A trove of international literary treasure resides on the fourth floor of Capen Hall:
A first edition copy of “Ulysses,” published by the famous Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Company. Ten thousand pages of working papers. Irish Homestead, an early 20th century newspaper, which features the first published short story in the “Dubliners” series. Nearly anything and everything related to 20th century Irish author James Joyce.
And all of it can be found in the UB Libraries’ James Joyce Collection.
The James Joyce Collection exists as the largest collection of Joyce materials in the world. The collection began with a serendipitous encounter by Oscar A. Silverman, a former director of UB Libraries. While on sabbatical in Paris in 1949, Silverman happened upon the exhibition Exposition en Hommage à James Joyce, beginning the first of six installations that have shaped the James Joyce Collection over the past 70 years. As the collection grew, so did its prominence in the academic world.
“You can’t tell the story of Joyce the writer without the collection here,” James Maynard, UB’s poetry collection curator, said. “It’s just too large, too comprehensive. It really does make Buffalo, if not the capital, then certainly one of the major capitals of Joyce studies.”
As the James Joyce Collection has cemented itself in the world of Joyce and Irish scholarship, it has attracted all kinds of international research; from translators in Japan, to Ph.D. students from Ireland and graduate students from India, to name a few.
“There is, I think, an effort on the part of the people who run the Special Collections to establish Joyce as a kind of intellectual tourist magnet here,” professor Joseph Valente, UB’s resident Joyce scholar, said.
In crafting the Joyce Collection as a necessary scholarship destination, those involved in Joyce studies at UB have made efforts to ensure the continual use of the collection.
For Valente, part of this promotion includes his creation of the Dr. John Bishop Memorial Scholar Fund, named after prominent Joyce scholar and UB alumnus John Bishop, who passed away in April 2020.
This scholarship, funded by Valente’s own personal assets, will be offered biannually to bring research scholars to the collection, and will help pay for expenses involved in visiting the collection, including travel.
“It’s not something you just drop by in,” Valente said. “It’s not like a local lending library. You can’t do research in the collection in that way.”
Challenges that occur with Joyce scholarship happen, in part, due to contensions with the Joyce Estate and copyright limitations. As such, materials owned by UB cannot be made available through the internet, forcing scholars to be physically present in locations like Buffalo.
In trying to expand accessibility to the Joyce collection, Maynard and his colleagues have endeavored to create the James Joyce Museum in South Campus’ Abbott Hall.
“What the university has never had is a dedicated and proper museum space,” Maynard said. “So we’re hoping that this will begin to address that type of public space.”
The museum’s proposed plan would cost $13 million, which accounts for hiring a James Joyce curator, a preservation and acquisitions endowment, a programming and exhibitions endowment and the physical museum space.
With the museum space, Maynard hopes to encourage public accessibility to the collection, as well as widening the collection’s audience beyond academics.
“We’re very excited to be part of the renaissance that’s been happening, culturally, in Buffalo for easily the last 15 or 20 years,” Maynard said.
Residing in Capen 420, Maynard describes the collection as a focal point for humanities at UB with an emphasis on its intellectual value.
However, Valente notes that the collection operates differently than other aspects of the humanities.
“It’s like a glittering jewel and the English department is more like a workaday factory,” Valente said.
Still, the current James Joyce Collection is more than just a site for scholarship and research. The collection, composed of some of Joyce’s personal effects, including his cane, pen and eyeglasses, offers a chance to connect with Joyce, the person.
“It shows him as a father, as a husband and as a son,” Maynard said. “But it also shows how collaborative and social the activity of writing is… It was Joyce and his publishers [working on these texts], it was Joyce and his typist, it was Joyce and his colleagues and editors and collectors and patrons.”
The result of this environment, crafted around Joyce’s humanity as a person and an author, has engendered emotional responses to viewing the exhibit.
“I just always gravitate toward his passport, for whatever reason,” Scott Hollander, associate university librarian for administration and distinctive collections, said. “I find it fascinating, the fact that he touched it and he touched all this material.”
Hollander isn’t alone in this feeling of wonderment when interacting with the Joyce Collection. Maynard has noted that during his time as the poetry collection curator, personal objects of Joyce have brought visitors to tears, an experience he says is just as extraordinary to him as it is to others.
“I get goosebumps,” Maynard said. “People sometimes say, ‘Does it ever wear off? Do you ever not feel the magic?’ And the answer is, no.”
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.