University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


PAUL BOWLES, 1910 - 1999


A Short History
of the Paul Bowles Collections


The exhibition Paul Bowles, 1910-1999 celebrates the remarkable life and career of one of the twentieth century's most distinctive literary voices. The exhibit and its accompanying catalog also bring to scholarly notice the University of Delaware Library's recent acquisition of papers from Paul Bowles prior to his death in November 1999.

When the University of Delaware Library began the task of building an in-depth collection of twentieth-century American, British, and Irish literature nearly four decades ago, one of the first authors to whom it directed its collecting focus was Paul Bowles. Although Paul Bowles was largely unknown in his native country, his associations with other authors whom the library was collecting, including Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, William S. Burroughs and others, made him a logical author to include in the collection. In 1985, the University of Delaware Library had the opportunity to acquire a substantial collection of Paul Bowles's literary papers. Included in the papers were Bowles's manuscripts, literary correspondence, and other materials dating from the early 1960s to approximately 1985. Bowles's correspondents included a wide range of notables from the world of literature and the arts, including William S. Burroughs, Alfred Chester, Aaron Copland, Charles Henri Ford, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, Peggy Guggenheim, James Leo Herlihy, James Purdy, Edouard Roditi, Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams. The Paul Bowles papers also included manuscripts for most of the writing Bowles produced from the 1960s through the early 1980s. Manuscripts and correspondence from his wife Jane Bowles were also present in these papers.

Within a few years of this acquisition, the University of Delaware Library was able to acquire additional papers relating to Paul Bowles. Special Collections houses a substantial portion of the archives of the British publisher Peter Owen, and these papers include significant groups of correspondence, manuscripts, and other materials relating to the firm's publication of Bowles's work. The Paul Bowles collection also includes significant groups of Bowles's letters to friends and literary figures such as Charles Henri Ford, Oliver Evans, Peter Rand, William Saroyan, and William Wright, as well as extensive correspondence with his publishers Michael Wolfe (Tombouctou Books) and John Martin (Black Sparrow Press). In 1989, Special Collections acquired the archive assembled by Christopher Sawyer-Laušanno during his research for his 1989 book, An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles, which was the first substantial biographical treatment of the life and career of Paul Bowles. Although Bowles subsequently distanced himself from An Invisible Spectator, Sawyer-Laušanno's papers include a wealth of research materials, including correspondence between Bowles and Sawyer-Laušanno; letters from Bowles's friends and associates such as Bruce Morrissette, Buffie Johnson, Virgil Thomson, Gore Vidal, Edouard Roditi, and Ned Rorem; audiotapes and transcripts of interviews with Bowles and others; and an assortment of other materials.

On December 30, 1990, Paul Bowles celebrated his eightieth birthday. The University of Delaware Library marked the occasion with an exhibition mounted earlier in the year titled Paul Bowles at 80, which was accompanied by a published checklist. During this period, Special Collections staff seriously began to consider the possibility of approaching Paul Bowles concerning his remaining papers and made plans to do so. In August 1990, these plans moved forward unexpectedly when the University of Delaware hired Francis Poole, a new librarian for its Media Services Department. Francis Poole lived in Tangier, Morocco, for a number of years and during that period had become a close friend of Paul Bowles, who had resided in Tangier since the 1940s. He was, in fact, planning a visit to Tangier in December 1990 to attend Paul Bowles's eightieth birthday celebration. During that visit Poole met with Bowles and presented a proposal from the University of Delaware Library to acquire his remaining papers. Bowles was receptive to this proposal; however, because he had no inventory of his papers, and was not sure what material he might possess that we would actually want to acquire, he suggested that the University of Delaware Library send appropriate staff to Tangier to survey his apartment to determine what, if anything, he might have of relevance to our interests.

