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Guy Vanderhaeghe archive a treasure trove for English scholars

University's collection provides insight into how great works of literature take shape


Guy Vanderhaeghe received his third Governor General’s Literary Award for Daddy Lenin and Other Stories. Photo by Matt Smith

By Jennifer Sowa

Author Guy Vanderhaeghe received his third Governor General's Literary Award in Ottawa on Dec. 2, the fiction award for Daddy Lenin and Other Stories. One of Canada’s best-known writers, Vanderhaeghe has been creating award-winning stories for more than 30 years.

His archives are also hard at work. They’re housed at the University of Calgary, giving students and researchers special insight into the evolution of Vanderhaeghe’s literary career and how his great works took shape.

The university began collecting his papers in the 1990s. They’re stored in the Taylor Family Digital Library in Archives and Special Collections, which is operated by Libraries and Cultural Resources (LCR).

“The Vanderhaeghe archive was one of the primary reasons I chose the University of Calgary for my doctorate,” says Jordan Bolay, a second-year PhD student who is planning a dissertation on Vanderhaeghe’s works under the guidance of professor Aritha van Herk.

“My favourite pieces are drafts and fragments of the story ‘Sam, Soren and Ed’. They show the way Vanderhaeghe began with the turning point of the story and then spun outwards towards the beginning and end from that crux. The folder contains numerous pages showing the way he worked and reworked this turning point that would come to define one of his most provocative characters.”

In his course Reading the Canadian Archive, English instructor Jason Wiens asks his students to examine early drafts of Vanderhaeghe’s stories.

“Archival collections are important because they introduce students to new critical practices, not simply reading a text by applying a lens to it, but looking at how that text came to be and what it could have been,” says Wiens. Students also work with LCR staff to digitize select manuscripts, which teaches them about modern archival practices.

Because Vanderhaeghe has been writing for decades, his papers reflect more than his thought process — they also document the history of technology in the creation of literature. The archives contain handwritten drafts, which evolved into typewritten drafts and eventually to electronic format.

“This allows us to examine the evolution of self-archiving and the shift from analogue to digital drafting and editing practices,” explains Bolay.

He adds that because Vanderhaeghe is still a working author, the collection is even more valuable for researchers.

“His archive is a living one. It continues to grow and we can explore how it changes and shifts. It’s extremely meaningful to study this.”

Archives and Special Collections houses the papers of other well-known Canadian authors that draw attention from scholars around the world. Archives include those of Mordecai Richler, W.O. Mitchell and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro.