Harriette Arnow Papers Made Available to the Public

  • newswise-fullscreen Harriette Arnow Papers Made Available to the Public

    Credit: Photo by Dey, Ann Arbor.

    UK Special Collections will make available to the public the papers of beloved Appalachian author Harriette Simpson Arnow.

  • newswise-fullscreen Harriette Arnow Papers Made Available to the Public

    Credit: Photo courtesy of University Press of Kentucky.

    Author Harriette Simpson Arnow is known by many for her work "The Dollmaker," which was made into a movie starring Jane Fonda.

Newswise — LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 14, 2011) − The University of Kentucky Special Collections Library celebrates the opening of the papers of beloved Appalachian author Harriette Simpson Arnow. Arnow’s papers at UK Libraries provide a broad look at a writer’s life and work.

Included in the Arnow collection are materials that document her writing process, from first-draft manuscripts on dime store tablets, through various iterations and drafts, to printer page proofs. Also included are correspondence with family, editors, publishers and literary agents. Researchers will find mail from readers, photographs, speeches and materials documenting Arnow’s political interests such as McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, the Vietnam War and the ACLU. Book reviews, scholarly articles and dissertations written about Arnow’s work are also featured in the papers.

Arnow was born in Wayne County, Ky., in 1908, and grew up in the rugged foothills of the Appalachians, where the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River emerges from the east Kentucky coalfield. She went on to publish several short stories, five novels and three works of nonfiction from the 1930s to 1977. Arnow died in Michigan in 1986.

Kentucky is a central element in much of Arnow's most popular work. Her acclaimed and best-selling novels, "Hunter’s Horn" (1949) and "The Dollmaker" (1954), are part of a Kentucky trilogy that includes "Mountain Path" (1936). In these works of fiction, Arnow explores how the social and economic fabric of rural Kentucky hill communities in the first half of the 20th century was changed by the coming of roads, electricity and the World Wars. The writer also completed two social histories, "Seedtime on the Cumberland" (1960) and "Flowering of the Cumberland" (1963), which examined the settlement of the Cumberland River valley at the end of the 18th century as well as a memoir, "Old Burnside" (1977) that focused on her childhood in Pulaski County, Ky. Two final novels, "Weedkiller’s Daughter" and "The Kentucky Trace: A Novel of the American Revolution" were published in the early 1970s. A collection of short stories and a novel, "Between the Flowers," were released posthumously.

Sandy Ballard, editor of the Appalachian Journal, believes the university's Arnow collection is a treasure. "Harriette Simpson Arnow was a remarkable writer whose work certainly deserves a wider audience. The archival collection at the University of Kentucky is the mother lode for anyone who wants to explore the imaginative range of this impressive author," Ballard says.

The processing and description of the Harriette Arnow papers has proven a formidable project for Kate Black, curator of the Appalachian Collection and manuscripts archivist at UK Libraries.

"Processing these papers and preparing them for researchers has been challenging, to say the least," Black says. "Ms. Arnow’s handwriting is big, sprawling and difficult to read, and her habit was to write a draft of one manuscript on the back of a draft of another manuscript. She often wrote on highly acidic paper, which requires significant preservation work. And then filing wasn’t her strong point. Drafts of all the manuscripts had to be located and meticulously pieced together. It was like a puzzle."

Black credits talented graduate students in enabling the processing of the Arnow papers. Her most recent assistant, Amber Surface, helped bring the project to conclusion. Surface, a native of South Charleston, W. Va., liked working on Harriette Arnow’s papers so much that she has curated an exhibition of the work with Black at UK Libraries and is creating a virtual exhibit—all for class credit. UK Libraries will also host a symposium on the author.

"Working with the Arnow papers has been an incredible introduction to working in the archives," Surface says. "Helping the collection take form, from processing to exhibiting, is fascinating. Most graduate students only have a chance to work on the processing side, so I’ve truly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to curate the exhibit with the completed papers."

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