Tom Wolfe In Our Time, and In Our Library

Special note: This blog post was written by Tim Buchanan, M.A. ’15, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection

While browsing the Stuart Wright Collection a few weeks ago, I saw mention of a collection of illustrations by Tom Wolfe. Best known for chronicling the 60s counterculture in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Wall Street excesses in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe is also known by his trademark white suit, which he wears like a uniform. I hadn’t expected to find works by this still-living author in the archive, and this item presented me with a facet of his work I never knew existed. They’re a fitting introduction to the Tom Wolfe Papers held at ECU, which also include an uncorrected proof of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The book of illustrations is titled In Our Time, and was published in 1980 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It compiles a series of Wolfe’s sketches, caricatures and accompanying essays, which originally appeared as a monthly feature in Harper’s Magazine with the same title. The book chronicles the narcissism and excess of the 1970s, offering an interesting glimpse at the sexuality, drug culture, and gender politics of the time from Wolfe’s perspective. In the first paragraph of the first essay, “Stiffened Giblets,” Wolfe describes his entry into the decade:

For me the 1970s began the moment I saw Harris, on a little surprise visit to the campus, push open the door of his daughter Laura’s dormitory room. Two pairs of eyes popped up in one of the beds, blazing like raccoons’ at night by the garbage cans . . . illuminating the shanks, flanks, glistening haunches, and cloven declivities of a boy and girl joined mons-to-mons. Harris backed off, on little step after another. He looked as if he were staring down the throat of a snake. He pulled the door shut, ever so gingerly (3).

The book also shares its title with Ernest Hemingway’s very first story collection, published in 1925.

Of further interest to researchers interested in Wolfe’s work is a comb-bound, uncorrected proof of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test bearing Wolfe’s signature. This is a far more modern––even postmodern––glimpse into the age or contemporary writings than the mention of a literary archive might bring to mind. The bound galleys are meant to give an idea of what the text will look like in print as well as the overall layout of the book. Some passages are crossed out by Wolfe’s own hand, so it’s possible to see bits of writing that didn’t make it into the final shelf copy.

Wolfe helped pioneer a new approach to journalism, called New Journalism, which blended literary technique with more traditional reporting. Among his contemporaries in the style were Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson. Because of his importance to modern writing, it is no surprise that we aren’t the only ones looking to archive Wolfe’s work. The New York Public Library has just processed a collection of his works and some selections are on display in “Becoming the Man in the White Suit: The Tom Wolfe Papers.”

Finding such well-known and contemporary writing among other, more obscure texts is a special thrill of working in the archive. Turning the long brittle sheets of the corrected proofs of a collection of his essays or the bound set of galleys to one of Wolfe’s most famous works, I felt that the archive itself was a living, unfinished thing not just shining a light on our literary past, but grounding those who explore within it to a strong on-going literary tradition.

The Dartmouth Dualist

Special note: This blog post was written by Edward Reges, M.A. ‘16, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

Richard Eberhart, Pulitzer Prize recipient and Poet Laureate of the United States from 1959 – 1961, is recognized as a dualistic poet; his poetry often featured two extremes in harmony, be they life and death or will and psyche. It is quite possible that the early days of his college career at Dartmouth College offered Eberhart a foundation for his understanding of the world and his creative identity. The Stuart Wright collection at Joyner Library has thirty eight boxes of Eberhart material, from poems and proofs to naval papers, calendars, photographs, and audio recordings.

Eberhart described philosophy as the “sum total of human knowledge as an outcome of the interpretation of the universe in one’s mind” in a paper written for his introduction to philosophy course in the spring semester of 1924. Stuart Wright obtained this paper and several others a young Eberhart wrote for this course. These papers depict a young man coming to terms with how he interprets the universe, and coincidentally, how he expresses himself. I have pulled from three of these papers, one on each of the prominent philosophical theories of mind, to demonstrate Eberhart’s reasoning.

The popular philosophy of mind in the 1920s, when Eberhart was a student at Dartmouth, was likely idealism. Put bluntly, idealism is the philosophy that everything we are and experience is an idea. Idealism is often seen as a dreamy outlook, and Eberhart seems to agree: “Intuition is a dream; thought must be the dream of that dream” (5).

Materialism, however, is the polar opposite of idealism. Backed by the consistency of science and observation, this theory claims that not only are the objects located in the external world that cause our experiences physical, but also our thought processes, experiences, and awareness are physical byproducts of a functioning nervous system. Eberhart refutes this theory by identifying ethically questionable motives for materialism: to break tradition and to control the external world. In his words, materialism focuses on “mental emancipation from the super-situation and false credulity of unproven gods and practice because it arises out of a desire to control the external world” (1). Eberhart dismissed materialism in part because he disliked its determinism, and believed instead that free will was the underlying principle of the physical form (Karthikeyan & Dwivedi, 226).

