Guide to the Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency Records, 1940s-2000 and undated (bulk 1978-1995)
The records of the Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency span the dates 1948-1993, with most of the records dating after 1974. The records dated prior to 1981, when the agency was formed, are those of writers who were Wasserman's clients when she was employed at the Russell and Volkening agency and stayed with her when she formed her own agency. The collection documents the careers of individual writers and in doing so indicates the varied activities of a major literary agency: preparation and submission of manuscripts, negotiation of contracts, handling of foreign and reprint rights, publicity, and the differing ways affairs are handled for lesser known or beginning writers and for major authors. Among the more prominent American fiction writers included are Richard Bausch, Saul Bellow, Frederick Buechner, Oscar Hijuelos, Josephine Humphreys, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Alice McDermott, and Reynolds Price. In addition, records about historian George F. Kennan and philosopher and historian Allan Bloom are included. The correspondence is primarily about professional matters, although some sense of the personal relationships between the agent and the more prominent clients can be gleaned.
By far, the Bellow papers comprise the largest group relating to any single author, and cover the longest span of years, from 1948 to 1993. There are relatively few papers from 1948 to 1972, but those present contain a few personal letters to Bellow from his contemporaries such as the novelists Ralph Ellison and Wright Morris. The bulk of the Bellow papers date from 1973, and convey a clear impression of the activity surrounding his increasing fame, particularly with the publication of Humboldt's Gift, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for that novel, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. After that date his later career is sketched in detail and follows from inception through publication such works as The Dean's December, More Die of Heartbreak, and It All Adds Up.
The collection includes, in smaller amounts, material about the careers of other authors. In the current accession, the Bausch and Jhabvala papers are particularly rich among the fiction writers. Bausch's career is outlined from his breaking into the profession in the mid-1970s to his establishment as a major author by the late 1980s. Jhabvala's papers pick up in mid-career, when she has already published several novels and won the Booker Prize in England, but prior to her growing fame as a screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. Her correspondence also includes a number of letters from director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, particularly relating to the development of the film The Autobiography of a Princess (1975) and the accompanying photography book of the same name.
Of special note are the records about Reynolds Price and Josephine Humphreys. While the HWLA collection contains some unique items about these writers, especially Price, scholars should be aware that the Library is also the primary repository for the personal papers of these writers. Much more information is available in their respective collections.
Among non-fiction writers in the current (1995) accession, the papers of historian George F. Kennan and philosopher Allan Bloom document their careers in the 1980s. Most of the Bloom papers relate to the publicity surrounding the publication of The Closing of the American Mind, particularly reviews and speaking engagements. The Kennan material is more varied, including not only Wasserman's correspondence on Kennan's behalf, but several dozen lengthy letters from Kennan to Wasserman and others.
The 1999 addition (accession #1999-0275) (19,500 items, 32.5 lin. ft.; dated 1974-1999 and undated) expands on all of the collection series, especially materials related to Saul Bellow.
The 2001 addition (accession #2001-0050) (816 items, 12 lin. ft.; dated 1974-2000 and undated) includes book manuscripts, galley proofs (some inscribed), correspondence, notes, and other materials relating to the authors represented by the literary agency. Other materials include sixty-four black-and-white photographs, one black-and-white negative, four color photographs, and one audiocassette tape. Authors included in this addition are Richard Bausch, Jay Williams, Suzi-Lori Parks, Laurel Lee, Karla Kuskin, Elinore Clark, Perrin Ireland, Frederick Buechner, John Tyler Bonner, Martha Moody, Eugene Walter, Caroline Winthrop, Paul Lussier, Sharon Flake, Reynolds Price, Josephine Humphreys, Saul Bellow, George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, Julia Markus, George F. Kennan, Carole L. Glickfeld, Mark Winegardner, Michael Stewart, Diane Vreuls, Sandra Gould Ford, Charles McPhee, Mark Smith, and Harriet Wasserman herself.
The second 2001 addition (accession #2001-0115) (5 items, .1 linear feet; dated 1978-2001, bulk 1997-2001) contains correspondence between Wasserman and Shelley Gruskin. It also includes a playbill for performances of In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Gimpel the Fool, signed by actor David Marguiles and a copy of Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories. Both book and playbill are mentioned in the correspondence.
The 2003 addition (accession #2003-0051)(12,500 items, 30 linear feet, dated 1982-2000) consists chiefly of client files (correspondence, contracts, financial records, etc.), manuscripts and proofs of books by clients, published versions of books by clients, and related materials. Includes especially significant material for Saul Bellow and a few other authors, including Oscar Hijuelos and George Frost Kennan.
Addition (08-004) (18,000 items; 24 lin. ft.; dated 1984-2006) consists chiefly of client files (correspondence, contracts, financial records, etc.), manuscripts and proofs of books by clients, published versions clients, and related materials. Includes especially significant material for Saul Bellow and a few other authors, including Oscar Hijuelos and George Frost Kennan.
Addition (08-078) (8 items; .2 lin. ft.; dated 1984-2000) includes writing samples for agency authors, as well as literary award kits and publications.
Addition (12-008) (2250 items; 3.0 lin. ft.; dated 1972-2003) consists of agency files about author Reynolds Price, including general correspondence, contracts, book reviews, and other related materials.
- Collection Number
- Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency records
- 1940s-2003 and undated (bulk 1978-1995)
- Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency
- 190 Linear Feet, 52,755 items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Correspondence Series, A-Z, 1948-1995 and undated
- Financial Papers Series, A-Z, 1944-1994.
