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Upcoming lecture by Douglas Dunn: “The Writer in the Library”

Portrait of Douglas Dunn by Norman McBeath (2011) taken for the permanent exhibition “Creative Capture” in the University of St Andrews Library.

The Friends of the Library are delighted that Emeritus Professor Douglas Dunn will be delivering their Autumn Lecture on Thursday, November 22 at 5.15pm in the Arts Lecture Theatre. His topic, “The Writer in the Library” promises an interesting exploration of how various writers have combined literary and library careers – for example Jorge Luis Borges, Librarian of the National Library of Argentina (1955-73), Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress (1939-44), and Philip Larkin, Librarian at Hull University’s Brynmor Jones Library (1955-85). Dunn himself is ideally placed to consider the subject, having served as an assistant librarian under Larkin at Hull between 1969 and 1971.

Best known for his major poetry collections Terry Street (1969), Barbarians (1979), St Kilda’s Parliament (1981), Elegies  (1985), Northlight (1988) and Dante’s Drum-kit (1993), Dunn has won many awards for his poetry. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1981, he was awarded an OBE in 2003, and has also received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, a Cholmondeley Award, and several Scottish Arts Council Publication awards. Elegies was Whitbread Book of the Year in 1985.

Between 1991 and 2008 Dunn was Professor of Creative Writing in St Andrews’ School of English, where he became Head of School and Director of the Scottish Studies Institute, and assembled an impressive cast of writers (John Burnside, Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson, A. L. Kennedy) who contributed to the Creative Writing degree. His careful mentoring has been appreciated by many intakes of St Andrews students.

In 2007, the Library’s Department of Special Collections was pleased to acquire Dunn’s extensive literary archive, which reflects his busy career as a writer, critic, journalist, translator, anthologist and editor. Particularly rich in correspondence with fellow poets (Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Stewart Conn, Michael Longley, Sean O’Brien, Tom Paulin, Peter Redgrove), it contains most of the manuscripts Dunn has produced from his schooldays to the present, including notebooks with revisions.

Pages 10 and 11 of a notebook from the collection of Douglas Dunn, with the poem “Men going home” in manuscript.

In collaboration with the Department of Special Collections, the Digital Humanities Research Librarian is currently engaged in a project to digitize and make publicly available on the internet selected materials from this archive. Work has begun on producing a digital version of one of the most important of Dunn’s manuscript notebooks, which contains drafts of poems from Elegies and Terry Street, as well as prose notes on Hugh MacDiarmid, and lists of poems and the journals to which they were sent. Analysis of the notebook will enable scholars to trace the development of the poems from their first drafts to final published form, and to see how the poet’s thinking changes and matures. An important new tool for those engaged in the critical assessment of the Dunn oeuvre, the notebook in digital format (which should be available in early 2013) is likely to be appreciated by scholars unable to make the journey to Special Collections to consult the manuscript original.

As Dunn has recently celebrated a significant birthday, the Friends will be marking the occasion with an appropriate cake – please come along and share tea and birthday cake with them after the lecture!

Alice Crawford

Digital Humanities Research Librarian

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