govern the Second Republic of Spain. Hitler supported the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, and the Republicans turned to the Soviet Union for aid. Foreigners sympathetic to the Republicans fought in the International Brigades, a phenomenon famously fictionalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).

PQ6605 .A857 V4 1956

PQ6605 .A857 V4 1956

While many in the U.S. know Hemingway’s book, few know the dozens of Spanish-language novels that appeared during the war years. Publication also flourished a decade later, as Professor Lo Ré established in his thesis. One of the most popular of the second wave of novels was El Vengador [The Avenger] (1956), by José Luis Castillo Puche, a friend of Hemingway. Castillo Puche, according to the account he gave to Professor Lo Ré, had a complex personal history that intersected with different aspects of the conflict. He served in the Red Army, while his family was persecuted and almost exterminated; he experienced a religious crisis at the end of the war and entered a Roman Catholic seminary; and he subsequently abandoned his religious vocation to study journalism. Castillo Puche wrote El Vengador out of a need for inner peace, as he noted in his letter of July 27, 1960, which is printed in the appendix of Professor Lo Ré’s thesis. Castillo Puche’s Hicieron Partes (1958) had won Spain’s National Prize of Literature. However, the author judged El Vengador to be his novel that had had the most success—a novel about the futility and sterility of vengeance. The original edition’s existentialist cover art certainly resonates with that message.

When Professor Lo Ré acquired El Vengador over half a century ago, it was a recent publication. Today, it and the other novels he donated to RBC have the patina of the past. Thanks to Professor Lo Ré’s generosity, researchers now have the opportunity to consult these evocative volumes at Wilson and examine one of the twentieth century’s most polarizing world events in a unique way.

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Savory Sailors or Neptune’s Barber: Sweeney Todd and the Royal Navy

James Malcolm Rymer, String of Pearls (London, 1850) / PR5285 R99 S8 1850

James Malcolm Rymer, String of Pearls (London, 1850) / PR5285 R99 S8 1850 / William A. Whitaker Fund

In 1846, the prolific but now-obscure Victorian writer James Malcolm Rymer introduced the notorious Sweeney Todd in the String of Pearls, or, The Barber of Fleet Street: A Domestic Romance. The story of a London barber who kills and robs his clients, and whose accomplice turns their remains into meat pies, became an immediate bestseller. Originally published serially, it appeared in 1850 as an expanded one-volume edition, which is a book of excessive rarity today.

Rebecca Nesvet, UNC Ph.D. candidate in English and Comparative Literature, had been able to find only one  institution holding that illustrated classic, the British Library in London. She became aware, however, of another copy for sale by an antiquarian book dealer and alerted the RBC. Thanks to Ms. Nesvet’s tip and the William A. Whitaker Fund, which provides generous amounts for the purchase of English literature at Chapel Hill, that fine copy of the String of Pearls now sits on a shelf at the Rare Book Collection, next to other rare Rymer novels: Grace Rivers; or, The Merchant’s Daughter (1844) and Paul Clifford; or Hurrah for the Road (1853).

As Rebecca Nesvet notes: “Like Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street establishment, Rymer’s String of Pearls contains intriguing mysteries. Such as, how did Rymer come up with his outrageous premise?”


Rebecca with String of Pearls open to the portrait of Sweeney Todd

On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, Ms. Nesvet answered that question for a full house in the Friends of the Library room in Wilson. She made the new and novel argument that Rymer drew inspiration from a Royal Navy initiation or hazing ritual, the Line-Crossing Ceremony. “Performed at the Equator, Tropics, and Arctic Circle from at least the early nineteenth century through the late twentieth, the Line-Crossing Ceremony features a veteran sailor masquerading as Royal Barber to King Neptune, God of the Sea,” Ms. Nesvet informed the intimate gathering. “Neptune’s Barber shaves first-time crossers of the line, often barbarously.”

Ms. Nesvet, who is writing her dissertation “The Disappearing Explorer, 1818-1900,” directed by Prof. Jeanne Moskal, further elaborated on the ritual in history. “In 1832, as the HMS Beagle approached the Equator, Charles Darwin prepared himself to endure ‘razors sharpened with a file & a lather made of paint & tar, to be used by the gentlest valet de chambre’ during ‘the disagreeable operation of being shaved.’ A certificate awarded to twentieth-century line-crossers depicts Neptune’s Barber as an amphibious monster in a hat attended by a razor-bearing penguin. Close-reading the String of Pearls with attention to this context reveals that by reinventing the Royal Navy’s demon barber as a monstrous human, Rymer created an enduring legend.”

The Sweeney Todd legend was revived in 1979 for Broadway by Stephen Sondheim in his Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller. Ms. Nesvet quotes the following verse from it:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His face was pale and his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again.

