AUSTIN, Texas — Thomas F. Staley, author, professor emeritus and director for 25 years of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, died March 29. He was 86 years old.
Under his direction from the Ransom Center, over 100 author archives have been acquired, including articles by JM Coetzee, Don DeLillo, Penelope Fitzgerald, Denis Johnson, Doris Lessing, Penelope Lively, David Mamet, Norman Mailer, Jayne Anne Phillips, James Salter, Isaac Bashevis Singer and David Foster Wallace, among many others.
Staley has also expanded the Center’s collections beyond literature with acquisitions such as the archives of actor Robert De Niro and photojournalist David Douglas Duncan, and the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Watergate papers.
“The collections that Tom Staley has acquired during his 25 years of leadership are an enduring legacy and for generations to come will stand not only as a testament to our times, but also to one man’s astute engagement with our culture,” said Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center.
In 2007, DT Max of The New Yorker wrote of Staley: “The Ransom Center, under Staley’s leadership, easily outwits rivals such as Yale, Harvard and the British Library. It operates more like a varsity sports team, with Staley as coach, an approach that matches the Texas temperament.
He has written and edited 15 books on “Ulysses” author James Joyce, Italo Svevo, modern British novelists including Jean Rhys and Dorothy Richardson, and modern literature in general. He was the founding editor of Quarterly James Joyce, which he edited for 26 years, and he founded the Yearbook of Joyce Studies. He has chaired or co-chaired the James Joyce International Symposia in Dublin and Trieste, and was a board member and past president of the James Joyce Foundation. He obtained a doctorate. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962 and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Trieste in 1966 and again in 1971. Among his books are “An Annotated Critical Bibliography of James Joyce” (1989), “Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal” (1993) and “Writing the Lives of Writers” (1998).
In 1988 Staley became director of the Ransom Center and led the institution through a period of enormous 25-year growth and was responsible for helping to make it one of the best humanities research centers in the world.
“A library is built on a fundamental optimism, a belief that knowing the past is essential to understanding the present and better anticipating the future,” Staley wrote in the 2007 book “Collecting the Imagination.”,” which documented the first 50 years of the Ransom Center.
His enthusiasm and instinct for the world of rare books and manuscripts has allowed him to enrich the collections through strategic acquisitions and by linking collections focusing on the connections between writers, artists and individual works.
A few months after his appointment as director, he and the Centre’s curator of French literature, the late Carlton Lake, were able to secure the archives of Stuart Gilbert, renowned translator of Malraux, Camus, Sartre and Cocteau. Gilbert was also James Joyce’s friend and literary collaborator. The collection was filled with Gilbert’s notes, correspondence, drafts, and a diary in which he recorded his daily interactions with Joyce.
The collection resulted in the discovery of a typescript of the opening of Joyce’s acclaimed novel, “Finnegans Wake,hand-marked by Joyce with corrections. It was a missing link in the chain of previously uncovered sketches, drawing international attention to the Center and the university.
The acquisition sparked academic interest, and Staley took the opportunity to re-emphasize the Center’s academic focus. He featured excerpts from Gilbert’s diary in the first issue of Annual Joyce Studies, a journal he founded and published under the auspices of the Ransom Center for 14 years.
“Drafts and correspondence tell you how it all happens,” Staley said in a 2009 interview. “When you realize why a writer threw something away, you learn more about that work. You see the next scene that was written instead, and why it was better. You get an idea of how the puzzle fits together. And it’s invaluable for students and scholars.
He was also a professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the English department and held the Harry Huntt Ransom Professorship in Liberal Arts before becoming professor emeritus..
“He’s been an immense force in raising awareness of the Ransom Center and the university, and all of this has benefited the English department,” said Martin W. Kevorkian, the department chair. “Dr. Staley will surely be missed.
Before coming to UT, he was an English professor at the University of Tulsa and served as Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. While in Tulsa, he was instrumental in building up the literary collections of the university’s McFarlin Library.
“Students who come to the Center can hold in their hands the great figures they study in their courses. They can examine the succession of drafts that led to a published work — the false starts, scratches, and rewrites that are the relics of an author’s search for the right words,” Staley noted.
He built what is widely regarded as the most important collection related to post-war British theatre, acquiring the archives of playwrights Tom Stoppard, Arnold Wesker, John Osborne and David Hare. Other highlights from this period include the archives of many Jewish writers and English-speaking African authors.
“Focused, full of energy, friendly and good company – someone who loves and lives for what he does”, Stoppard (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead,“Cross-dressing”) commented on Staley’s retirement in 2013.
Staley increased the Center’s endowments from $1 million to over $30 million, establishing endowments to support acquisitions, internships, fellowships, education and programming, conferences and symposia. He led the Ransom Center’s $14.5 million renovation in 2003, which included the creation of 40,000 square feet of newly constructed public space, including a new reading and viewing room, a spacious gallery and a theater space, and windows etched with center highlights. collection.
“He brought an irresistible vibrancy and joy to his work and delighted the people around him,” said Megan Barnard, associate director of the Ransom Center, who has worked closely with Staley for a decade. “While his remarkable record of building collections will long be celebrated, he will be remembered by many most as a generous mentor, colleague and friend. He had an immeasurable impact on many lives.
On August 31, 2013, after 25 years as one of the most visionary directors and a pioneer in the field of special collections, Staley retired from the Centre.
“Tom Staley was able to convince us over the years to be all we could be – to recite poetry and sing out loud,” a longtime friend and former member of the Staley said of Staley. Ransom Center advisory board, philanthropist and collector Suzanne Deal Booth.
“Tom brought treasures of the intellectual world to UT Austin, and more importantly, through his wit, passion, and intelligence, he brought people closer to the truths embodied in these works of art,” said Jay Hartzell, university president. “His enormous impact on the Ransom Center will be felt in perpetuity, and in that sense, Tom lives on.”
The Thomas F. Staley Endowment for Excellence in the Humanities was established in his honor in 2010 to further the Ransom Center’s mission, including acquiring important cultural records and promoting their accessibility to scholars and the public. .
He is survived by his wife, Muffi; their four children: Tom Jr., Carrie, Mary and Tim; and six grandchildren: Katie Wheeler and John Wheeler, Jake Ramzy and Emerson, Foster and Cormac Staley.