Everything and More: The David Foster Wallace Archive

A dazzling mind on display

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Novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace died in 2008. Wallace was known for, among other things, his far-reaching curiosity and his maximalism. Both qualities are evident in Wallace's collected archives, which the Harry Ransom Center, a library and museum at the University of Texas, acquired this week. The archives include manuscripts, drafts, reference materials, and poems and stories going back to Wallace's childhood. There are also about 200 books that Wallace had owned--novels, textbooks, and enthusiastically annotated dictionaries. The full archives will open for public viewing in the fall.

Wallace had countless admirers in the literary world, and the circumstances of his death--he committed suicide at age 46--occasioned an outpouring of bewildered grief. Bonnie Nadell, Wallace's literary agent and co-compiler of the archives, has described the collected material as "a window into his mind" and said the archives will make Wallace accessible in way he's never been before. How have bibliophiles responded to the news?

  • Can't Wait  The Austin Chronicle's Wayne Alan Brenner is a-flutter with excitement. Brenner notes that it's only been months since the conclusion of "Infinite Summer," a 2009 worldwide reading-group project where newcomers tackled Wallace's novel Infinite Jest. Now, "everything that remains, paper-trailwise, of what Our Man With The Bandanna created" can finally be seen in one place. But not until the fall? "Um," writes Brenner. "Gonna feel like an infinite summer."
  • An Omnivorous Mind on Display  "David Foster Wallace was one of the most voracious, catholic, restlessly curious imaginations of our time," declares Kevin Dettmar, an English professor at Pomona University, where Wallace taught from 2002 through 2008. Dettmar marvels at the breadth of Wallace's personal library: "books on ships & shipwrecks; tennis, of course!; math, economics, and accounting; tons of contemporary fiction, both high- and lowbrow; ... computing; personal finance." Not every volume has an obvious connection to Wallace's own work, but in Dettmar's estimation, these books are all "part of the writer’s library, and the story of a writer’s life."
  • 'Charming and Tragic'  That's Alex Balk's assessment of "Viking Poem," a work penned by Wallace at age 6 or 7, now seen at the Harry Ransom Center. The poem describes the awesome horror of Norse marauders: "If you were to see a viking today / It's best you go some other way, / because they'll kill you very well / and all your gold they'll certainly sell." Writing in The Awl, Balk is touched: "There's just a sweetness to this poem and the obvious enthusiasm with which he wrote it that makes me reflect on the joys of childhood that we tend to forget."
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