FAQs

What is The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is a collection of 304 manuscripts submitted by everyday writers keen to share their stories, free of restrictions on content and quality of writing, for general public reading. All these manuscripts were unpublished at the time of their submission to The Brautigan Library. Most of them remain so. These manuscripts represent ideas outside the mainstream; an opportunity for their authors to push their creativity, not be held hostage by the limits of commercial publishing success. The Brautigan Library is not so much about being published, or even about literature. Instead, The Brautigan Library is a research project focusing on literacy by giving unpublished writing an opportunity for public reading.

What is the inspiration for The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is inspired by a fictional library described by Washington-born author Richard Brautigan (1935-1984)  in his 1971 novel, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. This library, modeled on the Presido Branch of the San Francisco Public Library System, right down to the zip code, provided an archive for manuscripts outside the interests of the commercial publishing industry. Authors were free to place their manuscripts wherever they liked on the library’s shelves and although no one could visit the library, or read the manuscripts collected there, everyone seemed happy that the visions and voices of unpublished writers were preserved.

What is the history of The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library was first opened in 1990 in Burlington, Vermont, by Todd Lockwood, a Brautigan fan. True to Brautigan’s vision, the Library accepted manuscripts from authors keen to tell their stories. Late in 1995, The Fletcher Free Library, also in Burlington, agreed to display the books in the collection. This arrangement ended in 2005 when negotiations were announced with the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, the physical inspiration for Brautigan’s fictional library. The negotiations for this move, however, failed to materialize and the Brautigan Library collection was placed in storage until its movement to Vancouver, Washington, in 2010.

What is the present location of The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is a permanent, interactive exhibit housed at The Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main Street, Vancouver, Washington, the former 1909 Andrew Carnegie library building, Vancouver’s first public library. Although the bound manuscripts may not be removed from the Historical Museum, they are available for general public reading during Museum business hours, as are the business papers and ancillary materials associated with the history of The Brautigan Library.

Why Vancouver, Washington?
There are several connections between Vancouver, Washington, and Richard Brautigan. First, Richard Brautigan is a Pacific Northwest native. Born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1935, Brautigan lived in Washington and Oregon until he left for San Francisco, California, in 1956. Brautigan’s earliest publications were featured in Portland, Oregon, newspapers, just across the Columbia River from Vancouver. His writings frequently refer to hunting and fishing and observing life in the Pacific Northwest as a child. Despite his native son status, no other Washington city honors Brautigan’s work, or carries out his vision of a democratic library where anyone might contribute a book which, in turn, anyone might read. This vision fits well with the goal of Andrew Carnegie as he built public libraries across the country: to promote self-improvement through learning. In a Carnegie library, patrons could freely browse the bookshelves, choosing for themselves what to read. The Clark County Historical Museum building is a 1909 Andrew Carnegie Library building, the first public library in Vancouver. Finally, there is a great deal of community interest and support for The Brautigan Library. This support is in keeping with Vancouver’s history as the earliest center for transportation, commerce, and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

How are the manuscripts organized?
Manuscripts in The Brautigan Library are organized according to The Mayonnaise System, the first book cataloging system since the Dewey Decimal Classification system was developed 1876. The Mayonnaise System consists of thirteen categories: Family, Natural World, Spirituality, Love, Humor, Future, Adventure, Street Life, War and Peace, Social/Political/Cultural, Meaning of Life, Poetry, and All the Rest. Manuscripts are cataloged according to category, then year of submission, and then order in which they were received. For example, LOV 1990. 011 indicates the eleventh book submitted in 1990 to the category LOVE.

Who administers The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is a partnership between The Clark County Historical Museum and The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program (CMDC) at Washington State University Vancouver. The directing partners are Susan M. G. Tissot, executive director of the historical museum, and Dr. John F. Barber, faculty member of the CMDC program. The Brautigan Library is actively curated and administered by Barber and a community of local and international volunteers who coordinate access and outreach programs. Barber is also the developer and curator of Brautigan Bibliography and Archive (www.brautigan.net), an interactive, online resource generally acknowledged as the premier information source for the life and works of Richard Brautigan and the author of Richard Brautigan: An Annotated Bibliography and Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life.

What events and activities are associated with The Brautigan Library?
The unusual environment of The Brautigan Library promotes a number of outreach programs focusing on literacy and critical thinking. Chief among these is National Unpublished Writers’ Day (NUWD), held the last Sunday of January. In addition to celebrating Brautigan’s birthday, NUWD also seeks to celebrate writing broadly defined by offering workshops, lectures, and hands-on opportunities at numerous “creation stations” spread around the Historical Museum. Local writers are invited to attend and present their experiences and interests in ways that will help aspiring writers. The agenda of each year’s program is derived largely from spontaneity and serendipity, both driven by who attends and what they are interested to share.

What are the future plans for The Brautigan Library?
Future plans call for submission of digital manuscripts that will be cataloged, added to the collection, and circulated using contemporary digital technologies. True to Brautigan’s vision, The Brautigan Library will accept and share manuscripts from authors keen to tell their stories. Says Barber, “The Brautigan Library is not about being published, or even about literature. It’s about people telling their stories in a democratic way. It is a home for grassroots narratives in a digital age.”

What are some gems of The Brautigan Library?
Truthfully, each manuscript in The Brautigan Library is a gem, representing the unique vision and voice of its author. But, here are some suggestions to help you become more familiar with this writing from the heart.

The McNowski Papers by Donald McNowski of Burlington, Vermont, is a collection of satirical letters from ultra right wing cultural critical McNowski to the local newspaper, and responses to them from irate citizens. McNowski deals with patriotism, religion, and America’s repression of drunk drivers with wit and verve.

Autobiography About a Nobody by Etherley Murray of Pittman, New Jersey, was submitted to forty publishers who, although they liked the story, did not publish manuscripts of nobodies. Murray’s autobiography follows her from Depression-era Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she ate onion sandwiches, to postwar New Jersey, where she began “wearing coats that belonged to women who had just departed this life.”

Albert E. Helzner, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, contributed sixteen philosophical manuscripts to The Brautigan Library. In 365 Bits of Wisdom to Enrich Your Daily Life, Helzner channels the pithiness of Benjamin Franklin when he writes, “I was once a soft and gentle person. I became hard as nails as a result of living through the reality of life.”

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