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University Libraries - The Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of George V. Higgins

The Matthew J. and Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of George V. Higgins

Collection Description

The George V.  Higgins Archive at Thomas Cooper Library includes Higgins’ literary, personal and legal papers for the full scope of his remarkable career: from his writing for the Boston College literary magazine, The Stylus, to his posthumously published book At End of Day (2000).  Higgins earned international fame for his first novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1972 for which the archive contains drafts, edited typescripts and proofs.  

George V. Higgins (1939-1999) succeeded in nine distinct careers, all of which are documented in his archive.  Armed with two English degrees and a law degree, Higgins became a journalist for the Associated Press, The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal, as well as a federal prosecutor, district attorney and defense attorney, novelist, critic, historian and a creative writing professor at Boston University (1988-1999).  He was also a fierce Red Sox loyalist, so much so that he wrote a book on Boston baseball in 1989 titled The Progress of the Seasons: Forty Years of Baseball in Our Town.

Each of these careers is represented in The George V.  Higgins Archive at USC’s Thomas Cooper Library, which, when it arrived at the library in December 2003, filled more than 88 boxes.

In addition to the celebrated Friends of Eddie Coyle, the collection features unpublished early fiction, research and typescripts for his non-fiction books, The Friends of Richard Nixon and Style and Substance.  It includes drafts of Higgins's columns for the Boston Globe, theBoston-Herald American and for legal journals, as well as files from his work as defense attorney for Eldridge Cleaver and G.  Gordon Liddy.  A substantial cache of unpublished fiction and screenplays from the 1980s and 1990s also is included.  The memorabilia includes photos, his Boston Red Sox press pass, his vehicle license tags as an assistant U.S. attorney, his gun permit, yacht pennants and the cornet he played in the Boston College Marching Band.

Within the last 10 years, USC library’s department of rare books and special collections has assembled,  more than 20 of the most important collections in the field of modern American literature.  Like them, the Higgins collection is regarded as a research and teaching collection, said Paul Willis, dean of the libraries at USC.

"The true value of a literary collection is that is used by students and scholars so that they can better understand the writing process and the profession of authorship.  The George V. Higgins Archive complements our existing collections and enhances the marvelous collections  gathered by the Thomas Cooper Library," said Willis. "Matt Bruccoli and George Terry, dean of libraries at USC from 1988-2001, were responsible for bringing many of the major collections to the libraries."

As is often the case with so called "hard-boiled" writers, Higgins’ literary reputation and popularity was stronger in Britain than in American,  said USC English professor Dr.  Matthew Bruccoli. 

"He was an exceptional, perhaps the exceptional, postwar American political novelist," said Lord Grey Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain.  "Like Patricia Highsmith, he (Higgins) is an American more appreciated, perhaps, in Britain and Europe than in his own country.  I am delighted that the University of South Carolina has acquired his archive and that a major reassessment can now begin."

The Higgins Archive will be an outstanding resource for studying character-driven writing.  Higgins’s mastery of character dialogue is often compared to that of John O’Hara, a writer whose fiction he admired.

"The quotes make the story," Higgins said.  "Dialogue is character and character is plot."

While Higgins’ archive is an obvious fit for USC’s collections, which also include the archives of James Ellroy and John Jakes, it found its new home at USC because of a mutual interest that existed between  writer and university and because of the decision of Higgins's widow, Loretta Cubberley Higgins. 

Higgins spoke at the first meeting of USC’s Thomas Cooper Society, a literary and advocacy group of USC libraries, in 1993.  He taught a writing class at USC in 1993 and participated in a conference on literary biography in 1998.  Over the years he developed a friendship with USC English professor Matthew J.  Bruccoli, who has added his own extensive Higgins collection to the Higgins archive.  Following Higgins's sudden death at age 59, Loretta Cubberley Higgins decided to make sure that the various elements of the archive were brought together for preservation in one place, at the University of South Carolina, donating a substantial proportion of the collection.

 

The Writer

Higgins was famous for creating memorable characters in hard-boiled fiction and telling his stories through dialogue.  According to The New Yorker, "Higgins is almost uniquely blessed with a gift of voices, each of them...as distinctive as the fingerprint."  Higgins said his purpose was to replace the omniscient author with the omniscient reader.

Despite his success at writing crime and legal fiction, Higgins didn’t consider himself a crime writer.

"He denied that he wrote mysteries: he wrote novels about characters who had troubles with the law, some of whom were professional criminals," said USC English professor Dr.  Matthew Bruccoli.  In a 1993 review of his book Defending  Billy Ryan Higgins admitted his affinity in writing about criminals because they are "people who are violent and unpredictable and who break codes and laws and all sorts of solemn promises, are more interesting than the people who behave themselves," he said. 
 

Higgins on Higgins:

"It never occurred to me not to write...I love what I do and I always have."

"The quotes make the story...Dialogue is character and character is plot."

"Unfortunately I’ve been typed as a crime writer.  I never thought I was."

"Every morning I rewrite what I wrote yesterday."

"Your material is where you find it...Every book I have written is set in New England,

and everyone I probably will write is going to be set in New England." 

"You can’t teach writing...You’ve got to learn to write on your own."

"I have lived with the recurring fear that some day my editors will call me up and say:  see here, we’ve been paying you good money for hard work, and now we find out you’ve just been having a big time for yourself – give it back." 

In response to the question "Do you ever not finish a book?: "Oh yeah, I’ve got lots of false starts." 

 

Archive

The George V.  Higgins Archive at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library preserves a comprehensive collection of the author’s literary, personal and legal papers that depict the full scope of his remarkable career, from his writing for the Boston College literary magazine, The Stylus, to his book At the End of the Day (2000), which was published posthumously.  
 

Friends of Edward Doyle

Highlights of the collection include:

 Drafts, edited typescripts and proofs for his best-selling first novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle 

 Unpublished early fiction and ‘lost’ writing submitted for his MA in creative writing at Stanford 

 Research files and typescripts for his non-fiction books, The Friends of Richard Nixon and Style  and Substance, and for his investigative journalism on the Whitey Bulger case 

 Files from his work as defense attorney for Eldridge Cleaver and G. Gordon Liddy  

 A substantial cache of unpublished fiction and screenplays from the 1980s and 1990s 

 Drafts of the columns he wrote for the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald-American and for legal  journals  

 His clipping files on critical response to his books  

 Photos 

 Tax and other files relating to his work as a professional author 

 Personal mementos, such as his press pass to the Boston Red Sox, his vehicle license tags as an Assistant  U.S. attorney, his gun permit, yacht pennants and the coronet he played in the Boston College Marching  Band. 

 

 

Critical Responses

"Higgins is almost uniquely blessed with a gift for voices, each of them   
. . . as distinctive as a fingerprint."  
                                                                            ~ The New Yorker

"What I can’t get over is that so good a first novel was written by the fuzz." 
            ~ Writer Norman Mailer on "The Friends of Eddie Coyle

" George V.  Higgins was an American original and a writer of lasting importance."                             
                                                ~ Scott Turrow, lawyer and novelist

"A writer of Balzacian appetite . . . the poet of Boston sleaze . . confident and totally convincing."  
                                                          ~ Mordecai Richler, novelist

"Completely original . . . technical virtuosity . . . an absolutely pitch perfect ear for the way real people, cops and criminals, really talk . . .earned a permanent place in our literary history." 
     ~George Garrett, poet and novelist, poet laureate of Virginia,
   and professor emeritus of creative writing at the University of 
   Virginia


"Aspiring writers of any genre, not just legal suspense, would be wise to read lots of George Higgins."   
                                               ~John Grisham, novelist and lawyer

"He was vitality itself.  He spoke as brilliantly and wittily as he wrote." 
                 ~John Silber, president emeritus of Boston University. 

"He was an exceptional, perhaps the exceptional, postwar American political novelist." 

" George  V. Higgins' novels are usually found on the Crime shelves in bookstores.  Although no less talented an authority than Elmore Leonard once described The Friends of Eddie Coyle as ‘the greatest crime novel ever written,’ the category is misleading.  Higgins is a great ‘political’ novelist who anatomized one ‘polis’, Boston, over the last 30 years of the 20th century.  A Choice of Enemies and A Change of Gravity concern the private lives of public men and vice versa.  Both books are as witty and imaginative as recent work by Saul Bellow, John Updike and Philip Roth and in my view more originally structured.  Like Patricia Highsmith, he is an American more appreciated, perhaps, in Britain and Europe than in his own country.  I am delighted that the University of South Carolina has acquired his archive and that a major reassessment can now begin."  
                                  ~ Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council
                                                                              (United Kingdom)

"I am delighted by South Carolina’s acquisition of the George V.  Higgins Archive.  For nearly 20 years I had the honour of being George V.  Higgins’ British publisher and for nearly 30 years the pleasure of his friendship which entirely transcended the normal bounds of the author-publisher relationship.  George was, although often under-rated, a highly-significant American novelist and a prodigiously-gifted writer of journalism and more durable non-fiction.  A master of subtle, time-shifting narrative with an ear for dialogue and demotic speech rhythms which was almost uncanny, he made a lasting contribution to American letters."
     ~ Tom Rosenthal, Higgins’s publisher and former chairman of
                               Secker and Warburg and Andre Deutsch Ltd.