Why on earth would someone preserve this drawing in a research library?

Thinking in Public
Kazuo Ishiguro’s homemade comic book, titled Bronco, ca. 1962. Kazuo Ishiguro papers and manuscript collection. Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

At first glance, this cowboy comic seems like it belongs on a refrigerator, not preserved in a research library.

This is no ordinary eight-year-old’s picture. The creator was none other than Kazuo Ishiguro, the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature. Known for complex novels about the ethics of technological progress and the uncertainty of cultural memory, Ishiguro is Japanese-born Briton who has never lived in the United States. So why would he give his papers to a public research library, the Harry Ransom Center (HRC), in Austin, Texas?

The answer has to do with how the HRC grows its collections. They practice “nodal acquisitions,” which means they acquire items that have a connections to current holdings (think six degrees of separation). Each year, British literary-tastemaking magazine Granta names the “20 Best Young British Novelists” under 40. In 1983, Kazuo Ishiguro was named on the list, as were Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. Additionally, all three have won the Man Booker Prize. It is no coincidence that all three of these authors’ collections are at the HRC. Barnes’ collection was purchased in 2002, followed by McEwan’s in 2014, and most recently Ishiguro’s in 2015. It is a common practice today for notable authors to carefully select the home of their professional papers. One of the factors they consider is the other collections housed at particular research libraries. Although authors do get compensated for their “gift,” authors like to be with their friends or friendly competition.

Ishiguro’s collection includes handwritten notes, sketched-out plots, thought bubbles, redacted drafts, and notes from his wife and editor for his nine books, including The Remains of the Day (1989). Ishiguro explains,  “For many years, I’ve been in the habit of keeping a large cardboard box under my desk into which I throw, more or less indiscriminately, all papers produced during my writing that I don’t want to file neatly and take into the next stage of composition.” Much like the untidy mess one might find in a child’s schoolroom, sorting through Ishiguro’s archive shows how creativity isn’t in perfect order. Some of the most unusual scrap paper includes guitar and piano music, scribbled lyrics, and yes, even his childhood comic Bravo. While your childhood masterpieces aren’t carefully catalogued and studied—yet—just remember: all you have to do is become a famous author, and they just might be.  

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