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In the archives: The Ransom Center presents a symposium on the life and work of David Foster Wallace

In the archives: The Ransom Center presents a symposium on the life and work of David Foster Wallace

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Ever since the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas’ acclaimed library and archive, acquired the papers and manuscripts of late writer David Foster Wallace in 2010, they’ve been swamped with letters and visits from researchers and fans. They come from around the world to explore the boxes of books and manuscripts in the collection, finding insight into the author's world in margins covered with ink-scrawled notes.

The wildly popular author committed suicide in 2008, leaving behind an unfinished novel and boxes full of outlines, revisions and annotated texts. From drafts of his first book, The Broom of the System, to notes kept while on assignment for magazines like Harper’s (on cruises, or movie sets, or at state fairs and festivals), Wallace’s papers are filled with insights into his personal and professional lives.

This April, the Ransom Center is hosting a symposium on Wallace's life and works. Registration is now open for the two-day event, which will feature panels and conversations about both the material in the archive, and the glimpse it gives us into Wallace’s process and personality.

Guests include Bonnie Nadell, Wallace’s literary agent, and Michael Pietsch, his longtime editor, along with biographer D.T. Max, critic Seth Colter Walls, editors Colin Harrison and Deborah Triesman, plus more to be announced in the coming weeks. (You can view the current schedule online.)

We spoke with Danielle Sigler, the Ransom Center’s Assistant Director and Curator for Academic Programs, about the event.

“It’s an idea that emerged in the midst of the acquisition,” Sigler explains. “It’s a great opportunity to bring people from around the country, and potentially around the world, together to talk about Wallace’s life and work.”

He's a writer whose legacy grows as time passes; in 2009, the "Infinite Summer" project got hundreds of readers hooked on the 1,079-page Infinite Jest; fan site The Howling Fantods, run by Australian teacher Nick Maniatis, regularly posts new writing on Wallace; and wallace-l, a listserv run by Austinite Matt Bucher, typically receives dozens of posts a day.

“We continue to see a great deal of interest in the Wallace archives,” says Sigler, noting that the number of visitors to the HRC has increased since the acquisition.

“It’s been really exciting for us to see so many people have such an interest. And what’s also exciting for us, and potentially other scholars that come here, is they can then connect Wallace’s archive to Don DeLillo’s archive, or another archive at the center.”

There are many reasons why it makes sense that Wallace’s archive ended up at the Ransom Center. One big one: He was a fan and friend of author DeLillo, whose papers are also housed here in Austin.

“We continue to see more connections between Wallace and other holdings. And people who might be less familiar with those other writers get to know them while they’re here,” says Sigler.

If you can’t make the trip to Texas, don’t worry — you’ll still have a chance to catch the panels.

“We’re particularly happy that we’re going to be webcasting the entire symposium,” Sigler explains. “It’s an event that’s really going to be accessible to a large number people.”

Check the symposium’s site for more information on the webcast, which will be streaming during the event.


Registration for the symposium is now open online. The $55 registration fee includes access to all events on the schedule.