April – June 1991

The Iowa Authors Collection in the Special Collections Department of The University of Iowa Libraries contains more than 10,000 volumes in all genres, written by some 2,000 authors, present and past, who were either born in the state or lived here for at least 20 years. The current exhibition features a selection of non-fiction, popular writing, and fiction by authors as diverse as Black Hawk and Buffalo Bill, Herbert Hoover and Ann Landers, Janet Dailey and Meredith Willson, and Amy Clampitt and Jane Smiley. With this exhibition the University Libraries wish to demonstrate the diversity and talents of our state’s writers.

National political figures like President Herbert Hoover, Vice President Henry A. Wallace, and U.S. Representative Fred Schwengel are among Iowa’s authors, and their writings often reveal little-known aspects of their careers, such as Hoover’s work in famine relief. Colorful personalities from the past, like Buffalo Bill, Grenville Dodge, and Billy Sunday, while certainly now known primarily as authors, made interesting contributions to Iowa’s literary output. Black Hawk, a key figure in the early history of the region, made a major contribution to Native American autobiography. Among the state’s most influential authors have been historians and journalists, including William Shirer, Harry Reasoner, and the Cowles family — not to forget two of the nation’s most widely-read writers, the twin sisters from Sioux City, Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren.

A virtue of the inclusive collecting policies for the Iowa Authors Collection is that much of the material in this exhibit is outside the scope of many university library collections. It is possible here to study the works of such authors as Janet Dailey, Elswyth Thane, Lynn Hall, and many others. Their works are and have been very popular with adults and children but are not usually collected by academic libraries. Consequently, there are very few places where scholars can find foreign translations of popular romantic fiction, but Iowa is one. This collection allows a researcher to study materials that may have been available for only a short time as original paperbacks or, in the case of movie scripts or book manuscripts, have never been available elsewhere. The Iowa Authors Room is also a place to find curriculum materials for children and young adults. Scholarly books for the adult reader are the staple of academic libraries but it has not always been easy to find the sort of nonfiction titles produced by Carol Gorman or Alan Nourse for the primary and secondary school library. The availability of books from such popular genres as science fiction, mystery, and romance — books that have long since left the shelves of bookstores and many libraries — stands users of the Iowa Authors Collection in good stead.

For more than fifty years The University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop has been famous for producing a multitude of novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists. But whether they were taught or inspired by the Workshop or by the state of Iowa itself, many of our authors would rank well in any literary listing. James Norman Hall’s Bounty trilogy is famous in print and film, as is Thomas Heggen’s Mr. Roberts. Amy Clampitt’s poems appear frequently in The New Yorker and her new book Manhattan has just been published by the Iowa Center for the Book. Carl Van Vechten was known for novels, criticism, photography and as a major encourager of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Paul Engle’s contributions to literature, through his own writings and his leadership of the Workshop and the International Writing Program, have been recognized world-wide.

This exhibition was prepared by Sandy Ballasch, David Schoonover, and Timothy Shipe.