11 Great Manuscripts and Where to See Them

Some of history’s greatest works can be found in unexpected places.

For those of us who love great books and other printed materials that have influenced the force of the universe, a little journey to far off places is worth the effort.

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'Anne of Green Gables' by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Fans of the red-headed, freckle-faced Anne of Green Gables often find themselves on Prince Edward Island on Canada’s eastern shore. This is where the author, Lucy Maude Montgomery was born and spent most of her life, and it is where the precocious, yet fictional Anne Shirley lived as well.

The musical adaptation of Anne of Green Gables has been running for more than 50 summers at the Homburg Theatre, located in the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI. This is also where you will be able to ask for and see the original Anne of Green Gables manuscript.

INSIDER TIPWhile the University of Prince Edward Island includes a Lucy Maude Montgomery Institute that holds a biennial conference to celebrate her work, the majority of Montgomery’s manuscripts and research materials are held at the University of Guelp, in Ontario.

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'This Land is Your Land' by Woody Guthrie

Almost every one of us can remember singing This Land is Your Land while in elementary school, but most of us were never taught several stanzas of the controversial lyrics that complete the “patriotic” song. Indeed, Guthrie did not pen the words as a compliment to the U.S.A.

Guthrie’s hand-written lyrics, all of them, as well as nearly 3,000 other songs he wrote, are among the many treasures at the Woody Guthrie Center. And just about the time you’ve come to the conclusion that Guthrie was a Communist, as many in his home state thought of him, take a look at the mandolin that Woody carried with him through his service in WWII, where he survived attacks in both Normandy and Sicily. Yep, Guthrie was one of the Greatest Generation.

Think about what it all means in the pleasant little park across the street called Guthrie Green, where concerts, food trucks, and art events often bring people together to celebrate their community.


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'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Nigh't by Dylan Thomas

For those of us who rage, rage against the dying of the light and refuse to go gentle into that good night, a visit to the University of Buffalo in New York is a must. The library has a large collection of avant-garde poetry, including a majority of Dylan Thomas’ work. While there, note the recently restored painting of the Welsh poet, along with a collection of typewriters, walking sticks, and other odds and ends once used by other great wordsmiths.

By visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea Wales, it’s possible to see the original manuscript from the first radio production of Under Milk Wood. His childhood home is just a few blocks away. True fans will follow the Dylan Thomas Trail through South Wales.


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'Wynken, Blynken and Nod' by Eugene Field

Put on a pair of white gloves, provided by the library, and you can actually touch the pages of this greatest of children’s poems and other works by Eugene Field at the Denver Public Library.

Eugene Field lived just two years in Denver, from 1881 to 1883, when he served as managing editor of The Denver Tribune. One of his neighbors—the Unsinkable Molly Brown—later saved his house from demolition and helped restore it, where it served as a branch of the Denver Library for many years before it became a museum. Check out the beautiful fountain inspired by Wynken, Blynken and Nod in Denver’s Washington Park.

INSIDER TIPInsider Tip: Some of Fields’ original books are bound in the fabric from his old suit jackets.


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'East of Eden' by John Steinbeck

WHERE: Austin, Texas

John Steinbeck fans often travel to Salinas, CA where Steinbeck lived and worked, and where a study center in his name inspires all of us to create and appreciate the creative process. A fun exhibit is on the detail with which Steinbeck chose his pencils.

But to actually see East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and more, you’ll have to travel to Austin, Texas where dozens of Steinbeck manuscripts are held for the public at the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin.

Harry Ransom was a passionate English instructor at the University of Texas-Austin who rose to become chancellor of the UT System. The library and research center that carries his name at UT-Austin houses some of America’s great literary manuscripts in their original form.

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'A Lost Lady' by Willa Cather

Galley proofs of A Lost Lady, many hand-written poems from her first book of poetry, and early release copies of “Death Comes for the Archbishop” that she inscribed and gifted to her parents can be found at this literary center.

Fans and scholars of Cather’s work gather in Red Cloud Nebraska in late May for a conference that explores her work. Take time to hike the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie to truly appreciate the land that influenced her work.

INSIDER TIPThe actual manuscript for ‘Death Comes for the Archbishop’ is in the archives at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, along with maps and notes from her 1926 to New Mexico that inspired her last novel.


PHOTO: Wolterk |
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'Slaughterhouse Five' by Kurt Vonnegut

Although Kurt Vonnegut attended Cornell University, a majority of his type-written works are held at the UI Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, including his most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five. What makes this an interesting adventure is the ability to read two radically different opening chapters of that highly controversial novel. Then you have to think about why he chose to publish what he did.

To see these works, visitors must provide a photo ID and register in the system.

A Kurt Vonnegut Festival is scheduled in Bloomington in May 2018.

Although it holds no original manuscripts, the Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis is worth a stop for those fascinated by this oft-banned author. You’ll see several of his typewriters, as well as his Purple Heart earned in World War II and other insights into his life and writing style. This library holds a number of special events during Banned Books Week in late September each year.

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'The Sun Also Rises' and 'A Farewell to Arms' by Ernest Hemingway

Although Hemingway had written for newspapers and magazines for years, The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway’s first novel and it was an instant success. However, in looking through the original handwritten notebooks that are the first draft, you’ll see that he originally titled the book Fiesta.

The Kennedy Library holds more than 1,000 manuscript items and 10,000 photographs, including 44 different handwritten endings for A Farewell to Arms.

John F. Kennedy was a big fan of Hemingway’s work, thus the reason for so much of it donated here by the Hemingway family. In the opening paragraph of Profiles in Courage, a Pulitzer prize-winner that you can also see at the JFK Library, Kennedy references his favorite Hemingway quote, which is “Courage is grace under pressure.”

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'Uncle Tom’s Cabin' by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The author of this legendary novel on anti-slavery gifted pages of her original manuscript to a number of friends and relatives over the years. Therefore, a complete manuscript does not exist.

However, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Learning Center in Hartford has six of those handwritten pages on display. The collection includes thousands of letters, postcards, notes, and other materials in Beecher’s handwriting.

And because the Learning Center includes Harriet Beecher Stowe’s former home, you can also see the dining room table where she penned this great novel.

PHOTO: Americanspirit |
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'Leaves of Grass' by Walt Whitman and 'The Red Badge of Courage' by Stephen Crane

The Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature is a candy store for bibliophiles in search of original manuscripts. The work of more than 1,000 authors can be found here in a timeline ranging from 1775 to 1950.

Letters from Nathaniel Hawthorne, first editions of Henry David Thoreau, poems by Herman Melville, household papers from Louisa May Alcott, and so much more.

The Walt Whitman collection, including Leaves of Grass, is the largest of Whitman’s work known to exist.

The Stephen Crane collection is also the largest known to exist. Interestingly, the final version in Crane’s hand is not the final version published by Appleton in 1895.

INSIDER TIPA photo ID is needed, but an appointment is not.

PHOTO: Sframe |
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'Roots' by Alex Haley

The great Alex Haley, although born in Ithaca New York, where his father was a grad student at Cornell, was raised primarily by his grandparents in Tennessee. After much success as an independent writer, Haley eventually taught at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

That’s where Haley donated the original manuscript and several drafts of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Roots. It is stored off-site, so anyone who wishes to see it must request the material 24 hours in advance to have it available at the John Hodges Library.

INSIDER TIPIn the library, there’s an African drum that Haley purchased while researching his genealogy and novel in Gambia.