The records of the Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency span the dates 1948-1993, with most of the records dating after 1974. The records dated prior to 1981, when the agency was formed, are those of writers who were Wasserman's clients when she was employed at the Russell and Volkening agency and stayed with her when she formed her own agency. The collection documents the careers of individual writers and in doing so indicates the varied activities of a major literary agency: preparation and submission of manuscripts, negotiation of contracts, handling of foreign and reprint rights, publicity, and the differing ways affairs are handled for lesser known or beginning writers and for major authors. Among the more prominent American fiction writers included are Richard Bausch, Saul Bellow, Frederick Buechner, Oscar Hijuelos, Josephine Humphreys, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Alice McDermott, and Reynolds Price. In addition, records about historian George F. Kennan and philosopher and historian Allan Bloom are included. The correspondence is primarily about professional matters, although some sense of the personal relationships between the agent and the more prominent clients can be gleaned.
By far, the Bellow papers comprise the largest group relating to any single author, and cover the longest span of years, from 1948 to 1993. There are relatively few papers from 1948 to 1972, but those present contain a few personal letters to Bellow from his contemporaries such as the novelists Ralph Ellison and Wright Morris. The bulk of the Bellow papers date from 1973, and convey a clear impression of the activity surrounding his increasing fame, particularly with the publication of Humboldt's Gift, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for that novel, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. After that date his later career is sketched in detail and follows from inception through publication such works as The Dean's December, More Die of Heartbreak, and It All Adds Up.
The collection includes, in smaller amounts, material about the careers of other authors. In the current accession, the Bausch and Jhabvala papers are particularly rich among the fiction writers. Bausch's career is outlined from his breaking into the profession in the mid-1970s to his establishment as a major author by the late 1980s. Jhabvala's papers pick up in mid-career, when she has already published several novels and won the Booker Prize in England, but prior to her growing fame as a screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. Her correspondence also includes a number of letters from director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, particularly relating to the development of the film The Autobiography of a Princess (1975) and the accompanying photography book of the same name.
Of special note are the records about Reynolds Price and Josephine Humphreys. While the HWLA collection contains some unique items about these writers, especially Price, scholars should be aware that the Library is also the primary repository for the personal papers of these writers. Much more information is available in their respective collections.
Among non-fiction writers in the current (1995) accession, the papers of historian George F. Kennan and philosopher Allan Bloom document their careers in the 1980s. Most of the Bloom papers relate to the publicity surrounding the publication of The Closing of the American Mind, particularly reviews and speaking engagements. The Kennan material is more varied, including not only Wasserman's correspondence on Kennan's behalf, but several dozen lengthy letters from Kennan to Wasserman and others.
The 1999 addition (accession #1999-0275) (19,500 items, 32.5 lin. ft.; dated 1974-1999 and undated) expands on all of the collection series, especially materials related to Saul Bellow.
The 2001 addition (accession #2001-0050) (816 items, 12 lin. ft.; dated 1974-2000 and undated) includes book manuscripts, galley proofs (some inscribed), correspondence, notes, and other materials relating to the authors represented by the literary agency. Other materials include sixty-four black-and-white photographs, one black-and-white negative, four color photographs, and one audiocassette tape. Authors included in this addition are Richard Bausch, Jay Williams, Suzi-Lori Parks, Laurel Lee, Karla Kuskin, Elinore Clark, Perrin Ireland, Frederick Buechner, John Tyler Bonner, Martha Moody, Eugene Walter, Caroline Winthrop, Paul Lussier, Sharon Flake, Reynolds Price, Josephine Humphreys, Saul Bellow, George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, Julia Markus, George F. Kennan, Carole L. Glickfeld, Mark Winegardner, Michael Stewart, Diane Vreuls, Sandra Gould Ford, Charles McPhee, Mark Smith, and Harriet Wasserman herself.
The second 2001 addition (accession #2001-0115) (5 items, .1 linear feet; dated 1978-2001, bulk 1997-2001) contains correspondence between Wasserman and Shelley Gruskin. It also includes a playbill for performances of In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Gimpel the Fool, signed by actor David Marguiles and a copy of Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. Both book and playbill are mentioned in the correspondence.
The 2003 addition (accession #2003-0051)(12,500 items, 30 linear feet, dated 1982-2000) consists chiefly of client files (correspondence, contracts, financial records, etc.), manuscripts and proofs of books by clients, published versions of books by clients, and related materials. Includes especially significant material for Saul Bellow and a few other authors, including Oscar Hijuelos and George Frost Kennan.
Addition (08-004) (18,000 items; 24 lin. ft.; dated 1984-2006) consists chiefly of client files (correspondence, contracts, financial records, etc.), manuscripts and proofs of books by clients, published versions clients, and related materials. Includes especially significant material for Saul Bellow and a few other authors, including Oscar Hijuelos and George Frost Kennan.
Addition (08-078) (8 items; .2 lin. ft.; dated 1984-2000) includes writing samples for agency authors, as well as literary award kits and publications.
Addition (12-008) (2250 items; 3.0 lin. ft.; dated 1972-2003) consists of agency files about author Reynolds Price, including general correspondence, contracts, book reviews, and other related materials.
Processed by Michael Shumate, Anne Jackson, and Keary Warner
Initially completed January 31, 1997
Restrictions on the use of the collection largely determined the manner in which it was arranged and processed. In general the restrictions are:
- all material relating to the financial affairs of an author is closed during the lifetime of the author
- all material relating to unpublished works is restricted until the work is published or, if never published, during the lifetime of the author
Since these restrictions required examining each item to determine whether it could be opened for research, the Library chose to do item level processing selectively on several of the Wasserman Agency's major clients (see the Collection Overview and the Description of Series/Container List for the list of authors whose papers are currently available). Certain papers of other authors currently housed in the Restricted sections of the collection can be processed and opened as requested by researchers.
Accessions 1999-0275, 2001-0050, 2001-0115, and 2003-0051 were processed by Debbera Carson, Katie Wischow, Ann Langford, Ruth E. Bryan, and Danielle McGregor, and are described in this finding aid.
Updated November 26, 2003.
Encoded by Michael Shumate, Joshua Kaiser, Katie Wischow, Ruth E. Bryan, Danielle McGregor, and Elizabeth Arnold
Updated September 11, 2009 for additions 2008-0004, 2008-0078, and two-item, interfiled addition 2009-0067.
Encoded by Noah Huffman and Alice Poffinberger
Updated February 2012 with addition 2012-0008 by Meghan Lyon.