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University Libraries - The Kaye Gibbons Archive

The Kaye Gibbons Archive

Collection Description

kaye gibbonsThe University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Library houses a portion of the literary papers of Kaye Gibbons, whose novels about self-reliant women in the rural South have made her a prominent figure in contemporary Southern fiction.

Gibbons' papers are the first major archive that the library has acquired from a contemporary Southern woman writer. They join the literary papers of John Jakes, Joseph Heller, George V. Higgins and James Ellroy.

Gibbons' archive goes beyond manuscripts to include her critical essays written as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina and the storyboards that she used for plot development in her most recent novel.  Her papers capture each stage of writing for her novels, some written in longhand, detailing revisions and thought processes.

"This is our most substantial archive yet for any Southern novelist, and for any woman novelist," said Dr. Patrick Scott, English professor emeritus and former director of special collections. "The archive shows Kaye Gibbons developing her fiction, and her style, for a variety of novels and other writing projects. Kaye Gibbons has succeeded in moving beyond her first success and producing a whole series of distinctively different later novels, while still keeping her own voice and viewpoint. She can write beautifully, and movingly, as well as provoking laughter that aches. This archive shows her at work on that writing."

The acquisition is a gift-purchase by the university and is funded partly by The Donna I. Sorensen Endowment: Southern Women in the Arts, which was established in 2004 by university President Andrew Sorensen in honor of his wife, Donna.

The endowment supports library acquisitions pertaining to Southern women in the arts, including music, literature, drama, painting and drawing and the decorative arts.

"I am delighted that we have secured this wonderfully valuable manuscript and related materials from Kaye Gibbons, a woman of stature and a remarkably talented author," said Donna Sorensen. "Our special-collections library is greatly enriched by this acquisition."


Biographical Note

The novelist Kaye Gibbons was born in Nash County, North Carolina, and took her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her first novel, Ellen Foster, published in 1978 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill when she was 26, earned immediate critical recognition and accolades from Eudora Welty and Walker Percy.  For it, Gibbons won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the Louis D. Rubin Writing Award.  It has become a contemporary classic, taught in high schools and universities alongside such works as Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird.  

She has followed up that success with the novels A Virtuous Woman (1989), A Cure for Dreams (1991), Charms for the Easy Life (1993), Sights Unseen (1995), On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon (1998), Divining Women (2004), and The Life All Around Me, by Ellen Foster(2006), a sequel to the earlier book.  Her third novel, A Cure for Dreams, received the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Heartland Award for fiction and the PEN Revson Award.  In 1998, Ellen Foster and her second novel, A Virtuous Woman, were chosen together as Oprah Book Club selections, returning those early titles for another period on the New York Times bestseller list; all her novels remain in print.  Her novels are regularly translated into French, German, and other languages, and the French government has recognized her critical reputation with the Legion d’Honneur.

She also recently completed and edited for publication The Other Side of Air (2006), a novel that had been left unfinished at her death by Gibbons’s friend Jeanne Braselton.  

Gibbons lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Comments: Welcoming Kaye Gibbons

Robert B. Patterson, 

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History, 
and President, Thomas Cooper Society

On April 24, 2007, when Thomas Cooper Library's acquisition of her literary papers was announced, Kaye Gibbons spoke at the Thomas Cooper Society's annual dinner.  Professor Patterson's comments below introduced her on that occasion. 

Kaye Kaye Gibbons is not the first to use the Carolinas and its environs for story-telling, but through some nine books, from the smash hit ELLEN FOSTER to THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER, she has established herself as one of its most accomplished raconteurs -- having discovered, in her words, `the voice of ordinary men and women as a pure form of art and force of nature.' 
       No recounting of Kaye Gibbons' major achievements is possible in the time allotted to me, even at the speed of a tobacco auctioneer, but I will at least provide you with illustrative samples, some of which may improve on what you already know: ELLEN FOSTER hailed in London as one the twentieth century's twenty greatest novels; the Legion d'Honneur from the French government: CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE, a New York Times best-seller, and both CHARMS and ELLEN FOSTER adapted as films; ELLEN FOSTER and A VIRTUOUS WOMAN Oprah Book Club selections; membership in the Fellowship of Southern Writers; prizes from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to write A CURE FOR DREAMS; a Special Citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation; and the distinct honor having her work included in the reading lists of high schools and colleges.
      Kaye Gibbons' readers cannot help but become engaged with her stories, irresistible -- even inspirational-- tales featuring casts of highly revelatory characters, perhaps typically, strong females of varying ages and types, enhanced by her highly expressive, well-honed and simple style.  When you read Ellen Foster's letter to the president of Harvard seeking admission you may not be able to isolate the exact reasons for your attraction, but you know that you are hooked for the rest of THE LIFE ALL AROUND ME BY ELLEN FOSTER.  Through the thoughts of her characters and third-person observations Gibbons may prick our social consciences: in ELLEN FOSTER, Ellen's emerging awareness of the dignity and stability of her friend Starletta's black family in contrast to her own white one comes to mind--; Kaye also can dispense homespun psychology, philosophy and theology: speaking of her parents' twists and turns to death and the thereafter a very young Ellen Foster muses `They finally gave into the motion and let the wind take them from here to there'; or Gibbons can just make us laugh.  In CHARMS FOR THE EASY LIFE Margaret's grandmother concocts a reply to a Dear John letter received by a blind, wounded sailor in the form of a `grand curse': `Dear Arlene ... you will see me everywhere you wander.  And wander you will, from dolt to dimwit until you find the one of your dreams....  May your children inherit your husband's scoliosis, clubfeet, recessed testicles, or whatever has kept him out of the fighting.'
       Not the least of Kaye Gibbons' attributes is her skill as a speaker which we will shortly be able to enjoy. But first, I am happy to announce for the benefit of those who may not already know that the Thomas Cooper Library has acquired, in part through the generous gifts from our speaker, the Kaye Gibbons Archive. This collection includes such items as books, page proofs, manuscripts, various notes, diskettes, correspondence, and reviews -- obviously a most significant addition to the Library's holdings of contemporary authors.
       For this and for all of the above The Thomas Cooper Society is delighted and proud to welcome Kaye Gibbons.