'William Styron: Books and Biography' offers curated glimpse of novelist's life

September 25, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State University Libraries’ new Eberly Family Special Collections Library exhibit “William Styron: Books and Biography” has been guest-curated by Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English James L.W. West III, an expert on Styron and his works and donor of the collection from which the exhibition was curated.

West gave a talk about his work as Styron’s bibliographer and biographer on Tuesday, Sept. 26, in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, on the University Park campus, in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition. He traced the collection’s development and discussed the interrelationships and similarities between the disciplines of bibliography and biography.

“It is a rare and ambitious feat to bring in a guest curator to curate an exhibit with our collections,” said Athena Jackson, Dorothy Feohr Huck Chair and head of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library. “We are delighted to have Professor West’s expertise and unique lens as a scholar to learn more about Styron and his oeuvre.” 

Styron was one of the most prominent writers of his generation and the author of “Lie Down in Darkness,” “The Long March,” “Set This House on Fire,” “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “Darkness Visible.” During his career Styron won the Pulitzer Prize, the Howells Medal, the National Book Award and the Legion of Honor. Three of his books topped the bestseller lists in the U.S., and he enjoyed a wide readership in Europe, Asia and South America.

West, a Penn State English professor since 1986, is a biographer, book historian and scholarly editor. He was Styron’s bibliographer and his biographer, an unusual combination. West’s books include “William Styron: A Life” and an edition of Styron’s collected nonfiction, titled “My Generation,” published by Random House in 2015. The Special Collections Library exhibition features items from the James L.W. West III Collection on William Styron, formed over a period of nearly 50 years during the professor’s scholarly pursuits. West has donated his Styron materials, along with collections on H.L. Mencken, Theodore Dreiser, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to the University Libraries.

His Styron collection was initially a bibliographer’s assemblage, composed not only of first editions but also of book-club editions, paperbacks, translations, magazine appearances and ephemera, all of which he began forming as a graduate student. Later, West’s collecting was reoriented toward biography — letters, manuscripts and proofs were added, along with photographs, recorded interviews and other materials relating to Styron’s life and career.

West also is the general editor of the Cambridge University Press Fitzgerald Edition. His edition of “Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby” appeared in 2000, and his edition of “Tender Is the Night” was published in 2012. He authored “The Perfect Hour: The Romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King” and is at work on a monograph about Fitzgerald and the profession of authorship, to be published by Harvard University Press. His most recent book is a collection of essays from Penn State University Press titled “Making the Archives Talk.” 

Also of note in the Special Collections Library is the recent addition of Clara Drummond as its new curator and coordinator of exhibitions. Drummond most recently served as assistant curator of Literacy and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

“We are looking forward to future exhibits with Clara’s unique expertise. I anticipate our exhibitions continuing to educate and inspire visitors for years to come,” Jackson said.

The exhibition “William Styron: Books and Biography” will be on display in the Special Collections Library Exhibition Room, 104 Paterno Library, through Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, on the University Park campus. For further information, contact Athena Jackson, Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and head of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries, at anj11@psu.edu.

Last Updated November 13, 2017