Over the next several years, University of Delaware Library administrators and Special Collections staff continued to explore various scenarios for sending staff to Tangier to meet with Bowles to survey his papers. In 1994, Paul Bowles's already failing health began to deteriorate further. At the invitation of his friend and biographer, Professor Virginia Spencer Carr, of Georgia State University, Bowles traveled in June of that year to Atlanta where he underwent medical tests at Emory University. He eventually had surgery before returning to Morocco later that summer. While Bowles was in the United States, Francis Poole and I visited him in Atlanta on behalf of the University of Delaware Library and reiterated our interest in acquiring his remaining papers. Once again, he encouraged us to visit him in Tangier where we could see first hand what papers he had in his possession. But it was several more years before we began seriously to plan such a visit.

In subsequent years, Paul Bowles's health problems continued to mount and several of his friends and associates suggested that if we were going to visit him in Tangier we should do so soon. Accordingly, in March 1999, Francis Poole and I traveled to Tangier where we met with Paul Bowles. As always, he was extremely encouraging to us and we were allowed to survey the contents of his apartment. For the next two weeks, as Bowles's schedule allowed, we explored nearly every nook and cranny of his apartment looking for manuscripts, papers, and other archival materials. To Bowles's amazement, we managed to fill more than thirty boxes with material that we suggested he allow us to transport to Delaware. With the help of his business advisor, Karim Benzakour, Bowles surveyed the contents of the boxes and subsequently gave his approval for us to take the materials. We then drew up an agreement with Bowles which officially allowed us to acquire the papers. We were now faced with the most difficult portion of the project, transporting the papers from Bowles's apartment to Newark, Delaware. We again enlisted the help of Karim Benzakour, as well as that of Bowles's longtime assistant, Abdelouahaid Boulaich, who personally supervised the shipment of the papers which arrived safely in Delaware several weeks later.

Prior to our arrival in Tangier, we really had no idea what types of papers might have survived in Paul Bowles's apartment. We knew that many of Bowles's manuscripts and papers from the early part of his career were housed in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas and, of course, our own collection included papers covering the period from roughly 1960 to 1985. Bowles himself had no idea what remained in his apartment and, when asked, invariably told us that he did not think he had anything of interest. From my conversations with Paul Bowles, it was clear that he did not consciously save papers the way some authors do, with a mind for potential research or economic value; however, it was also very apparent that he did not throw things away either. Books, papers, letters and faxes, and a variety of other materials were stacked throughout his apartment. Bowles kept manuscripts, proofs, correspondence, and other papers relating to current or active projects close at hand for the duration of those projects. Following publication or the conclusion of a project, the relevant papers were often placed into a carton, recycled mailing envelope, or shopping bag, and set aside on a table, or a bookshelf, or perhaps under a piece of furniture where they would remain safe but out of sight. This process appeared to have gone on for decades and our efforts began to take on the characteristics of an archaeological excavation conducted under the close supervision of Abdelouahaid Boulaich, with considerable input from Paul Bowles. As we explored Bowles's apartment we located all sorts of things, some of which went back to the early years of his career. In fact, he began asking us to look for specific items of which he had lost track and was pleased when we found books, small household objects, and even photographs and artwork which had gone missing.

The papers housed in Paul Bowles's Tangier apartment proved to be more substantial, in both volume and scope, than any of us imagined. The papers included material that we suspected would be present, for example, manuscripts of writing that Bowles had produced during the 1980s and beyond, and incoming correspondence from the same period. But we found much more as well. Correspondence dated back to the 1940s, but the bulk of it dated from the 1980s to the present, with strong representation from the 1960s and 1970s. Letters from most of the figures named above were present, but extensive groups of letters from his agents, editors, and publishers in the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and elsewhere had survived. Among the most interesting papers were those relating to translations of Bowles's writing. Translators routinely sent Bowles their original manuscripts, as well as subsequent proofs, and he made extensive corrections and changes to the translators' texts, particularly for translations into French and Spanish, but into other languages as well. Correspondence with editors of literary magazines and other journals revealed that Bowles continued to write actively until the last few years of his life when he was limited by failing eyesight. In addition, he was interviewed numerous times by scholars in the United States and Europe, other authors, and a host of journalists and writers for popular magazines. Copies of the original interview transcripts, usually containing Bowles's extensive revisions, were present, as were copies of the published versions. We also found hundreds of pages of newspaper and magazine clippings of reviews, articles about Bowles, and associated pieces. Many of these were from European, African, and Asian publications which are little known in the United States.

A significant group of Paul Bowles's manuscripts of his own writing and of his translations of the work of Moroccan storytellers and other writers is present. Original worksheets and notebooks, heavily-corrected typescripts, and galley proofs exist for most of the work Bowles produced since the 1960s. Earlier materials surfaced as well, including a small envelope containing the manuscripts of poems which date from 1928 and 1940, some of which remain unpublished. Other materials of significance include original photographs; audiotapes containing music, field recordings, and the stories of Moroccan storytellers; film treatments of Bowles's stories and novels; publishers' reports, and a host of other materials.

When we took our leave of Paul Bowles at the end of our March 1999 visit and prepared to return to the United States, we were aware that we had not been able to retrieve all of the papers he had in his possession. In addition, we had not had time to take even more than a cursory look at his book collection, which filled several walls of his apartment. We suggested that a survey of his library might prove valuable and he encouraged us to make a second visit to search for any fugitive papers we might have missed as well as to examine his library. Accordingly, in August 1999, Francis Poole and I made a second visit to Tangier. This time we unearthed thirteen additional boxes of papers which we were able to transport to Delaware. In addition, we spent several days surveying his library. Although we did not have time to perform a title-by-title inventory, we were able to work our way through his entire collection of several thousand books and prepare a general description of the collection which we reviewed with Bowles before we left Tangier. We had previously discussed the possibility of identifying books from his library which might be appropriate to house with his papers in Delaware. Once again, he was receptive to our suggestion and we proposed a third visit the following year during which we would discuss the acquisition of portions of his library.

On the final day of our August trip to Tangier, Francis Poole visited Bowles in the late afternoon to conduct an interview with him. I followed several hours later, walking the now-familiar route from our hotel to his apartment. Before bidding my farewell to Bowles, I reminded him of the proposed exhibit, Paul Bowles at 90, which would celebrate his long, distinguished career. I recall his face lit up when I told him of our plans and I think he was quite pleased we were honoring him in this fashion.

With the death of Paul Bowles on November 18, 1999 our plans to honor him changed, but we decided to move forward with the exhibition and the catalog which accompanies it. Paul Bowles, 1910-1999 builds upon the University of Delaware Library's 1990 exhibition, Paul Bowles at 80. In addition to celebrating the life and career of Paul Bowles, the exhibition also marks the opening of the extensive collection of papers the University of Delaware acquired from him in 1999, which documents his creative endeavors from his senior year in high school in 1928 to the last few months of his life. With the current exhibition, we present the full range of Bowles's lengthy career; however, we have tried particularly to feature manuscript material from the newest additions to the Paul Bowles papers. These papers document every format and genre of his artistic output, including poetry, music, fiction, translation, travel writing, autobiography, and journalism, and examples of Bowles's work in all these areas are represented in the exhibition.

Paul Bowles, 1910-1999 also serves as an enticing introduction to the nearly fifty linear feet of material that remains in the papers: additional manuscripts of works by Paul Bowles; manuscripts of other authors and friends who sought Bowles's opinion; rich personal correspondence with literary figures, musicians, artists, and others; fan mail from admirers around the world; financial and legal documents detailing the publication history of Bowles's writing; manuscripts and correspondence relating to Jane Bowles; and copies of dissertations, articles, and student papers from an internationally diverse group of devotees of Paul Bowles's writing. The University of Delaware Library's Paul Bowles collection offers a unique opportunity to explore new avenues of scholarly research into the life and career of one of the most fascinating literary figures of the twentieth century.

Timothy D. Murray
Head, Special Collections Department
University of Delaware Library


| Introduction | Poetry | Music | Novels | Short Stories | Translations | Travel Writing | Life Writing |


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