The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

June 23, 2003

UI Library Collection Holds Thousands Of Works By Iowa Authors

When Mark Moscowitz started work on his movie "Stone Reader" about Cedar Rapids author Dow Mossman's book "Stones of Summer," one of his stops was the UI Libraries' Iowa Authors Collection.

Looking for information about the only book Mossman ever published, Moscowitz reviewed the author's papers, which are on file in the collection, along with an original hardback of the book from 1972 and a softcover edition published the following year. With the information in hand, Moscowitz then set out to make his movie, which was released this spring to critical raves across the country.

Started in 1945, the Iowa Authors Collection is among the oldest in the library's special collections holdings. It now has 20,000 titles written by 2,000 authors, making it likely the largest collection of Iowa-related authors anywhere. Sid Huttner, special collections librarian, said the collection was started before the special collections department was created and perhaps in anticipation of a new library building: construction on Main Library began in 1949 and the building opened in 1951.

"Other libraries were creating state and regional collections at the time, and librarians may also have thought the collection would help create an identity for the new library and for the state of Iowa," Huttner said. The task was assigned to a long-time librarian, Grace Wormser, whose early letters soliciting books state the criteria for inclusion as having been born in Iowa or having "lived in the state long enough to be definitely identified with it." Over time this came to mean, generally, at least 20 years, Huttner said. The collection ranges from American classics to potboilers, genre fiction, books for children and small-press and self-published books. Academic volumes are generally excluded because, Huttner said, these books are already the core of the library's general collections.

"The original intention was that this would be a collection of generally non-scholarly books by Iowans for Iowans," Huttner said. As a result, he said many works by prominent graduates of the Iowa Writer's Workshop are not in the collection if their only connection to the state is the fact that they studied at the university for a few years.

The collection includes authors who cut across a wide swath of genres and eras. Huttner said the bulk of the collection is made up of novels and collections of short stories and poetry, although it also contains some local and regional history, as well as political writing by such noted Iowa leaders as former U.S. president Herbert Hoover and vice president Henry A. Wallace. Several collections of journalism are also included by such columnists as Bill Wundram of the Quad City Times and Harlan Miller of the Des Moines Register.

It includes such contemporary bestselling authors as Bill Bryson, Jane Smiley, John Camp, who writes mysteries as John Sandford, Sara Paretsky, whose series of Chicago detective novels feature V.I. "Vic" Warshawsky, and romance novelist LeAnn Lemberger, whose pen name is Leigh Michaels. Also among its titles are authors who were once popular but have since faded into obscurity, such as Alice French, a widely published short story writer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Davenport who worked under the pen name Octave Thanet, and Hamlin Garland, who grew up in Osage and went on to become one of the founders of the Realism movement in American literature in the early 20th century, and also won a Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Several legends are also included, such as Meredith Willson, the Mason City author, playwright and composer who wrote several memoirs; Eugene Burdick, whose novel Fail Safe is considered one of the best pieces of Cold War literature; Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote dozens of Nancy Drew novels under the name Carolyn Keene; and Wallace Stegner.

More than 100 of the writers also contributed manuscripts or their personal papers to the collection, including Mossman, Wallace, Lemberger, Muscatine mystery writer and graphic novelist Max Allan Collins, and Cedar Rapids writers Carol and Ed Gorman.

Huttner said the library welcomes gift books and generally accepts those provided to it as long as the author meets the criteria. "We may have to be less open in the future," he said. "Back in 1945, I don't think they foresaw a collection of 20,000 books and several hundred feet of manuscripts. While they'd be pleased, the job of finding room for them all is daunting."

A list of the writers collected is on the web at http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/iowaauth.htm. Titles in the collection can be found by searching the library's online catalog, InfoHawk, from its homepage, http://www.lib.uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu