In 2008, shortly after the death of David Foster Wallace—one of the greatest writers ever to graduate from Amherst College—the University of Texas, with whom Wallace had no connection, tapped its enormous acquisitions fund to swoop in and snatch Wallace’s papers from under Amherst’s nose. Scholars in the exploding field of Wallace studies now travel to Austin, rather than to Amherst (or to the Internet, for that matter, where we would have placed Wallace’s material after digitizing it).
A fund for acquiring personal papers and manuscripts will ensure that this never happens again, allowing us to purchase collections quickly when they go on the market.
It will also help us process, catalog, and preserve those collections that donors offer without charge.
An institution’s ability to solicit donations depends upon its ability to promise authors, producers, and filmmakers that it will care well for their material. This fund will thus permit us not only purchase valuable collections, but also to negotiate effectively for collections proffered without expectations of monetary compensation.
This fund will allow us to cultivate already strong collections by aggressively pursuing
* the personal papers of alumni novelists, poets, and playwrights.
* scripts, working documents, and other papers from screenwriters and film producers.
* first editions of alumni writers’ books.
* poetry by contemporaries of Dickinson, Frost, Merrill, Wilbur, and Wallace.
* work by African-American and Caribbean writers.
* books and manuscripts in the history of science, including geology, astronomy, ornithology, lepidopterology, and entomology from the 15th century to the present.
* manuscripts and papers from Amherst alumni who played major roles in government, politics, public policy, and international diplomacy.
* documents on social activism.
* sources on College history.
* rare and valuable material in the history of photography, technology, and general printing.