Here at Yale: documenting the well-traveled road


The concept of “travel” contains multitudes: adventurous journeys, forced migrations, documentary explorations, meditative immersions. Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry at the Yale Collection of American Literature and organizer of the Beinecke Library’s current special exhibition “Road Show,” manages to capture a wide range, through what Kuhl recently referred to as “the physical. , emotional and intellectual experiences of moving to unfamiliar places, meeting new landscapes and new people, and exploring different lifestyles and worldviews.

The ambitious and expansive “Road Show” – a set of 30 “vignettes” made up of letters, postcards, annotated drafts, photographs, passports, sketches, telegraphs and various ephemera from Beinecke’s rich collection of American literature – illuminates the 19e– and 20e– century of travel experience through the eyes of artists and writers. It also encompasses something more metaphorical: the journey from experience to art, and the journey of the archivist to the record. (As Henry Miller noted, “a destination is never a place but rather a new way of seeing things.”)

Scope, as Kuhl puts it, encompasses “all the different ways that human beings move around the world, and for all the different reasons.”

At a recent “Mondays at Beinecke” virtual conference – which drew an audience of nearly 150 people from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom – Kuhl a offered a glimpse into the brains of conservatives.

Kuhl, speaking from a home office with three precariously balanced stacks of books in the background, occasionally sipped a wavy blue mug that matched the shade of the pillows behind her. She spoke clearly and quickly with an infectious enthusiasm that vibrated across the screen. (“It’s a great pleasure to talk about things that I love,” Kuhl later admitted with a laugh.)

Truman Capote and Donald Windham on Piazzo San Marco, Venice, 1948 (Excerpt from articles by Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell.)

She featured three of what she called “snapshots” of the show. (On screen: a postcard of Truman Capote and Donald Windham in Venice – one of many in the exhibition featuring famous artists posing cheerfully with the tame pigeons in St. Mark’s Square.) ‘J’ use this term with discernment, ”she noted. “I hope the experience of being in the show would be like watching a slideshow of different types of adventure and travel.” With that, she launched into her own slideshow:

  • A photo of Gerald and Sara Murphy, friends of F. Scott Fitzgerald, looking carefree on a beach on the French Riviera; the couple were the inspiration behind Dick and Nicole Diver in the novel “Tender is the Night”. (Kuhl: “It’s not often that we see how a writer transforms the people in his life into characters in a novel. And it’s even, I think, maybe less often that we see what is about. these characters think about that. ”)
  • A photograph of Sara Murphy, in a dark swimsuit, looking at the camera over her shoulder, pearls draped over her back, as well as a description of Nicole Diver’s character from “Tender is the Night”. (“Here we have this weird and amazing opportunity to see how individual inspiration can be at times. We don’t always have such clear examples… It’s almost scary, like I meet Sara’s ghost. Murphy. “)
  • Vivid portraits of Langston Hughes and artist Jacob Lawrence, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, who worked together on the book “One Way Ticket”, inspired by the Great Migration, in which millions of African Americans moved from the rural south to more urban areas of the United States. (“The question, how did the poet write the poem, is still on my mind.”)
  • An image of annotated drafts of Hughes’ poem “One Way Ticket”. (“This is an opportunity to see how he thinks about how the measure of a line will work, and to change the way his poem is read, and so he thinks, it sounds pretty clear, to the sound and to the music as well as sense. “)
  • A piece of orange-edged airline stationery (“Mr. WA Patterson, President, United Air Lines, Inc.”), with an observation of Gertrude Stein’s flight, “Somehow the light here on the wing is the most beautiful thing. ” (“This little fragment is interested in the same kinds of things you would hear in some of his other writings.”)

Like many travelers, “Road Show” encountered a forced detour: Originally slated to open in May 2020, it was postponed when COVID-19 closed the Yale campus. But the new route brought new perspectives: with all the material gathered for an exhibition that could not open, Kuhl offered an end-of-studies workshop in public humanities for which the students created micro-exhibitions. in line. They contribute to a solid online life for the exhibition, allowing the general public to virtually explore the materials; Yale faculty, staff and students can see it in person until January 10, 2022.

To close his speech, Kuhl asked a question about how travel over the past two years – its absence and re-emergence after the blockages – might be represented in the archives of the future. “The wonderful thing about contemporary archives is that they are a document of the present moment and sometimes only appear when the moment has passed,” Kuhl noted. “I have no doubt that we will see different ways in which all travelers will preserve evidence of their experience in a way that will help us understand this period.”

The Mondays in Beinecke series, which began in 2013 as an in-person tea party and went live in 2020, allows curators, researchers and academics to provide an overview of the library’s collections.


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