According to a story in The Atlantic I included in today’s Critical Linking, the Ransom Center at the University of Texas has started guessing which authors will have lasting historical import and then buying up their papers. Usually, libraries and archives have waited until such status has been assured before dropping millions of dollars on diaries, letters, manuscripts, tax receipts, and other documents.
But in true Texas oil-hound fashion, the Ransom Center seems to think that they can get ahead of the game by placing their bets now and have done so on contemporary authors like David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson. In a sense, they are playing the literary archive game like the stock market, hoping to buy low now and reap the benefits for posterity.
This led me to wonder: what living writers’ future reputations would I get in on right now? And which might I “sell”?
Jonathan Franzen: SELL
I have a comp for you: Sloan Wilson. Haven’t heard of him, right? He wrote one of the big social novels of the mid-1950s, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. It was a huge success and was made into a decent movie starring Gregory Peck. And no one reads it now. Franzen is a great chronicler of contemporary society, but that’s what he does best. Generally, literature about the society of its day tends to age rather poorly; the stuff that endures transcends the specifics of its time. Oh, and guess who wrote the introduction to the 2002 re-issue of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit? Yup, Franzen himself.