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Gore Vidal’s Papers Had Been Housed At UW-Madison

September 5, 2020

I came across a most intriguing nugget today.  The New Yorker had a short piece on the burial of the ashes of Gore Vidal and within the story, I read the following.

Not long after Kaplan finished the book, Vidal moved his papers (almost four hundred boxes’ worth) from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Film and Theater Research to Harvard University. Months before he died, at the age of eighty-six, he added a codicil to his will, leaving his entire thirty-seven-million-dollar estate to Harvard, which triggered a blizzard of lawsuits after his death and delayed his burial for years.

I do not recall this UW event in 2002 but it does seem to beg the question that happened that created such a ‘disruption in the force’ that the letters and insight between Vidal and notables such as Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Upton Sinclair would be moved?

I can find no better answer than the one offered in Harvard Magazine. 

 (The papers had resided since the 1950s at the University of Wisconsin, but Vidal, dissatisfied with Wisconsin’s stewardship, removed them to Houghton at the recommendation of his friend David Herbert Donald, Warren professor of American history emeritus, who met Vidal when asked to review his 1984 novel Lincoln for historical accuracy.) 

The fiery nature of Vidal surely accounts for some of the reasons for the loss of the papers to Harvard.  But UW-Madison must have known he was one who needed to be handled and managed more diplomatically.  Clearly, that did not happen.




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