The George V. Higgins Collection

Introduction | The Writer | Archive | Critical Responses
Publications
Retrospective Exhibition (pdf)

Introduction

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In addition to the celebrated Friends of Eddie Coyle, the collection features unpublished early fiction, research and typescripts for his non-fiction books, The Friends of Richard Nixon and Style and Substance.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  A substantial cache of unpublished fiction and screenplays from the 1980s and 1990s also is included.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.

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