- Writings Series, A-Z, 1941-1995
- Miscellaneous Series, A-Z, 1953-1995
- Oversize Materials, 1940-1995 and undated
- Accession (1999-0275)
- Accessions 2001-0050 and 2001-0115
- Accession 2003-0051
- Accession (2008-0004) 1984-2006
- Accession (2008-0078), 1984-2000
- Accession (2012-0008), 1972-2003
Access to the Collection
Collection is restricted. Please consult the Processing Information section of this finding aid for more details about these restrictions.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
In addition, all or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. There may be a 48-hour delay in obtaining these materials.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in the collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Special Collections Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The Correspondence Series is divided into two subseries, Restricted and Open. The correspondence in both subseries consists of letters to and from Wasserman and her staff chiefly concerning the professional affairs of various writers represented by the agency: contract negotiations, auctions, publicity, and discussions of writing progress. Correspondence is predominantly about rather than from the writers, although the papers of some--notably Richard Bausch, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, George Kennan, and Reynolds Price--contain a number of their own letters.
The restricted correspondence is mainly that of authors for whom the Library did not do item-level processing at this time (see Processing Note and Restrictions). Additionally, a few of the restricted papers are correspondence about unpublished works by major authors, the bulk of whose correspondence is open. ENTIRE SUBSERIES IS RESTRICTED.
CLOSED: Closed to research until 2051
The Open subseries is mainly the correspondence of authors for whom the Library decided to do item-level processing (see Processing Note and Restrictions). In addition it contains the correspondence of three authors processed at the folder level, Allan Bloom, Coral Lansbury, and Anne Lindbergh. Since these authors are already deceased, financial papers and documents about unpublished works were not restricted and thus not separated from other correspondence.
A few folders in the Saul Bellow correspondence are of special note. The folders for his early correspondence, mainly prior to 1970, contain, in addition to correspondence from the Russell and Volkening Agency, a few substantive letters from prominent writers, most notably American novelists Ralph Ellison and Wright Morris. This also applies to a later group of folders, 1985. Lois Phillips Files. In the 1980s Lois Phillips discovered these files in a house near hers that Bellow lived in from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Like other of his papers from that period, they contain some personal correspondence from writers. Because of the way in which these papers were found and the correspondence in the 1980s between Phillips and Harriet Wasserman about their disposition, correspondence and financial papers were kept together chronologically in their respective series rather than separated and refiled to the time period in which they were written.
This series consists mainly of the financial papers of those authors whose correspondence was selected for item-level processing (see Processing Note and Restrictions). In addition it contains the papers of a number of authors who had contracts with the Russell and Volkening Agency. Since these had been stored separately by HWLA, they were placed as received in this series. All of the financial papers are closed during the lifetime of the authors. It should be noted that since the authors Allan Bloom, Coral Lansbury, and Anne Lindbergh died before the Library acquired the Wasserman collection, their financial papers are open and were not separated from the correspondence. Refer to the Correspondence (Open) Subseries for access to their papers.
( for further information about Phillips files see Correspondence (Open) Subseries, Bellow, 1985 and that subseries' note)
CLOSED: Closed to research until 2051
The Writings Series is divided into three subseries, Restricted, Open, and Books (open). Restricted and Open subseries were arranged according to the terms described in the Processing Note and Restrictions. Internal information as well as external databases and bibliographies were used to determine the publication status of works as of Fall, 1996. Since the restrictions status of works will change after this list is printed, as works are published or as researchers locate publication information not found during processing, researchers should bring such information to the attention of Special Collections Staff as needed.
This subseries consists of versions of works which could not be determined to have been published. Included are a few handwritten drafts, many typescripts, and many stages of proofs. Items are arranged alphabetically by title under each author. Where multiple versions of titles exist, they are arranged to the extent determinable in chronological order of composition. ENTIRE SUBSERIES IS RESTRICTED.
For further information about 5 items from Lois Phillips files see Correspondence (Open) Subseries, Bellow, 1985 and subseries note
CLOSED during the lifetimes of Hijuelos and Wasserman
CLOSED during the lifetimes of Hijuelos and Wasserman
See also Oversized Material (Boxes) Untitled, undated
This subseries consists of versions of works which have been published. Included are a few handwritten drafts, many typescripts, and many stages of proofs. Items are arranged alphabetically by title under each author. Where multiple versions of titles exist, they are arranged to the extent determinable in chronological order of composition.
For further information see Correspondence (Open) Subseries, Bellow, 1985 and that subseries' note)
For further information about Phillips files see Correspondence (Open) Subseries, Bellow, 1985 and that subseries' note)
(N.B.: appears to have been pub. in Mortimer Adler's Great Ideas Today)
Folders 9-12 print; folders 11-12 Italian and Japanese translations.
(folder 3 has Saul Bellow's handwritten corrections)
This subseries consists of authors' published book length works. Included are first American editions and paperbacks, translations, special or limited editions, uncorrected bound proofs, and some seventy books with acknowledgements, dedications, and/or inscriptions to Harriet Wasserman (N.B.: see under Wasserman's name in the Miscellaneous (Open) Subseries for photocopies of these pages). A count and brief summary of editions is given after each title. The absence of this summary indicates that there is a single copy of an American hardback edition with no acknowledgement, dedication, or inscription. The entire subseries of about 840 items is open. For unbound proofs or published versions with authors' handwritten corrections, see the Writings (Open) Subseries.