Brautigan Library to call Clark County home
Clark County Historical Museum, WSUV work together to bring famed author-inspired collection to Vancouver, and to embrace works by public
Monday, October 4, 2010
The fictional library at the heart of Richard Brautigan’s novel “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966” isn’t filled with works by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. Rather, it’s a repository for unpublished manuscripts of any sort by anyone.
Now Vancouver is getting its own version of the library Brautigan envisioned, through a collaboration between the Clark County Historical Museum and Washington State University Vancouver. The museum is becoming home to the Brautigan Library Collection, until recently housed in Vermont.
If you go
• What: Unveiling of the Brautigan Library Collection, which includes nearly 400 unpublished manuscripts by multiple people and was inspired by the late author Richard Brautigan. This also marks the opening of a new exhibit, “Autumn Trout Gathering,” that features previously unpublished photographs of Brautigan, as well as posters, memorabilia and a multimedia installation.
• When: The unveiling is from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Leading Brautigan scholar John Barber, a faculty member in the Creative Media & Digital Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver, will speak at 7 p.m. Todd Lockwood, founder of the original Brautigan Library in Vermont, and Ianthe Brautigan-Swensen, Richard Brautigan’s daughter, also will speak. The “Autumn Trout Gathering” exhibit continues through Jan. 30.
• Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.
• Cost: Free from 5-9 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. Otherwise, admission to the museum is $4; $3 for seniors and college students with ID; $2 for children 6-18; free for children 5 and younger and Clark County Historical Society members; and $10 for families of four.
In the future, the Brautigan Library will become even more public, when the museum begins accepting digital submissions for an online collection that will be accessible all over the world.
The collection, which contains hundreds of unpublished works, is a tribute to Brautigan’s idea. Although it contains several translations of “The Abortion” in other languages, the bulk of the library consists of unknown works by everyday people.
It’s an unusual concept, one that Brautigan likely would have embraced.
“I think my dad would be so delighted to see someone pull this off,” said his daughter, Ianthe Brautigan-Swensen. “He always wanted to make sure that everyone’s voice could be heard. I feel like this library is that opportunity.”
A Washington native, Brautigan was known for capturing the zeitgeist of the 1960s and ’70s counterculture movement. He rose to international prominence with the 1967 novella “Trout Fishing in America.”
Though the author never lived in Vancouver, John Barber, a leading Brautigan scholar and friend of the late writer, has spent several years working to bring the Brautigan Library Collection here. Barber is on the faculty of WSUV’s Creative Media & Digital Culture Program.
The original Brautigan Library was created in Vermont in 1990 by photographer Todd Lockwood, who populated it with works submitted by people who heard about the library through the widespread national and international media coverage it received. The library shared rented space with a massage therapy school before it moved to Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library in the mid-’90s. It remained there until 2007, when the Fletcher Free Library decided to reallocate the space. Since then, the collection has been housed in Lockwood’s basement.
Beginning this week, the Brautigan Library will once again be available to the public in its new home at the Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver. The unveiling will take place Thursday evening. The museum also is launching a Brautigan exhibit, “Autumn Trout Gathering,” which will continue through Jan. 30.
The exhibit is being curated by Barber and Jeannette Altman, who works in the fine arts department at WSUV. It features photographs of the writer taken by frequent Brautigan collaborator and cover artist Erik Weber, as well as posters and other Brautigan memorabilia on loan from Chicago collector Craig Schowalter, a former Vancouver resident.
Barber’s WSUV students have also prepared a multimedia installation, including video and sound clips, images and original music.
Barber will speak at the unveiling, as will Lockwood, who is traveling from Vermont for the event.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Lockwood said. “It’s been a process, and I think everyone involved is quite pleased. I think a number of people back here are excited to see the (library) come back to life.”
Moving the collection to Washington is a homecoming of sorts for Brautigan, who was born in Tacoma.
“He is from the Pacific Northwest, so it’s so exciting that there would be something of him there,” said Brautigan-Swensen, a writer who teaches at Sonoma State University in the Bay area.
Brautigan was raised in Tacoma and Eugene, Ore. He lived in San Francisco when he did most of his writing.
Barber got to know Brautigan in Montana in 1982, when he took a creative writing class from the author at Montana State University in Bozeman. The two struck up a friendship, and Barber often gave Brautigan — who did not drive — rides to and from his home in nearby Pine Creek.
One of those trips, when Barber chauffered Brautigan in a yellow school bus (he worked for a charter bus company at the time) shows up in Brautigan’s last novel, “An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey,” which was published posthumously. Barber isn’t named in the book but recognized the anecdote and realized he was the unidentified friend.
‘Keep the candle lit’
There’s a dearth of information about Brautigan, Barber said, and he hopes that bringing the Brautigan Library Collection to Vancouver helps remedy that.
“We’re gathering together here to celebrate this native son and his continuing legacy,” Barber said.
But the Brautigan Library Collection is bigger than the author to whom it pays homage. It taps into people’s need to share their stories.
“We’re in a time when the voice of the individual isn’t heard as much anymore,” Barber said. “The ability for people to be able to tell their stories and share their stories in a very public library is really important.”
Susan Tissot, executive director of the Clark County Historical Museum, was intrigued by that idea and by the opportunity to provide an avenue for community dialogue.
“What I liked about it was providing a venue for people to communicate,” she said.
Unlike the library in “The Abortion,” where people could only drop off manuscripts, visitors are welcome to come and read the holdings of the Brautigan Library Collection, though they cannot remove them from the museum.
The nearly 400 submissions transferred from Vermont are organized according to the “Mayonnaise System,” which Lockwood and fellow members of the original Brautigan Library’s board developed. The name is a nod to the prelude of the last chapter of “Trout Fishing in America,” in which Brautigan wrote that he always wanted to end a book with the word mayonnaise.
The Mayonnaise System catalogs submissions according to 13 subject matter categories including “humor,” “war and peace,” “love,” “adventure,” “meaning of life” and “all the rest.”
Lockwood used jars of mayonnaise as bookends at the Vermont library. The Clark County Historical Museum is adopting a modified version of this tradition, and will affix a mayonnaise label graphic WSUV’s Altman made to canning jars.
The museum does not have the space to accept additional physical manuscripts for the Brautigan Library Collection, so Tissot and Barber are working with WSUV to create an online library. They hope to begin accepting digital submissions through the website (http://www.thebrautiganlibrary.org) in about six months.
Creating a virtual Brautigan Library eliminates space constraints and allows people all over the world to access new acquisitions. It also expands the scope of materials included. Now people will be able to submit images, sound clips and video in addition to text.
The librarian in “The Abortion” lived on-site and was on call 24 hours a day to accept manuscripts. The website also will allow for 24/7 access, a nice parallel to the novel, Tissot said.
Brautigan described his unnamed librarian’s living quarters in detail in “The Abortion.” In the future, Tissot hopes to model the Brautigan Library Collection space in the museum after the librarian’s quarters.
Lockwood said the Vermont Brautigan Library became a mecca of sorts for the writer’s fans, and he expects the same will happen here in Vancouver.
Tissot and Barber said they’ve been surprised to discover some high-profile people are Brautigan fans. Annie Proulx, who wrote the short story on which the film “Brokeback Mountain” is based, volunteered at the original Brautigan Library in Vermont, Lockwood said. William Novak, father of NBC’s “The Office” actor, writer and co-executive producer B.J. Novak, donated copies of Brautigan books to the library.
Barber said he hopes the writer’s fan base only increases with the resurrection of the Brautigan Library.
“We need to do something to keep the candle lit,” he said.