Eberhart combines his understanding of idealism and materialism to come to a conclusion in a third paper on substance dualism: the idea that reality consists of both physical and mental substances. The following excerpt from page 3 of his paper on dualism explains his position:

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Eberhart, Richard. Materialist Philosophy. 1924. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

This dedication to a dualistic philosophy shows through in Eberhart’s works. As Karthikeyan and Dwivedi point out in their article “Richard Eberhart’s Poetic Theory: Art and Craft,” the poet believed that poetry is divided into an art and a craft, and used his craft to contribute to the art under the pretense that minds were divided into the physical will and the mental psyche. Karthikeyan and Dwivedi, on page 226, assert that Eberhart’s “psyche poetry pertains to the soul, to peace, quiet tranquility, serenity, harmony, stillness and silence. It provides psychic states of passive pleasure,” while “will poetry exists because of the power in the cell beyond its energy to maintain itself, ‘will’ results in action through zeal, volition, passion, determination, choice and command.”

It is a rare opportunity to see the reasoning behind a poet’s style and works. The Stuart Wright Collection in the Joyner Library offers explanations and personal correspondence that cannot be obtained with a Google search. For those interested, more items in the Eberhart papers, including a hand-inked autobiography of his early life and his philosophical analyses of Shakespearean literature, can be found in the Stuart Wright Collection Finding Aids, along with a short biography of his very interesting life.

Literary Lampoons: The Cartoonist Ambitions of a Great American Writer

Special note: This blog post was written by Bryant Scott, M.A. ’14, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

In a review of Updike, Adam Begley’s new biography of the beloved American writer, Orhan Pamuk writes that, “in a way, what Melville did for whales, Updike did for upper-middle-class life in suburban America: He produced partly allegorical realist novels containing an encyclopedic array of the thousands of facets of human experience, all collected with loving attention to his subject matter.”

What is less known about one of the great writers of his generation is that long before John Updike began semi-autobiographically chronicling the anguish of American middle-class torpidity, he aspired to be, in his words, “the next Walt Disney.” In fact, as a youth he wrote frequently to his cartoonist heroes, stylized his artwork after theirs, and even modeled notable protagonists after aspiring cartoonists.

Newly added to the Stuart Wright Collection in Joyner Library is a modest yet exclusive supply of Updike material. Among the annotated manuscripts, personal notebooks, and correspondence is a wealth of sketches, drawings, political cartoons, various works published in the Harvard Lampoon and local newspapers, and other original art that expose the famous writer’s earliest ambitions—to be a great cartoonist.

The collection ranges from figure drawings to newsprint, spanning roughly the decade in which Updike was emerging as a major American writer.  At Harvard, Updike was in full form on the editorial board of the Harvard Lampoon, where, alongside poems and longer articles, he published cartoons frequently. The image below, from Updike’s own marked-up copy of the Harvard Lampoon, for instance, showcases an early bit of Updike’s sense of social irony.

Updike, John. Harvard Lampoon. Feb. 1954. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Augmenting these Lampoon editions, in the 50s and 60s Updike published frequently in newspapers, as is shown in the following example from the Amesbury Daily News. Here, as is typical of his cartoons, Updike displays political and social acuity at a young age.

Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. June 21, 1958. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

As seen above, these cartoons also nicely showcase the political environment of the time, often exposing the underlying social fears of a nation in the midst of the Cold War.

Interestingly, the collection houses various doodles and sketches that show the evolution of an Updike cartoon from brief sketches to prints to published cartoons, as is shown through the sequence of Nixon and Kennedy cartoons below. The first image is an undated pencil sketch from Updike’s composition notebooks while at Harvard, the second is an original pen and ink cartoon (one of many in the collection) that Updike submitted to the Amesbury Daily News, and the published cartoon is the third image below.

Updike, John. Personal composition notebook. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.
Kennedy: “What the American vision needs is a vision of a vision—more homes for our senior citizens. More schools for our junior citizens—I call all citizens to greatness! Hurrah!”
Nixon: “I, for one, thank the dear lord for the strength that enabled me to stand up to Khruschev [sic], and for the wonderful leadership provided by that master among men, Dwight David Now-is-the-Hour! Whee!”

Updike, John. Original Drawing. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C

 

Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. August 23, 1960. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

 

St. James Episcopal Church, Kittrell, NC

Source: Augustus Moore Family Papers (ECU Manuscript Collections #1216)

Staff Person: Lynette Lundin

Description:

St. James Episcopal Church was built in a Gothic-Style, the church is located in Kittrell, NC.

A Confederate Hospital was located in Kittrell during the  Civil War and the church saw  to the patients needs and provided Christian burials for the 52 soldiers who died there. PC-1216.13.a.1

WWI Scene of Devastation

Source: Emil Gorling Papers, MC #1200

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

This image is from a postcard that is part of the Emil Gorling Papers, a collection that has postcards and photographs that show the result of the 1918 German Spring Offensive in Northern France and specifically the Noyon Campaign (April-August 1918). This particular scene is a building in Noyon, France that was damaged in April 1918 during that campaign. Emil Gorling was a German soldier in the 3rd Landwehr Division during World War I and his postcards and photographs of WWI show scenes of devastation and of German soldiers in the field.

Scouting for Food

Source: Boy Scouts of America, East Carolina Council Records, MC #1199

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

This photo (1990) is from the Boy Scouts of America, East Carolina Council Records; a collection of documents that illustrates the history of the eastern N.C. branch of the Boy Scouts of America.  This picture was taken at a Boy Scout charity event called Scouting for Food; a food drive that the Boy Scouts conduct on a regular basis to collect food donations for the hungry. The picture shows a boy scout with two cub scouts preparing for the Scouting for Food Campaign.

Petticoat Pilots Meeting

Source: Daily Reflector Negative Collection (Manuscript Collection #741)

Staff Person: Martha Elmore

Description:

For decades women faced tremendous hurdles in their desire to become pilots.  In the early years they weren’t allowed to enter into competitions such as the National Air Race because these races were thought to be too dangerous for women.  In 1929 women pilots held their first National Women’s Air Derby.  Humorist Will Rogers, who was the starter for the race, referred to the women pilots as “petticoat pilots and flying flappers” and nicknamed the race the Powder Puff Derby.

This photograph shows a group of women welcoming Petticoat Pilots to the airport at Greenville, North Carolina, in August of 1965.  I don’t know what the occasion was for this group of women pilots gathering, but it is interesting that the nickname for women pilots in 1929 was still being used in 1965.

Information about the Powder Puff Derby came from Karen Bush Gibson’s book titled, Women Aviators:  26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys.

Plan for 7′ 9 Pram

Source: Hagerty Company Collections (EC Manuscript Collection # 1084 Os1)

Staff Person: Ralph Scott

Description: The Douglas Fir Plywood Association founded in 1933 in Tacoma, Washington was one of many trade associations that that were set up following the National Recovery Act. The Association set standards for plywood manufacture and in 1938 became the holder of an industry wide trademark on plywood. Prior to that each manufacturer had their own brand logo. The new DFPA Construction Standard was accepted by the Farm Home Administration for interior and exterior use of FHA approved homes. In addition to developing industry-wide standards the DFPA also promoted consumer use of member plywood. One such promotion is shown here in a plan for a 7′ 9″ pram. Construction techniques for the pram as well as a bill of materials were supplied on this plan dated 1940. During World War II DFPA plywood was used in barracks, life-boats, and gliders. The Hagerty Company of Cohasset, MA constructed PT boats, skiffs, sailboats and dinghies from DFPA plywood.

Military Training in North Carolina Public Schools 1853

Source:  L. H. Smith Papers (#23.1.a.1)

Staff Person:  Jonathan Dembo

Description:  Below is a personal letter from future Edgecombe and Duplin County school teacher, L. H. Smith, to his brother Edward P. Smith.  At the time he wrote this letter, L. H. was teaching at Bradly’s School House, but had not yet earned his teaching certificate.  Edward begins the letter by recounting his search for two of Edward’s mislaid letters and his eventual discovery of  a silver shilling leading him to the comic deduction that Edward’s letter must have contained silver ore.  He promises that if Edward sends him a gold shilling, he will be more careful of it.  However the bulk of the letter describes his experiences teaching at Bradley’s School House, North Carolina.  He focuses on the regular Friday routine.  All his scholars, he writes, “speak”, or recite their lessons, on Friday and he musters all the boys accompanied by a fife and drum.  “The smaller boys”, he writes, “have wooden guns and the larger real ones.”  Apparently, this was something of a social occasion in the community and a matter of serious competition between different schools and schoolmasters.  L. H. reports that “Frank was here last week and see [sic] me drill them.  He says they beat his company.  Some Fridays there is some 25 or thirty people to hear them speak and to see them muster and lots of girls among them.”  L. H. notes that he is writing during recess and has no time to “collect my thoughts” but readers will note numerous errors of spelling and punctuation in the letter.  One hopes that the students benefited more from L. H.’s lessons in reading and arithmetic than they could have from his writing lessons.

Military Training in North Carolina Public Schools 1853

Insight from an Englishman

Source: Jerome R. Worsley Papers, East Carolina Manuscript Collection #1214

Staff Person: Nanette Hardison

This page is from a piece of correspondence (June 27, 1953) that is part of the papers of Jerome R. Worsley, who was born in Bethel, N.C. and was a student of the East Carolina Teachers College (which is now East Carolina University). The letter was written to Mr. Worsley by Clive Irving, an author living in Britain during the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In the letter, Mr. Irving describes how Americans and the English view each other, Britain’s equivalent of the McCarthy Red Scare problem and styles of clothing. The letter can be viewed in its’ entirety here http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/27449 and the finding aid for the Jerome R. Worsley Papers can be accessed at http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/special/ead/view.aspx?id=1214&q=1214.