Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Manuscript. Click to enlarge.

First page of Amos Tutuola's original manuscript for The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

African Studies

The Ransom Center holds a number of materials important to the study of African history, cultures, and literary traditions. These holdings include works by Africans, as well as by writers, photographers, and journalists from other countries who traveled to Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Literature and History

The Ransom Center's African literature holdings include the papers of several prominent South African and Nigerian writers, as well as collections containing items by and about writers and artists from other African countries.


The papers of Amos Tutuola (1920-1997) contain English and Yoruba manuscripts, including the handwritten original manuscript of The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), considered the first Anglophone Nigerian novel, as well as drafts of many of his other works. The Bernth Lindfors Collection of Amos Tutuola supplements Tutuola's own materials and was compiled by Lindfors, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Texas at Austin. Included among works about Tutuola, photographs, interviews, and other correspondence are photocopies of Faber & Faber's correspondence with Tutuola from 1951 to 1967. This is a significant resource for researchers interested in publishing history and African writers, especially since the Faber archives are no longer available.

A third collection, the Robert M. Wren Africa Papers, provides further insight into Tutuola's life and writing. Wren (1928-1989), a professor at the University of Houston who lived and worked in Nigeria as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer, documented Nigerian literature and society through correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, and other materials. Of particular note are a manuscript of Tutuola's The Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts (1982) and Wren's diary entries about his impressions upon arriving in Lagos and Ibadan.

Small portions of the work and correspondence of other Nigerian writers and activists, such as Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967), Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995), Chinua Achebe (1930- ), and Wole Soyinka (1934- ), can be found in the Charles R. Larson Papers, Commonwealth Arts Festival Collection, and The Transcription Centre Records, all of which are described in more detail below. In particular, the Larson papers include over 100 Onitsha Market pamphlets. The Center's collection also includes a photocopy of the Zulu manuscript of Mazisi Kunene's epic poem Emporer Shaka the Great (1979).

South Africa

The Center's South African literary holdings include materials documenting the development of South African Anglophone literature, the Boer War, and the continued response of South African writers, artists, and other cultural producers to racial, political, and social strife. (See also the South African Judaica Collection described in the Jewish Studies section of this guide.)

The Center holds the extensive archive of Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee (1940- ). The archive documents all of Coetzee's major writings and includes notes, manuscripts, typescripts, background research materials, publicity materials, and other items. Correspondence and materials documenting personal and family history are also present.

The Center holds material related to the South African writer and activist Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), including her letters to T. Fisher Unwin and Philip Kent, as well as galley proofs and reader reports for Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland (1897), a manuscript entitled Stray Thoughts on South Africa (1896-1901), and a handwritten "Rattel's Hoek" journal from 1876. These are supplemented by three boxes of Schreiner's correspondence with British sexologist and writer Havelock Ellis (1859-1939). The Yaffa Claire Draznin Collection, which includes research notes, transcriptions, and a chronological list of the Schreiner and Ellis letters in the Ransom Center's collection, serves as an excellent guide to their correspondence.

The papers of South African writer and journalist Herman Charles Bosman (1905-1951) include manuscripts and correspondence, as well as a collection of drawings and watercolors. Works present by Bosman, who was renowned for his short stories, include drafts of several poems and Oom Schalk Laurens stories, his Afrikaans translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, manuscripts of his novel Willemsdorp (1977), and manuscript notebooks.

Several photograph albums, personal diaries, and items of ephemera depicting conditions during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) complement the stories in Bosman's papers about the lives of rural Afrikaners at the turn of the nineteenth century. The papers of Ernest William Smith (1864-1935), a photojournalist who covered the war, include photographs of troops and battle sites he took as a special correspondent, as well as Boer War memorabilia such as a printed flyer depicting the Siege at Ladysmith (1899). The letters Oliphant Bell Miller, a member of the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles, wrote to his mother and brother from Cuba and South Africa provide a window into the life of a British soldier during and after the Boer War, as do J.H. Scott's journals from the same time period about his experiences traveling to South Africa and serving in the forces. Additional photos documenting the war can be found in the Center's photography holdings. Items of note include 36 platinotype prints taken by the English photographer Reinhold Thiele, an album of South Africa military photographs of British soldiers and military camps in 1902, and a Boer War album containing 41 photographs.

The South African novelist, poet, and editor William Plomer (1903-1973) published his first novel, Turbott Wolfe (1926), with the Hogarth Press. A draft of his essay "Forster as Friend," about E. M. Forster, and correspondence with Virginia Woolf, Edith Sitwell, Elizabeth Bowen, and others can be found in the Center's holdings. The Center also has ten volumes of the short-lived literary journal Voorslag (Whiplash), which was founded in 1926 by Plomer and fellow South Africans Roy Campbell (1901-1957) and Laurens Van der Post (1906-1996) to promote anti-racist and anti-colonial views. The correspondence and manuscripts in the Center's Roy Campbell Papers provide insight into the life and work of Campbell, a translator and renowned poet; also notable is the original, handwritten manuscript of Van der Post's The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958).

The Center's small Alan Paton (1903-1988) holdings contain correspondence, including letters to Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959), an American playwright and journalist who co-wrote (with Kurt Weill) Lost in the Stars (1949), a Broadway musical based on Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country (1948).

Plomer, Campbell, Van der Post, and other South African writers are also represented in the papers and library of Robert Guy Howarth (1906-1974), an Australian poet, literary critic, and scholar who moved to Cape Town in the mid-1950s. His collection includes drafts and correspondence related to South African Voices (1975), a publication edited by Bernth Lindfors and featuring then-unpublished poems by Dennis Brutus, Mazisi Kunene, Es'kia Mphahlele, and others.

The Center's Nadine Gordimer (1923- ) holdings reveal corrected drafts of thirteen short stories written in the 1960s and a draft of her second novel, A World of Strangers (1958).

The papers of South African novelist, short story writer, and scholar Dan Jacobson (1929- ) represent most of his creative works, ranging from a draft of The Evidence of Love (1960) with revisions, to revised drafts and proofs for The Beginners (1966), to drafts of The Electronic Elephant: A Southern African Journey (1994). Also of interest is the small amount of correspondence related to Jacobson's tenure as director of Index of Censorship, a magazine (and now organization) founded in the 1970s to defend and promote freedom of expression for writers.

The Stephen Gray (1941- ) Papers contain literary notebooks, drafts, sound recordings, and correspondence related to Gray's own extensive work. Of particular interest are manuscripts and research materials related to his collaborations with painter and woodcutter Cecil Skotnes (1926-2009), including a 1973 illustrated edition of The Assassination of Shaka, as well as drafts of Time of Our Darkness (1988), numerous poems, and other works. His papers also include a rich trove of correspondences Gray cultivated in the course of his collaborative and editorial projects with South African authors and artists Bessie Head, Guy Butler, Dan Jacobson, Wopko Jensma, Athol and Sheila Fugard, and Richard Rive, as well as others.

Multiple-author collections

In addition to the papers of African authors, the Ransom Center also holds materials collected by organizations and people outside of Africa that include significant manuscripts, correspondence, and other items important to the study of individual African authors, as well as literary and artistic communities in Nigeria, South Africa, and other countries.

The Transcription Centre (ca. 1962-1977), an organization directed by Dennis Duerden and initially funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), recorded interviews with African and Caribbean writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals for international radio broadcast. The Centre promoted African culture through radio and a variety of other media. The Centre's records include original source materials related to the production of Cultural Events in Africa, a periodical published by the Centre from 1964 until the mid-1970s to disseminate information about cultural activities in Africa, as well as an incomplete run of the published issues. Of particular interest is a large file of scripts and script fragments from Africa Abroad, the Centre's primary broadcast vehicle in its early years. The Centre's correspondence includes the artists and writers Jimo Akolo, Chinua Achebe, Es'kia Mphahlele, and Margaret Laurence, as well as others. The extensive body of correspondence with Wole Soyinka is especially noteworthy, as are the letters by Christopher Okigbo, a Nigerian poet killed during the Biafran war. The correspondence and other materials in the papers of Michael Josselson (1908-1978), who served as Administrative Secretary and later Executive Director of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), offer insight into the history and activities of this organization. The CCF had close ties with the CIA and worked to expose Communist cultural oppression and fight totalitarian rule in Africa, as well as other regions, during the 1950s and '60s by supporting the efforts of groups such as The Transcription Centre.

The performance scripts, correspondence, drafts of poems, and other materials in the Commonwealth Arts Festival Collection document the festival held in London in the fall of 1965. The events showcased cultural traditions from several countries in the Commonwealth and included commissioned poems from Wole Soyinka (b. 1934), Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967), and others.

The Robert E. McDowell materials span his editorship of World Literature Written in English (now the Journal of Postcolonial Writing) and include correspondence with Es'kia Mphahlele, C. L. R. James, and other writers.