The RBC is grateful to Ms. Nesvet for reviving the legend for the UNC community in 2013, by her apt acquisition suggestion and an afternoon of sharing her research.


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Ken Hillis on Libraries

If you didn’t have a chance to join us at Prof. Hillis’s lecture “From Alexandria to Google: The Mythic Quest for Universal Libraries”, tune into the “State of Things” podcast on “What is a Library in Today’s High Tech Tech Age?”  Prof. Hillis is one of the respondents, covering some of the same ground he did at Wilson, but to give an historical perspective to the opening of NC State’s new James B. Hunt Library.

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All the World’s Knowledge

Spines of the first American encyclopedia, published by Thomas Dobson (1798) / AE5 .E342 1798 v.1-18 c.2

Spines of the first American encyclopedia, published by Thomas Dobson (1798) / AE5 .E342 1798 v.1-18 c.2

The month of February ended with an opening for the new RBC exhibition The Encyclopedic Impulse. Last Wednesday evening, over one hundred people attended a reception and viewing and a related lecture that followed.

This year marks the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of French philosopher Denis Diderot, co-editor and visionary of the French Encyclopédie. To commemorate the occasion, the RBC decided to display multiple volumes of that work, but as with any encyclopedic endeavor, the project expanded.

Louse seen through a microscope as rendered in a plate volume of the Encyclopédie (1768) / AE25 .E53 Plates v.6

Louse seen through a microscope as rendered in a plate volume of the Encyclopédie (1768) / AE25 .E53 Plates v.6

The exhibition further illuminates the encyclopedia concept by including other encyclopedias and reference works, as well as significant writings on knowledge. Pliny the Elder, Francis Bacon, Athanasius Kircher, Abraham Ortelius, H. G. Wells, and Jorge Luis Borges are all invoked in the exploration of the human impulse to collect and organize knowledge in a single bibliographic entity.


Ladder of ascent and combinatory wheel in Llull, Libro del ascenso, y descenso del entendimiento (1753) / B765.L83 L57 1753

To celebrate the exhibition, Ken Hillis, professor of media and technology studies, delivered a lecture entitled “From Alexandria to Google: The Mythic Quest for Universal Libraries.” He organized his talk around four ideas/entities: the Tower of Babel; the Library at Alexandria; the art of knowing of medieval mystic Ramón Llull; and H. G. Wells’ conception of a “World Brain.”  Co-author of the recent book Google and the Culture of Search (2012), Prof. Hillis ended with a discussion of Google and a reflection on the ways in which its knowledge project coincides with and differs from previous quests.

It was a thought-provoking talk, in sympathy with the Rare Book Collection exhibition, and one entirely appropriate to a university library. The show is up in Wilson Library’s Melba Remig Saltarelli exhibit room through May 26, 2013.


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UNC-Chapel Hill Celebrates Rooms of Wonder

Peggy Myers, Director of Library Development; Florence Fearrington, UNC-Chapel Hill alumna; Sarah Michalak, Associate Provost and University Librarian

On January 9th, enthusiastic Chapel Hill alumni and friends met  at the Grolier Club in New York City to enjoy the marvelous exhibition Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899. Curated by our gracious hostess for the evening, Florence Fearrington (UNC A.B. 1958), the show is a wondrous assemblage of books that document the cabinets of curiosities formed mainly by Europeans, as well as their descendant phenomena, which include the first natural history museums in Europe and the U.S.A.


Cuneiform tablets from the Rare Book Collection’s Cabinet of Curiosities

De rigueur for every cabinet of curiosities were a crocodile and a mummy, although cabinets might also include minerals and gems, shells, relics, tools, or other man-made objects. The UNC Rare Book Collection has a “Curiosities Cabinet,” which includes representative non-codex examples in the history of the book, such as these cuneiform tablets.

The show, which continues through February 2, has received much favorable notice in the book world and the press, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.


Young UNC alumni now resident in N.Y.C. enjoyed the exhibition immensely and bore witness to Chapel Hill’s bibliophilic spirit in their new hometown. It was a grand night, and we are grateful to alumna and collector Florence Fearrington for making it all possible.


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We’re Still Here

Reproduction of Paris Codex in Rosny, Essai sur le déchiffrement de l’écriture hiératique de l’Amérique Centrale (1876) / Stuart F1435.3.W75 R67 1876


The end of the 13 Bak’tun, a period of 144,000 days in the Maya Long Count Calendar is a time for reflection. Listen in to Frank Stasio interviewing UNC Associate Professor Emilio del Valle Escalante and Curator of Rare Books Claudia Funke on the December 21st podcast from “The State of Things.”

Happy 13 Bak’tun!

Happy Holidays!

We’ll be writing again, in the new cycle of the 14th Bak’tun and the new year 2013.

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