That handwritten quote is by Charles Bukowski, most renown of the authors catapulted to fame by Black Sparrow Press, the Santa Rosa-based publishing house whose partial archive resides at UA Special Collections. Half way through fall semester, soon after I had finished processing my first two collections, I was approached by archivist Roger Myers, who suggested I finish rehousing the Black Sparrow Collection and complete its finding aid. Two thirds of the 500+ published works’ files had already been rehoused and organized, but the remaining ones awaited still in the folders in which they had been received. It took about two months to rehouse those in acid-free folders and boxes, and to save time, I began to draft the finding aid as I went as well.
The collection, acquired over 20 years ago, began arriving to the UA Special Collections in installments since the early 1990s. John Martin, founder of Black Sparrow, was savvy enough to create this archive as authors were being published (1966-2002) with the intention to later capitalize on its value. In the introduction to his Catalogue 140, titled “In Our Time,” Martin explains his driving force was to “develop a genuine poet’s press for the poets themselves,” for which he focused on Avant garde American poetry in an effort to provide “a good cross section of American poetry today” (BSP, 1970).
The exhilaration alluded in the Bukowski quote began for me as I started opening each of the brown manila folders. Within each were all sort of materials relevant to the production of individual tomes, from manuscripts drafts, to cover art sketches and photographs, to correspondence and, on average, four copies of the book in question (usually 3 hardcovers and one paperback edition). Some of the files contained Christmas letters or special limited edition poems bound and distributed among faithful followers of the Press. The authors I came across included Diane Wakoski, Wanda Coleman, Gerard Malanga, John Fante, Fielding Dawson, Laura Chester, John Yau, D.H. Lawrence, and of course, Charles Bukowski.
In preparation for writing the collection’s finding aid, I have been spending time perusing its control files and asking Roger about the process behind acquiring this collection. As it turns out, portions of the Black Sparrow Press archive can be found among the Special Collections holdings of five other institutions: University of Alberta (1966-1970), Pennsylvania State University (1967-1974), Emory University (1966-2002), the University of California at Berkeley (1970-2002), and at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico (1967-1976). Looking over the way others institutions have organized their portions of the collections has been helpful, and it will inform the organization of our own, since the main goal is to make it as accessible to researchers as possible. This finding aid will be unlike the other two I have tackled, much larger in scope and with many other considerations to keep in mind. According to Roger, it should take about a week to complete. Finishing this project that has been in the works at Special Collections for such a long time will be bittersweet for me, for it signals that my time alone in the stacks, surrounded by the work of these poets will no longer be a regular part of my day. Good thing I can always come and visit, now that I know what is there.