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American Literary Materials in Special Collections: Literary Production and Reception

A guide to resources for the study of American literature in Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

The Business of Literature

Understanding of literature involves the study not only of the works themselves, but also of how works are marketed, sold, published, and received by critics and general readers.  Duke's collections include archival materials to support the study of these aspects of literary history. 

Literary Agents

Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency: The records of an agency formed in 1981 by Harriet Wasserman, formerly an agent at the Russell and Volkening Literary Agency. The bulk of the HWLA records document her clients' careers after 1981, but a number also reach back into the 1970s and document such early clients as Saul Bellow, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Reynolds Price.  Also includes client files for many other prominent authors such as Richard Bausch, Allan Bloom, Frederick Buechner, Oscar Hijuelos, Josephine Humphreys, George F. Kennan, Alice McDermott, and Walter Dean Myers.  

    Presses and Publishers

    Carolina Wren Press: Records of a non-profit small press in Carrboro, NC, founded by Judy Hogan. The records document not only the growth and activities of Carolina Wren Press and associated organizations, but also the origins and development of the small press movement in the United States and particularly in the South.  Also includes records for Lollipop Power, Inc. (a children's book imprint) and personal papers of Judy Hogan.

    George W. Jacobs & Co.: Publisher in Philadelphia, PA. The collection consists of at least 500 contracts for book publications, 1900-1935. Each contract contains letters to and from the author, together with the signed agreement. Also contains miscellaneous materials relating to the negotiation of book contracts that were never consummated.

    Will H. Lowdermilk: Former Union soldier; book dealer and publisher.  Correspondence, contracts, bills, recepts, and advertising material related to the W. H. Lowdermilk & Co. book dealers and publishers in Washington, D.C. Also includes records about copyrights for works published by the firm.

    Sarabande Books: Records of a non-profit literary press established in 1994 by Sarah Gorman in Louisville, KY. Documents the founding and functioning of the company. Includes business records and correspondence with authors. 


      Catherine Nicholson: Lesbian feminist writer and magazine publisher and editor; co-founder of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal. In addition to editorial records for Sinister Wisdom, the collection comprises correspondence; personal and professional writings and supporting materials; photographic materials; publicity about theatre and of plays directed by Nicholson; audio recordings; and ephemera.

        Bookstores and Bookselling

        Charis Books and More and Charis Circle: Charis Books and More, founded in 1974 in Atlanta, Ga., is the oldest feminist bookstore in the Southeast, and Charis Circle is a non-profit organization founded in July 1996 that furthers the mission of the bookstore by offering free educational and cultural events and programs to the community. Collection documents the day-to-day operation, programs, and mission of Charis Books and More and Charis Circle.

        Mrs. E. L. Harris: Slabe, Va. book agent for Harper and Brothers. Collection, 1873-94, contains correspondence relative to Harris' book trade and consists mainly of letters from the subscription book department of Harper and Brothers. See the David Bullock Harris Papers for additional material related to Mrs. Harris' work.  

        George F. Scheer: Regional trade salesman in the South for various U.S. publishing houses.  Papers, 1955-73, include correspondence, flyers, brochures, tip sheets, order forms, and financial statements, relating to George F. Scheer's work as a trade salesman for various publishing firms.

        Dorothy (Cookie) Teer Papers: Co-founder of Southern Sisters Bookstore, a Durham, N.C. bookstore "by, for, and about women" in the 1980s-90s. Includes financial records, flyers, mailing lists, mission statement, and some correspondence from patrons, donors, and supporters of the store.  

          Literary Scholarship and Reception

          The Jay B. Hubbell Center was established at Duke in 1976 with the mission to document the inception and continuing development of American literary studies.  To this end, the Rubenstein Library has collected and makes available for research the papers of scholars, critics, organizations, and projects related to the field of American literature.  Representative collections include: 

          Gay Wilson Allen: Papers of this Walt Whitman scholar include extensive research material on Whitman, and also incorporate papers of fellow Whitman scholars Clifton Joseph Furness, Clara Barrus, and others.

          American Literature: Records of this quarterly journal published by Duke University Press, the first journal exclusively devoted to American literature. Records date back to 1927 and include extensive editorial correspondence.  The papers of Chairs of the Board of Editors Jay B. Hubbell, Clarence Gohdes, Arlin Turner, Edwin Harrison Cady, Louis J. Budd, and Cathy N. Davidson are also held in the Hubbell Center.

          Sacvan Bercovitch: Literary scholar, professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, and general editor of the Cambridge History of American Literature. The records of the CHAL are also held in the Hubbell Center.

          Edgar Marquess Branch: Papers of this Mark Twain scholar include extensive correspondence and papers related to administration of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley.

          Modern Language Association of America, American Literature Section: Records of the first MLA group devoted to American Literature include correspondence, reports, minutes, and ballots, 1922-99.

          Montrose Jonas Moses: Drama critic, journalist, and author of works on American and European drama and on children's literature.  Papers include correspondence, research notes, literary drafts, scrapbooks, playbills, and photos, including much on significant theatrical figures in 19th and early 20th century theatre.  

          Ralph Leslie Rusk: Professor of American Literature at Columbia University, 1925-1953. The papers span the years 1782-1981, and chiefly concern Rusk's teaching and research in American Literature, notably the life and letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson.