Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Todd Lockwood and The Brautigan Library

I dangled this story in front of you some days ago, after my husband and I got back from a few days at The Point. I needed to get permission from Todd to tell the story because it's his story.

The Point is close to Lake Placid, and a reasonable drive from Burlington, Vermount. There are only ten rooms in winter, and eleven in summer when the fabulous unheated room over the boathouse can be used. If you're checking out the website, we stayed in Mohawk.

With only a few number of guests even at capacity, meals are served "en famille" so the atmosphere is like a country house weekend. Or at least, to this solidly middle class person, what I imagine a country estate weekend would be like. I got my education in this from such impeccable sources as Agatha Christie, John Galsworthy, and P.G. Wodehouse.

One of our dinner companions was Todd Lockwood, a very interesting guy, although there was a tableful of interesting people that evening. But Todd told a story that I thought was of interest to the library world. I asked him if I could share the story and he kindly sent me the version below. I've added links. Thanks to Todd for being an honorary librarian.

Todd's story.

Here is a piece I wrote for the first issue of the Brautigan Library
newsletter, The 23, which basically tells the story I told you at
dinner...

------------------------------

The Brautigan Library got started, in spirit, about twenty years ago
when Richard Brautigan wrote his fourth novel, The Abortion: An
Historical Romance 1966. Among other things, this book helped redefine
romance for the sixties counterculture-- breaking away from simplistic
gender roles, and offering up the possibility of relationships founded
on mutual respect and communication, not just passion alone. It was a
book that tended to have a profound effect on those who read it,
evidenced by the "this book will change your life" inscriptions one
often finds scrawled in old copies of the novel.

And, of course, Brautigan's book described a library-- a weird little
library where unknown, unpublished writing could find a home. As
Brautigan put it, "This library came into being because of an
overwhelming need and desire for such a place. There just simply had
to be a library like this." When I first read those words in the
mid-seventies, I couldn't have agreed more. Such a library seemed like
a splendid idea. It seemed perfectly plausible to me that someone,
somewhere would one day open such a library, using Brautigan's story as
a model.

Well, life nearly began imitating art shortly after the novel was
released: Brautigan had given his readers an actual library street
address in The Abortion, right down to the zip code. As it turned out,
the address was indeed the address of a library -- the Presidio Branch
of the San Francisco Public Library. They were subsequently flooded
with inquiries from all across America, wondering if they indeed
accepted unpublished manuscripts. Sadly, the answer was "no."

Years ticked by as I pursued a career in photo-portraiture, and in 1980
started a music recording studio in Vermont. The Abortion continued
to own a space on my bookshelf, and it got a rereading every year or
so. With every reading, I would be reminded of the library idea. By
the mid-eighties, I really began thinking of the library as "something
I was going to do." It was simply a matter of when.

Brautigan's suicide in 1984 was a terrific blow to thousands of readers
whose ideals survived the cynical seventies with the help of
Brautigan's insights and humor. Coming to grips with the reality of
his troubled life-- a life perceived as fun-loving and well- founded--
has not been easy. His death made the library idea seem a bit trivial,
so it stayed on the back burner for another five years.

In August 1989, I happened to go to the film Field of Dreams with my
wife. I had no idea what the movie was about, but before long it
became clear that, for me, the movie was about building the Brautigan
Library. Somehow, I knew the time had come to get things rolling. The
very next day I called Brautigan's literary agent, and off we went.

The Brautigan Library idea has not been greeted with universal praise.
A number of published authors have declined invitations to be advisory
trustees to the library. In fact, one poet had her lawyer send us a
cease & desist letter, to insure that her name wouldn't be associated
with the library. The fact is, even when Brautigan was at the peak of
his career, his own work was not held in high esteem by the literary
community. He was an outsider. Academics thought his writing was
trivial, yet his popularity was undeniable. He was writing for
readers-- not for writers.

Perhaps it was Brautigan's unpretentious approach to writing that made
him such an inspiration to new writers. Probably no other American
author since the sixties has inspired so many people to write down
their story for the first time. Brautigan shows us that ideas need not
be wrapped in layers of grammar and vocabulary to be relevant; that
vision is the seed that makes for a moving piece of writing.

A few months ago, we received a two-page manuscript from a woman who
drives a school bus. It was filled with spelling errors and incomplete
sentences. While trying to decide whether or not to send it back for
corrections, I finally just read it, as it was written. The short
story tells of sunlight beaming through a snowstorm "like a diamond
patch." So beautiful was this moment that she pulled the school bus
off the side of the road so her passengers could enjoy it. I learned
something in reading her story: Ideas with vision will usually survive
a less-than-perfect presentation. But the most elaborate presentation
in the world is no substitute for vision. In an era when technique is
the most discernible asset one finds in most art and literature, this
is indeed a concept worth pondering.

We already have all kinds of writing in the Brautigan Library, but the
vast majority is writing which shares a personal vision. Many of our
books are written in first person, which is, to me, a signal that we
are already building an archive that will distinguish us from other
libraries; that will be of use to historians; that will offer a unique,
grass-roots view of America.

-- Todd Lockwood, November 1990

---------------------------------

And here's a link to a story from the Boston Globe about the disposition of the collection which is being kept safe at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington until it can be moved to the Presidio branch of the San Francisco Public Library. I did tell Todd that if this didn't work out that OCLC would welcome the Brautigan Library. Even though OCLC and its members focus on published material for the most part, almost all libraries have special collections of unique material, and I think it would be really fine to have the Brautigan Library at OCLC should it need a home--not that I have one zot of authority of make this so. But George does!

Funny old world, eh?

7 comments:

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