Brittle Paper founder and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Ainehi Edoro recently visited the Amos Tutuola Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. Her four days at the institute were chronicled in four Facebook posts. We are sharing the posts, along with photos.
I am currently visiting the Tutuola archive housed at UT, Austin. I arrived at the Harry Ransom Center a little after 11 a.m. The registration process was pretty seamless. I watched a video tutorial. . . in VHS! Loved the old school feel of that. I was then ushered into the reading room by a librarian who ran through a list of dos and don’ts, in addition to tips and advice. It took 45 minutes for the documents to arrive, in part, because there was a small issue with my request form. When it finally came, I sat down to it. By the time I realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast before I left the hotel, it was 4 p.m. I spent the last hour plowing through the remaining files in box #1.
By the time the center closed, I was ravenously hungry but fulfilled. I had dinner at Uchi, ate amazing sushi and had a blast chatting with the head chef and an apprentice about the artisanal mysteries of sushi making.
The big issue for me right now is time. I am very slow. It took me five hours to get through one box. There are 7 more to go and I have very limited time here. My DAY TWO goal is to figure out a way to move quickly through the materials. If you have suggestions, please share.
Ramzi Fawaz, thank you for those amazing tips. I realized that I was burning through precious time by reading through each documents. I have been doing more of skimming and photographing. I don’t have Google Genius. I’ve been using this app called Turbo Scan. It’s been a godsend.
It is true that archives can be revealing. I have always suspected that Tutuola is not the naive and unintelligible genius that people make him out to be. He is a very deliberate writer, making intentional decisions about form and composition. There is no way in the world I’d have been able to see that without coming down here.
I have also been making tiny little discoveries about his life and writing. Tutuola wrote a ton of stories, I mean a ton. Some stories appear in multiple drafts of English and Yoruba composed over decades. He also liked to come up with multiple titles for his stories. The titles are often stacked at the top of the manuscript. One of my favorites is a story titled “The Necromancer of the Whirlwind.” Tutuola and Tolkien would have had a lot to talk about. Also, I know for a fact that Tutuola does not like going to strip clubs. LOL. But that’s story for another day.
My goal today is to barrel through the remaining boxes containing manuscripts. I have to get to his letters!
Side note: it is pretty much impossible to look cute in a reading room. My hands are ashy because the oil from the lotion could damage the documents. I have on a lumpy sweater to shield me from how cold the room is. And I’m hunched over documents all day like a mole. Not a pretty picture.
I spent the most part of the day looking at Tutuola’s letters. A truly amazing collection. The letters chart a beautiful trajectory of Tutuola’s rise to literary prominence. But they are also full of random bits of intriguing details:
I was delighted to learn that Tutuola owned and read Ellison’s Invisible Man. He corresponded with Langston Hughes. He did favors for Chinua Achebe. He liked to reuse paper. He received fan mail from Cuba, Turkey, Kenya, Sweden. A Japanese fan sent him these dolls that Tutuola proudly displayed in a show glass in his living room.
I didn’t realize how much Tutuola hoped that The Palmwine Drinkard would be adapted to film. He was in talks with a Hollywood lawyer/producer for a while. But the Biafra War happened and then everything fizzled out. But it is very likely that The Palmwine Drinkard was adapted for Javanese Shadow Puppet Theatre. Pretty random and cool!
Tutuola was a truly global figure in ways that the mainstream accounts of his life have not being able to acknowledge.
My time here is winding down and I am not happy about that 😞
I began the day with a bit of anxiety, seeing it was the last day, and I had to get through a ton of materials.
I spent the first hour looking through Tutuola’s papers. There were two boxes in total containing a ton of random bits and pieces of his life: his income taxes, electricity bills from the ‘60s, monthly rent, leases, royalty checks, etc. Did you know that Tutuola owned a bakery at some point in his life?
I finally got to the Faber & Faber letters, between Alan Pringle and Tutuola. These letters essentially document the making of Tutuola the Writer. Fun read!
You may not know this, but Tutuola has had his own fair share of literary quarrels. Apparently, Chinweizu Ibekwe dissed Soyinka’s Nobel win, saying famously that it was “an excellent case of the undesirable honoring the unreadable.” Well, Tutuola fired back in a short essay, in which he defended Soyinka’s win and accused Chinweizu of “racial chauvinism.”
On lighter note: I found two pictures of Achebe as a blushing groom on his wedding day. Super adorable.
I ended the day with my darling Auntie Bimpe at a Vietnamese restaurant. Yum. Lots of laughing and reminiscing about good times.
There is no “Day Five,” expect for a one-hour pop in to make copies of the edited galleys of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.