Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Westing Game, In Person

The Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin is home to the manuscript of Ellen Raskin's Newbery-winning The Westing Game. Because she was a UW alumna, Raskin wanted the CCBC to have the papers, and brought them to the Center before she won the award.

The CCBC has posted some nice samples from the collection, as well as audio of Raskin talking about the manuscript when she delivered it to them. I wrote about this earlier, including some samples of the materials and quotes I transcribed.

Today I got the chance to visit the CCBC to see the manuscript for myself. Here are a few photos of parts I thought were particularly inspiring. (They can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Handwritten notes by Ellen Raskin
The papers are stored 50 pages per folder, with each manuscript revision in its own box. When Raskin brought the materials to the Center, she wrote a cover note for each manuscript. At left is the one from her original 50-page sample, written to get a contract with her publisher. Seeing this, I realized how thrilling it was to see her handwriting in person!

At right is the sheet from the second draft. Written in the lower portion, it says "Still rough -- working out story & characters. Showed this one to editor, Ann Durell, who suggested I include Turtle in more of the action. Also she found some confusion between Bertie and Mrs. Baum. Suggested I make their names more different from one another. Also get into the story more quickly."

In the next draft, "Bertie" became Berthe Erica Crow, and Mrs. Baum became Flora Baumbach.

Typed sheets of character names and Westing's will
These two items were in a folder labeled "author's notes." The left one is a list of the characters' names (and if you're read the book, you know the names are important). The right one is the text of Sam Westing's will, which is read aloud in the story but never shown.

Handwritten note by Ellen Raskin
This sheet identifies all the people who left notes on the final draft, including Raskin's typesetting specifications, which are very detailed. There are a lot of notes, and as CCBC director Kathleen Horning told me, this was before Post-It notes, so the pink slips from editor Ann Durell are glued on.

Seeing all of Raskin's papers reminded me how the writing process of present-day authors is less likely to be kept for posterity, since the authors probably aren't keeping multiple versions. Possibly even the authors won't remember how a story came to be written the way it turned out. I know I'm not the first person to think of this, but Raskin's manuscripts brought it home for me.

End papers of Figg's and Phantoms, signed &llen Raskin with the fancy ampersand used in the cover typography, which looks like an E
Close up of the title of Figgs & Phantoms, showing the fancy ampersandOne last photo. In a locked cabinet, the CCBC keeps signed copies of some books, including this one of Figgs & Phantoms, with a special ampersand-initiated signature and Raskin's drawing of the book's Newbery Honor Book seal.

1 comment:

elena said...

Wow. You just made the archivist in me (and the author/reader) very happy. I need to read that book. So happy to hear that Raskins's mss. are cared for somewhere – and that they were visited by someone who gets how important these traces are in relation to a collaborative creative process between a writer and her editors and those others who take a book from conception to publication.