Susan Sontag Papers — View Online Finding Aid
In 2002 the UCLA Library acquired the papers of Susan Sontag, a unique record of her distinguished career in American letters. This extensive archive includes manuscripts of her writings; correspondence with contemporary writers, artists, musicians, and other intellectual and historical figures; her personal notebooks; and her private library, consisting of more than 20,000 books in all areas of literature, the arts, history and the social sciences.
Sontag's oeuvre includes seven major works of nonfiction, four
novels, a play, and four full-length films. One of America's best known and most influential writers, Sontag was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2001 for the body of her work. This prize, awarded biannually at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, is second only to the Nobel Prize for literary prestige. In addition to this award in recognition of her entire career in letters, Sontag’s novel In America won the National Book Award for Fiction and her book of essays On Photography received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.
In Spring 2002, exhibitions in the Powell Library Rotunda and in the Department of Special Collections celebrated this major
acquisition by presenting an introduction to the correspondence and publications in the archive.
The correspondence in the Susan Sontag Archive consists of some 2,500 letters to and from major authors, artists, and other figures representing a wide range of creative and intellectual pursuits. Writers of international renown represented include Joseph Brodsky, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Nadine Gordimer, Czeslaw Milosz, and Octavio Paz. The archive also contains Sontag’s official correspondence as president of the American Center of PEN (1987-89), the campaign she led in the 1990s on behalf of Salman Rushdie, and correspondence relating to many other international campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers. On display is a selection of the letters and manuscripts Sontag received from friends and fellow-writers in the United States, Latin America, and Europe.
The American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) is most famous for
his boxes filled with an array of found objects and images.
Initially influenced by Surrealists such as Max Ernst, Marcel
Duchamp, and Kurt Schwitters, Cornell developed his own style of
constructivism, building unique worlds inside the containers he
created. Retrospectives of his work were held in 1967 at the
Pasadena Art Museum and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Correspondence, primarily from 1966, with plain original wooden
box constructed by Cornell. Various dates.
The Sontag Archive includes Cornell's correspondence to Sontag,
original ink drawings, a half-dozen collages, poems by the artist,
and a carbon copy of Monsieur Phot, his surrealist film scenario
from 1933. Deborah Solomon, in her biography of the artist
entitled Utopia Parkway, writes that this document was sent with
his first correspondence to Sontag in late 1965. According to
Solomon, Cornell was much taken with the newly famous Sontag, an
obsession that lasted for about six months.
Cornell's fascination was both personal and intellectual; he found
ideas expressed in Sontag's essays that reflected his own
aesthetic. Solomon speculates:
"Reading 'Notes on "Camp,"' the final essay in Against
Interpretation, Cornell must have felt astonished by the degree to
which it touched on the themes of his own work. Many of the
artworks and individuals that Sontag mentions as examples of camp
had surfaced in Cornell's boxes. . . . From the beginning,
Cornell's work had seemed to flirt with the seductions of camp.
His adulation of divas and movie stars, his democratic use of
common objects - - this hints at a sensibility that recognized
aesthetic worth outside the canon of high culture."
Philip K. Dick.
Philip K. Dick is considered one of the major science fiction writers of the second half of the twentieth century. In the thirty years before his death in 1982, he published thirty-six novels and five short story collections. His most well-known work may be Do androids dream of electric sheep, which was the basis for the film Blade Runner. In this note to Sontag, he is searching for Jean-Pierre Gorin, a mutual acquaintance. In the process of trying to locate his friend, Dick provides several humorous asides about speaking "ersatz
French," fame as a science fiction writer, and working in Hollywood.
28 February 1975. One page typescript, signed.
Author of more than three dozen volumes of poetry and prose, Ginsberg was a major cultural figure in the United States until his death in 1997. In 1956 he published his signal poem "Howl," one of the most widely read and translated poems of the twentieth century.
He was a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters and was awarded the medal of Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 1993.
16 January 1985. One page holograph, signed.
Accompanying this letter was the journal City 9 (Volume 1, Number 9), in which appears Ginsberg’s poem "Listening to Susan Sontag." In his handwritten note, he describes the poem and its genesis in a talk Sontag gave at the University of Colorado:
"Here’s enclosed in magazine a little poem I wrote during your lecture at Boulder C.U. auditorium several years ago ... The poem took off from your critique of stereotyped use of decades as marker-milestone-separation of generational experiences shared by community."
These materials complement the Department of Special Collections’ Allan and Maxine Kurtzman Endowed Collection in Beat Literature.
"Listening to Susan Sontag."
In: City 9: International Writers Anthology. Volume 1, Number 9, 1984.
30 March 1986. Three page typescript, signed.
South African writer Nadine Gordimer is the author of ten novels, ten short story collections, and three non-fiction books. She received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991 and is Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. This letter is one of thirteen manuscript items from Gordimer to Sontag dating from 1982 to 1993. In the first paragraph, Gordimer relates having "dreamt you -- in the Australian aborigine sense, not ‘of’ you. You have had a special place in my subconscious ever since we met a few years ago, and you’re always there (I’ve furnished it for you with books and some Piranesi drawings, of course) even when out of mind, here -- a place where I can’t place you."
Hayden, recently retired from the California State Senate, was highly recognized in the 1960s for his draft of the Port Huron Statement, as co-founder of the Students for a Democratic Society, and for his participation in the civil rights and anti-war movements. In this letter from 1968, Hayden discusses various travels and writing projects. He closes by noting, "I’ll be in Chicago all summer, working on projects . . . and laying plans for the potential confrontation at the Democratic Convention."
19 May . One page typescript, signed.
Jasper Johns has had a profound influence on modern art in the second half of the twentieth century. His 1954-1955 "Flag" initiated a series of paintings of the American flag and of targets that astonished the art world. Although he had moved on to other styles and concerns by the mid-sixties, he mentions a return to his earlier subject matter in this letter, noting that "I have to go to the post office to look at our flag because I’m confused about the layout of the stars."
21 August 1966. One page typescript, signed.
McMurtry is the author of more than thirty screenplays and twenty books, including The Last Picture Show (1966), Terms of Endearment (1975), and Lonesome Dove (1987), the last of which won the Pulitzer Prize. His correspondence represents one of the most voluminous files in the Sontag Archive. Dating from 1988-1990, this period includes the time when both Sontag and McMurtry served as President of PEN American Center, a membership association of prominent literary writers and editors. McMurty’s paper on censorship was delivered in England in 1990.
"Censorship and the Individual Talent." Twenty-four page typescript, signed.
Paz, the internationally recognized poet and critic, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, the Cervantes Award in 1981, and the Neustadt Prize in 1982. His cultural analysis of Mexico, La laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude), established his reputation as a major litererary figure in the 1950s. Paz’s correspondence with Sontag represents a meeting of the minds of two active and engaged authors. "As a sort of commentary of our [earlier] conversation," he included with this letter his book on Marcel Duchamp.
13 October 1978. One page typescript, signed.
The translation of Paz’s inscription to Sontag reads: "To Susan, It is a long farewell to the vanguard. With my friendship, Octavio.
Mexico, October 12, 1978."
Marcel Duchamp, appearance stripped bare.
New York: Viking Press, 1978.
Rushdie gained international attention in 1989 with the publication of The satanic verses and the issuance of a fatwa that same year by Ayatollah Ruhollah Komeini. As President of PEN American Center, Sontag led that organization’s campaign on behalf of the author. In this brief card, Rushdie writes, "I’ve at last finished my novel, The Satanic Verses, and have also (see over) done another dramatic & good thing." The verso of the card is an invitation from Marianne Wiggins and Rushdie to their wedding on January 23, 1988.
[Before 23 January 1988]. One handwritten card, signed.
The satanic verses.
New York: Viking, 1989.
Susan Sontag once summed up her career as an author with the short phrase
"Be serious, be passionate, wake up." Serious, passionate, and stimulating also describe the books she has written during the last three decades. Last year, Sontag was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in recognition of her accomplishment in letters. She was also the recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the John Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and the
George Polk Award for Outstanding Criticism. Her novel In America, published in 2000, received the National Book Award for Fiction, and her 1977 book of essays On photography won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Throughout her professional life, she has actively engaged readers with her essays, novels, and short stories. On display are editions representing works from throughout her career.
The benefactor, a novel.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987, c. 1963.
Against interpretation, and other essays.
London: André Deutsch, 1987, c. 1966.
London: Vintage, 2001, c. 1967.
New York: Picador USA, 2001, c. 1977.
Illness as metaphor.
London: Allen Lane, 1979, c. 1978.
Aids and its metaphors.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989.
Illness as metaphor and AIDS and its metaphors.
New York: Anchor Books, 1990, c. 1978 and c. 1989.
Susan Sontag. (In collaboration with Howard Hodgkin.)
The way we live now.
New York: The Noonday Press, 1991.
The volcano lover: a romance.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992.
Alice in bed: a play in eight scenes.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993.
In America: a novel.
London: Jonathan Cape, 2000.
The essays in On Photography first appeared, in slightly different form, in The New York Review of Books. First published in 1977, the book received much critical acclaim, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism that year. It has been translated into numerous foreign languages, including the Dutch, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish editions shown here.
In her preface, Sontag explained the development and completion of the book:
"It all started with one essay – about some of the problems, aesthetic and moral, posed by the omnipresence of photographed images; but the more I thought about what photographs are, the more complex and suggestive they become. So one generated another, and that one (to my bemusement) another, and so on – a progress of essays, about the meaning and career of photographs—until I’d gone far enough so that the argument sketched in the first essay, documented and digressed from in the succeeding essays, could be recapitulated and extended in a more theoretical way; and could stop."
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977.
Stockhom: P.A. Norstedt och Söners förlag, 1981.
Baarn, [Netherlands]: Diogenes, 1994.
On photography. Japanese.
Tokyo: Shobunsha, 1979.
Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne I Filmowe, 1986.
Lithuania: Baltos lankos, 2000.
Ensaios sobre a fotografia.
Rio de Janeiro: Editora arbor, 1981.
Sobre la fotografía.
Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1980.
Frankfurt am Main: Fisher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1980.
Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 1999.
In America: a novel
Beginning with a story rooted in the past, In America creates a fictional world full of contemporary resonance. In 1876, a group of Poles led by that nation’s greatest actress, Maryna Zalezowska, emigrates to the United States and travels to California in order to found a utopian commune outside the village of Anaheim. Southern California is still a largely empty and exotic locale to the European newcomers. When the commune fails, most of the emigres return to Poland. Maryna stays, however, changing her name to "Marina Zalenska" and forging a new and triumphant career on the American stage. A diva on a par with Sarah Bernhardt, Maryna forms her own theatrical company and crisscrosses the country in her private railroad car year after year. She eventually plays opposite Edwin Booth, the greatest American actor of the age. In addition to its narrative course and historical descriptions, the novel provides the reader with a story of self-transformation and the fate of idealism as well as a tale about storytelling itself.
In America was published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2000 and received the National Book Award for fiction that year. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Michael Silverblatt noted that the novel contained "enough incident, psychology, local color, and fascinating detail to stock a flotilla of popular novels, a couple of Ragtimes, and a brace of theatrical memoirs." In addition to English language editions published in the United States and England, translations into German, Italian, and Swedish are also on display.
Sontag’s note to her agent Andrew Wylie outlines the story of In America and provides an update on the progress of the writing as of December 1997.
5 December 1997
One page holograph, signed.
In America: a novel.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
In America: a novel.
London: Vintage, 2001.
In America: a novel.
New York: Picador USA, 2001.
I Amerika: Roman.
Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 2001.
In Amerika: Roman.
Munich and Wien: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2002.
Milan: Mandadori, 2000.
Susan Sontag’s personal library represents the wide scope of her interests, particularly those of a scholarly nature in literature, the arts, history, and the social sciences. The largest portion of the library is devoted to literature and letters, including American, British, Western and Eastern European, and Latin American authors. Books concerned with the arts, with a focus on dance, theater, music, film, and photography are also well represented. Her own publications in English and the twenty-eight languages into which they have been translated are included as are approximately one hundred books inscribed to her. Shown here is a sample of these books with inscriptions from fellow authors and critics.
Willa Cather and the politics of criticism.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
In this expansion of her 1995 New Yorker article, Joan Acocella examines the politics of Willa Cather criticism and discusses how Cather’s work has been seized upon and distorted by critics on both the left and the right. Acocella argues that the focus of Cather’s work was not a political agenda but rather a tragic vision of life. Acknowledging Sontag’s 1966 book of essays as a cornerstone of contemporary criticism, Acocella wrote in 2000:
"To Susan, A little footnote to ‘Against Interpretation.’ Love, Joan."
Notes of a hanging judge: essays and reviews, 1979-1989.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Critic Stanley Crouch’s publications include The all-American skin-game, or, The decoy of race: the long and the short of it, 1990-1994 (1995), Always in pursuit: fresh American perspectives, 1995-1997 (1998), and Don’t the moon look lonesome: a novel in blues and swing (2000). Both his fiction and nonfiction are concerned with race relations and popular culture in the contemporary United States. His vivacious inscription in this collection of essays and shorter pieces reflects those interests:
"To Susan Sontag---
Who, as Empress of the Intellectual Blues Elite, is not only a worthy descendent and extension of Bessie Smith---but, as the pae[a]n to Bunny Briggs proved, is also a soul-knowing, down-home Sweetheart of Swing! Victory Is Assured, Stanley Crouch.
1991 / February 7. Manhattan."
El naranjo, o los círculos del tiempo.
Mexico: Alfaguara Literaturas, 1993.
Mexican author Carlos Fuentes is the most highly recognized contemporary Mexican writer in the United States and Europe. His novels, often concerned with issues of Mexican history and identity, include The death of Artemio Cruz (1962), Terra Nostra (1975), The old gringo (1985), and Christopher unborn (1987). This collection of short stories was published in English as The orange tree. His inscription in this Spanish edition ("A Susan, que nos descubre la novedad del pasado, la quiere. Fuentes. Mexico, 1933 [ie: 1993]") translates, "To Susan, who finds for us the newness of the past. Love, Carlos."
Kaye Wayfaring in "Avenged": Four stories.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
In addition to this collection of short stories, McCourt’s other fiction includes Mawrdew Czgowchwz (1975), Time Remaining (1993), and Delancey’s Way (2000). In this first edition of his first book, the author inscribed:
"To Susan----with great love of a comrade, a mentor, a friend (in the life.) James."
Some can whistle: a novel.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.
McMurtry is the author of more than thirty screenplays and twenty books, including The Last Picture Show (1966) and Terms of Endearment (1975). He received the Pulitzer Prize for his extremely popular Western novel Lonesome Dove (1987). In addition to his voluminous personal correspondence to Sontag, he also provided the largest number of inscribed books in the archive. In this advance uncorrected reader’s proof copy, he wrote:
"For Susan---The west Texas Gogol debating with himself about novel writing and parenthood. Larry."
The Tibetan book of living and dying.
San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992.
Sogyal Rinpoche was born in Tibet and raised by one of its most revered spiritual masters, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö. After the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he went into exile with his master. Following university studies in Delhi and Cambridge, England he served as a translator and began teaching Buddhist philosophy and practice in 1974. His engagement with psychology, science, and healing has made him a popular speaker in the West. His inscription to Sontag of this title is of particular interest given her own publications on illness and death:
"May this book inspire your mind, and touch your heart. With warmest wishes, [Sogyal Rinpoche]"
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
The American novelist John Updike has received numerous awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1982 and 1990 and Pulitzer Prizes for his novels Rabbit is rich (1981) and Rabbit at rest (1990). Incorporating the large red Capital "S" illustrating the dust jacket, Updike inscribed this first edition of S., his thirteenth novel, to Sontag. This copy complements the Department's Daniel T. Richards
collection of books by and about John Updike.
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