COVER STORY SIDEBAR
Library preserves early work of future literary giants
Before they were famous, they left traces of their pasts in the library.
Copies of students' theses line the shelves of Olin Library, and they have been collected in the university archives ever since graduate studies began at Cornell. Among those final projects are early drafts of now-familiar novels and short stories by some of the university's most famous writers, like Lorrie Moore and Junot Díaz, and unpublished fiction from contemporary authors like Melissa Bank and Elizabeth Merrick.
The scholarly side of creative writers is on display as well: Diane Ackerman, Pearl S. Buck and Toni Morrison all wrote academic theses (on metaphysics, the art of the essay and the treatment of alienated characters in works by Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, respectively) housed in the library.
Serious coursework isn't the only aspect represented, either. Kurt Vonnegut's fresh and satirical writing as an undergraduate is on display in the 1940s-era Cornell Daily Sun, newly digitized and available online. Sound recordings of Cornell authors reading at events are also available on cassette and CD.
And no discussion of Cornell authors can be complete without a quick mention of E.B. White. The large collection of White materials at Cornell includes edited drafts of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" and the very first notes of the work that would become "Charlotte's Web," complete with tiny sketches of spiders and the layout of the barnyard.
Some of these early works are available in the circulating collection -- meaning that anyone with a Cornell ID card can check them out of the library -- and some Ph.D. theses are even available online. The rare materials can be accessed with a phone call, a trip to the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library or a visit to rmc.library.cornell.edu/services/reference.php.
Gwen Glazer is a staff writer at Cornell University Library.