Monday, November 26, 2007

New York Public Library Buys Schlesinger Papers

By ROBIN POGREBIN Published New York Times: November 26, 2007. Picture of Schlesinger (left) in 1965 from same story.

In a 1976 letter accompanying seven chapters of his biography of Robert F. Kennedy, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. advises his editor at Houghton Mifflin to prepare for “a very long book and promote it.”

“After all, Caro’s ‘Moses’ did well,” he writes, referring to Robert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses. “Moses was not involved in nearly as many things or people as RFK; and this book, I trust, is a good deal better written.”

The letter, with its characteristic mixture of candor and confidence, is just a fraction of an inch in the 280 linear feet of Schlesinger documents — from his travel diaries of the 1930s to his phone message log from the 1980s — that have been acquired by the New York Public Library in a deal to be announced today. (The dollar amount was not disclosed.)

In October the Penguin Press published almost 1,000 pages of excerpts from Mr. Schlesinger’s journals. The library’s acquisition includes about 5,000 additional journal pages, along with datebooks, research files, sound recordings, clippings and correspondence between Mr. Schlesinger and noteworthy figures including Dean Acheson, Truman Capote, Lauren Bacall and Bill Clinton.

“He was a great historian and an incomparable witness,” said Paul LeClerc, president of the library. “I can’t think of any other historian who had the level of access he did. Voltaire was the historian of France, but he didn’t get in the inner circle the way Schlesinger did.”
In his long career Mr. Schlesinger was, among other things, a speechwriter for John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign, a special assistant to the president from 1961 to 1964 and a trustee of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. He was also active in Edward M. Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards and taught history at the City University of New York.

Mr. Schlesinger wanted the library to be his papers’ final resting place; negotiations for the acquisition were almost complete when he died of a heart attack in February at 89.
“It was his preferred place because of his connection to the public library and the city of New York,” said Andrew Wylie, Mr. Schlesinger’s literary agent.
The papers, which cover much of Mr. Schlesinger’s life, will be available to the public in a year or two, after they have been processed and cataloged. Another collection of Schlesinger documents resides at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

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