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The Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Hawkes and the Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collection of Frederick Busch began with simple friendships

Aug 28, 2014 11:45 AM


Long-time USC Libraries supporters Dr. Don Greiner and his wife Ellen Greiner have donated their John Hawkes and Frederick Busch collections to the University Libraries. These two comprehensive collections of post-1950 American literature grew through dedicated scholarship and abiding friendship.

“I had never heard of John Hawkes, but he was visiting the University of Virginia and I was invited to a small supper with him after his reading,” said Greiner, then a UVA graduate student in English. “My first thought was that I’d better read a book by him. I read The Cannibal, an underground classic. It was 180 pages long -- so small that you could put it in your pocket, but so challenging that it took me three days to read it.

“Meeting him was delightful,” said Greiner, now Carolina Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus in the Department of English Language and Literature. “Then I graduated and came to USC, determined to write books on Stephen Crane and Robert Frost. But Hawkes was in the back of my mind, so I began to study his work. He was lionized by that time, and his novel Second Skin was runner-up for the National Book Award.”

After writing Comic Terror: The Novels of John Hawkes, Greiner received a note.

“Hawkes asked if I would send him a signed copy of my book, and he would reciprocate with a signed copy of Second Skin,” Greiner said. “I did, and we kept up the friendship long distance – he was a professor at Harvard – and he visited USC twice. Students loved his work: it was very lyrical and surreal. He continued to send me inscribed copies, and I wrote a second book about him.” As the years went on, the inscriptions became more and more personal, showing the deepening of a friendship.

“In those days, USC Libraries did not purchase post-modern items for faculty research,” Greiner said. “The Hawkes collection now in the Irvin Department consists of those items I bought for myself, plus all of those beautifully inscribed books.”

While Greiner was writing his first book about Hawkes, Colgate University faculty member Frederick Busch was also writing a book about Hawkes. The books were published the same year.

“Fred had written a favorable review of my book and when we met at a conference we just hit it off,” Greiner said. “His novel, Manual Labor, had just been published and I taught the book the next semester.

“Fred began to use me as a sounding board, writing long letters, telling me about character development problems he was having. I was flattered. I continued to buy and read his work, and I wrote a book about him. He sent me proof copies of his novels with inscriptions. He visited USC to work with our creative writing students.

“The inscribed books are part of the Busch collection, but those 200 to 300 letters in which Fred talks candidly about his work are key to that collection,” Greiner said.

In the 1990s, Greiner and his wife donated a major collection of James Dickey materials to the Libraries.

“I’m thrilled that our collections are in the Irvin Department,” he said. “In the 1990s, USC began enhancing its American literature collection with the support of Matthew Bruccoli, Patrick Scott, and George Terry. The two staples became the Joel Myerson transcendentalist and Bruccoli’s F. Scott Fitzgerald collections. Those wonderful collections were an attraction to Ellen and me. We like the fact that our collections help complete what USC has, filling in some of the literary timeline by bringing the department’s superb holdings in American literature up to date with post-1950 research materials and collections.”

Learn about the Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collection of James Dickey.