Almost 70 years since the University at Buffalo bought the greatest collection of Joycean materials ever assembled, plans are afoot to bring the priceless manuscripts, first editions, notebooks, letters and even canes and eye-glasses of the famed author to Ireland.
Picked up in 1949 for a relative song in Paris from funds-strapped relatives of James Joyce, the archive is under the caring stewardship of James Maynard, curator of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, and Joycean authority.
However, it's not just the proposal to bring the treasures of the collection to Ireland in 1922 – centenary of the publication of Joyce's tour-de-force Ulysses — that is exciting interest among political leaders in western New York but also an additional plan to create an accessible visitor center for the display of the artifacts in downtown Buffalo.
Spearheading moves to raise the profile of the collection is State Senator Tim Kennedy. During a recent visit to the collection, he told Irish Central:
"I am very grateful to the University at Buffalo for sharing this unique treasure with not just the strong and loving American-Irish community of Buffalo and Western New York but also the world," he said. "I am proud to be American-Irish and a Buffalonian and honored to help build support for the wider exposure of the James Joyce Collection. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see this collection put on display in a city venue which would be easily accessible to visitors from around the world."
Estimating the monetary value of the collection is all but impossible. One single manuscript by Joyce, amounting to just 16 pages of Finnegan's Wake, was sold at auction in Dublin last year for around $35,000. The University at Buffalo collection boasts over 10,000 pages from Joyce's papers, many linked to earlier, even more, acclaimed works.
But James Maynard says the true value is the benefit the collection brings to visitors and students of Joyce. "We want the collection not just to be a destination for scholars but also to be a destination for everyone who loves literature and Ireland. People relate to Joyce in so many different ways but we do know that admirers of Joyce love this collection."
Increasing Irish American interest in the collection will be signaled on Friday 27 April when James Maynard is honored at the Irish Echo Community Champions Awards in New York for his endeavors as custodian of the Joycean treasure trove. Then-Consul General of Ireland in New York Ciarán Madden will then host a celebration of the collection in the Irish Consulate on 10 May at which famed Beckett actress Lisa Dwan will present a special performance. The event will also bring the University at Buffalo together with the nascent Museum of Literature Ireland which is expected to host the Joyce Collection in 1922 before, as expected, it travels to other Irish destinations before being put on show in London and Paris.
Erin Hartnett, who is working with the University at Buffalo to raise financial gifts for the Joyce Collection, says work has started to gather together influential patrons supportive of ushering in a new era for the collection. "We are keen to create a permanent endowment befitting of the world's greatest James Joyce collection. If we view Joyce as the most influential novelist and writer of the 20th Century, then this is one of the most important literary collections in the world. It's time the world knew that."
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