The Charles R. Larson Papers and the Charles R. Larson Collection of African and African-American literature include materials collected by Larson in the course of his career as a writer, editor, scholar, and teacher. In writing The Ordeal of the African Writer (2001), Larson interviewed and corresponded with writers and publishers about challenges faced by African writers; his notes, correspondence, and other research materials are present, along with drafts and page proofs of the book. His materials also include the correspondence he conducted with African authors in the course of editing several anthologies of African writing. Versions of works by S. Henry Cordor, Sindiwi Magona, Yvonne Vera, Cyprian Ekwensi, and others are supplemented by Larson's correspondence with some of these authors. An unpublished autobiography by the Nigerian writer Cyprian Ekwensi, a draft of Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera's unfinished work Obedience, and Larson's correspondence with Bessie Head and Yvonne Vera (and her husband John Jose) are of particular note, as are programs and other items documenting the Zimbabwe Book Fair. The Larson library includes several important titles, including a run of Black Orpheus, the literary journal co-founded and co-edited by Wole Soyinka, Ulli Beier, and Es'kia Mphahlele at the University of Ibadan in the late 1950s, and over 100 Onitsha Market pamphlets.

The Bernth Lindfors Papers include correspondence, publications, audio tapes, and other material relating to Stephen Gray, Dan Jacobson, Amos Tutuola, Wilson Harris, Grace Ogot, Joe de Graft, and other African and Caribbean writers. A separate collection of the records of Research in African Literatures, a journal founded by Lindfors in 1970 and the official publication of the African Literature Association, represent Lindfors' tenure as editor of the publication and include correspondence, manuscripts, and production materials for the first issue (Spring 1970) through volume 20 in 1989. Contributors to the journal have included Alan Paton, Chinua Achebe, Gerald Moore, Dennis Brutus, and Es'kia Mphahlele.

The correspondence of Eric Sellin (1933- ), Professor Emeritus of French and Francophone Literatures at Tulane University, reflects his scholarly interests in the Francophone literature of Africa (including the Maghrib) and the Caribbean and spans 1954 to 1999. Correspondents in the six-box collection include artists, novelists, playwrights, philosophers, poets, scholars, critics, editors, publishers, and journalists from around the world.

Western Influences & Representations

Collections by non-African authors, photographers, and scholars who lived in, wrote about, or traveled through Africa during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries further supplement the Center's Africa holdings.

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) was a British poet, journalist, memoirist, and publisher best known for Negro: An Anthology (1934), which is a collection of poetry, prose, art, and photography articulating the experiences of black men and women in America, Africa, the West Indies, and other regions. In the mid-1950s, Cunard began research for a proposed art book containing photographs of and historical information about ivories carved and sculpted by Africans in Benin, Dahomey, Cameroons, and the Belgian and French Congo. Her collection at the Ransom Center includes careful sketches and notes about the history, condition, and provenance of ancient ivories found in museums across Europe.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) served in Africa during World War II and was stationed in Abyssinia as a correspondent with the London Daily Mail. A handwritten draft of Tourist in Africa (1960) records his travels in post-war Kenya, Mozambique, Rhodesia, and South Africa, among other countries. His papers also include a draft of Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), his memoir of his time in Abyssinia as a war reporter.

The novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991) traveled to West Africa in the mid-1930s and again in the 1950s. The Center's holdings include a bound volume of Convoy to West Africa with Greene's revisions and handwritten journals recording his experiences in the Congo (1959) and West Africa (1941).

The Life magazine photographer Eliot Elisofon (1911-1973) was also a filmmaker (including the 1967 documentary Africa), the writer and producer of a television series called Black African Heritage, author of Sculpture of Africa (1958), and an avid collector of African art. His papers include photos, film, exhibition catalogs, and other materials reflecting these projects and interests. The photographs in his papers include images of African landscapes, people, and art ranging geographically from North Africa during World War II, to the Belgian Congo, South Africa, and Kenya in the late 1940s, as well as photographs from other African countries and times.

The papers of David Douglas Duncan (1916- ), a photojournalist who worked for Life magazine and Collier's, as well as independently, contain a number of images from South Africa in the early 1950s. Events captured include the 1952 Capetown Festival, a Johannesburg protest meeting, the Russian fleet in Cape Town, and the 1953 elections. Duncan also photographed people in Kenya, Uganda, and North Africa.

Peter Matthiessen (1927- ) is an American novelist, essayist, naturalist, former CIA agent, and environmental activist who has traveled extensively in Africa and published several accounts of the decline of the continent's wildlife. His papers include research notebooks, manuscripts of his essays and books, and correspondence, including materials related to his four books about the depredation of the landscape and wildlife in Senegal, Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, Gabon, Zaire, Tanzania, and other African countries.

The collection of photographs held in the Magnum Photos, Inc. materials (1929-2004) contains several boxes of prints from a multitude of African countries, including Ghana, Namibia, Niger, Sudan, South Africa, Zaire, and others. Topics span agriculture, politics, the economy, daily life, social concerns, people, and more. The Magnum Archive resides at the Ransom Center courtesy of MSD Capital, Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.