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American Literature Archival Collections in USC Special Collections: Hamlin Garland

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Hamlin Garland (1860-1940) is best remembered by the title he gave his autobiography, Son of the Middle Border. First receiving notice with a successful collection of grimly naturalistic 'down home' stories in 1891 (Main-Roads Traveled), Garland came to prominence just as the "frontier" mentality was receding in the wake of the settling of California and the West. Garland, with roots in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, frequently wrote about how this area had also been borderland in his lifetime.  In later years Garland wrote extensively about Indian affairs, conservation, art, and literary trends; he also expanded his geographic range to include romances of the Far West. 

Garland was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1918, and won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for biography for his autobiography A Daughter of the Middle Border. In 1929, Garland moved to Southern California, where he bulit a house on DeMille Drive in Hollywood. He lectured at USC in the mid-1930s; and his personal library along with some 8000 letters from fellow writers, publishers, and admirers came to USC after Garland's death.

Image from The Writer: A Monthly Magazine to Interest and Help All Literary Workers, vol. v. no. 10, October 1891.

Collection Overview

These and more than 8000 other pieces of correspondence, largely unpublished, are part of the Hamlin Garland Collection kept in Rare Books & Manuscripts at the University of Southern California's Doheny Memorial Library.

The Garland papers came to USC in 1940-41 by arrangement with Mrs. Garland and his two daughters. Supplementary materials were contributed by Profs. Donald Pizer (Tulane Univ.) and Mark Rocha (CSU Humboldt). Organization of the collection was carried out (1950-55) by Prof. Bruce McElderry (USC), and the original finding aid (1962) is the work of Lloyd Arvidson (USC Library). The letters include many from such famous correspondents as James M. Barrie, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, and A. A. Milne of England, and from Americans such as Walt Whitman, William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Gertrude Atherton, and Willa Cather.  Also in the collection are nearly eight hundred manuscripts of Garland's writings, dozens of his literary notebooks, many hundreds of photographs and other memorabilia, and Garland's personal library.

Many of the items in the collection are surprising. For example, there are sheets of then-fashionable spirit-writing and the transcripts of seances in which Garland participated. Then there is a hand-written translation of Salvatore Farina's play "Il Signor Io" made by Garland's best friend, Henry Blake Fuller. There is also a 100-page fragmentary dramatization by William Dean Howells of his novel A Hazard of New Fortunes, which was later published from this text in Howells's Complete Plays at New York University Press. 

Artifacts in the collection trace the story of Garland's life: the well-worn slate he carried to school as a small boy in Wisconsin and Iowa in the 1870's, pictures and autographs of schoolmates and the 1881 graduation program of the Cedar Valley Seminary of Osage, Iowa (Garland debated the question, "Should the Negro exodus be encouraged?"); the ledger-type notebooks in which he copied out passages from Paine's History of English Literature while holding down a homestead claim in the Dakota Territory during the blizzards of the winter 1883-84. Then the evidences of his brash assaults on America's center of culture, Boston, in 1884: first notes from his time of intensive study in the Boston Public Library, then clippings of his first writings and announcements of lectures, with the manuscripts of the lectures themselves. Programs and announcements indicate Garland's leading role in founding an independent, naturalistic theater in 1891-92 with James A. Herne, while further notebooks record his interviews with Civil War veterans during the preparations of his biography, The Life of U.S. Grant. Itineraries and speech outlines tell of his campaign on behalf of Henry George and his Single Tax movement. Book contracts and manuscripts indicate Garland's rise as one of America's foremost authors: his famous Main-Travelled Roads, the first naturalistic treatment of farm life in America, was published in 1891 and was quickly followed up by more novels and stories in the same vein. 

In the early 1930s, the Garlands built a home near Hollywood and lived there until the author's death in 1940. USC has the manuscript of his last, unpublished volume of memoirs The Fortunate Exiles, and a copy of the 1940 Venice High School yearbook, Argonaut, with its posthumous tribute to the famous writer, who had died that spring. 

Adapted from notes by Lloyd Arvidson, indexer and cataloger of the Garland Collection, from the Library Staff Bulletin, March 15, 1960.  

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