Saved for the nation: British Library acquires major Ted Hughes archive

The British Library has acquired an important archive of one of the most influential literary figures of post war Britain, the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (1930 -1998). The collection comprises over 220 files and boxes of manuscripts, letters, journals, personal diaries and ephemera, and offers an invaluable resource for researchers in all areas of Hughes's prolific and wide-ranging career over more than forty years.

Alongside the acquisition of the archive, the British Library will also celebrate the life and work of Ted Hughes on the 10th anniversary of his death this month, with the release of two new Ted Hughes spoken word CD collections on 15 October. Copies of the CDs can be purchased from www.bl.uk/shop. A tribute event to the poet will be held at the British Library on 20 October with contributions from special guests including Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage.

The archive has been saved for the nation with generous support from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of the British Library, and a £200,000 grant from the Shaw Fund towards the purchase price of £500,000. The acquisition includes funding to catalogue and preserve the collection, which is expected to be fully accessible by the end of 2009.

At the heart of the archive are the manuscripts relating to Birthday Letters, Hughes's collection of poems charting and exploring his relationship with his first wife, the poet Sylvia Plath. Birthday Letterswas published in 1998 and attracted widespread critical acclaim, as well as achieving phenomenal sales. The volume sold over 500,000 copies worldwide and Hughes was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Whitbread Book of the Year prize among other accolades. These manuscripts include the variant drafts of published poems, which reveal in fascinating detail the successive stages of the creative process over a period of twenty five years, as well as numerous unpublished poems.

Other highlights include working drafts and pages of detailed thoughts and reflections relating toCapriccio, Hughes's volume of poems about another very important woman in his life, Assia Wevill, drafts and notes for further 'Crow' poems that Hughes was actively working on, as well as other poetical drafts stretching over Hughes's entire creative career.

The collection also includes Hughes's personal diaries which span the decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, recording daily events, accounts of dreams and reflections on his family and his past, alongside fragments of poems and writings on historical and literary figures. Particularly interesting within this series are the fishing journals. In part a conventional record of events, these are interspersed with lengthy reflections inspired by specific locations: Devon (where he lived for many years); Scotland, Alaska and Kenya among many other favourite fishing haunts. Fishing, both as physical pursuit and as metaphor was supremely important in Hughes's life and work.

There is also an extensive correspondence with leading literary figures, including Seamus Heaney, Andrew Motion, Kathleen Raine, Thom Gunn and Tom Paulin. In addition to these high-profile correspondents, the archive documents Hughes's frequent exchanges with academics and translators of his work, highlighting his engagement with the global scholarly community. Far from the public perception of Hughes as an austere and near-reclusive figure, this material reveals how careful he was to reply to requests from readers and scholars alike, assiduously commenting on and elucidating his work.

When he died in October 1998, Ted Hughes was universally acclaimed as a towering figure in 20th-century British poetry and has been described by the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney as "a guardian spirit of the land and language". Hughes had been appointed Poet Laureate in 1984, an honour that he held for 14 years until his death at the age of 68. His involvement with the Arvon Foundation (a charitable organisation established in 1968 to promote creative writing) and his support for environmental issues further raised his profile as a public figure. He was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen in 1998.

A notebook containing early autograph manuscript drafts of Birthday Letters, revealing that Hughes had originally planned for the volume to be entitled 'The Sorrows of the Deer', will be displayed in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library from 15 October 2008.

As noted above, the British Library is marking the 10th anniversary of Ted Hughes's death (28 October) with two special events:

On 15 October, the British Library releases two new Ted Hughes spoken word CDs. The two new double CD collections, Poems and Short Stories and Poetry in the Making, feature rarely heard BBC recordings, dating from 1960 onwards, of Hughes discussing and reading from his work.

On 20 October, leading writers will take part in a special tribute to the poet, Ted Hughes: A Celebration, to be held in the British Library Conference Centre. Guest speakers are Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Michael Morpurgo, Alice Oswald, and Tom Paulin. The event will be introduced by Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who, as Chairman of Faber & Faber, worked closely with Ted Hughes.

Rachel Foss, Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts at the British Library, said "We are thrilled that this wonderful collection will now be preserved in perpetuity in the British Library. This archive will play a crucial role in developing and challenging current critical understanding of the life and work of Ted Hughes, widely regarded as one of the great British literary figures of the 20th century. This archive is an inestimably important addition to the British Library's world-renowned collections of literary manuscripts and represents a resource of major international importance for researchers and scholars."

The poet's widow, Carol Hughes, commented: "I am delighted that this final collection of Ted's papers has been deposited with the British Library. I am confident that this is an ideal home for such an important archive, a place where it can be properly conserved and made available for scholars in a way that will prove an invaluable aid to the understanding of his work. Ted was a man of these islands - their landscapes, rivers and wild places -- and it is fitting that papers covering such an important part of his creative life should be deposited with such a prestigious institution here in Britain."

A spokesperson for The Friends of the British Library, commented: "The Friends of the British Library are delighted to support the acquisition of this important Ted Hughes archive. This will help preserve in this country fascinating material on the poet's persona and creative output for the future generations of scholars and poetry lovers."

Michael Borrie of The Friends of the National Libraries, said: "The Friends of the National Libraries are delighted to help to secure the papers of the foremost British poet of recent times for the nation, and they will be a most distinguished addition to the incomparable literary collections of the British Library"

Notes to Editors:

The British Library's Ted Hughes archive will be fully catalogued and is expected to be accessible to researchers by the end of 2009. For any research enquiries, please contact mss@bl.uk

The archive was purchased for the nation for £500,000. Fundraising for the acquisition was completed earlier in the year, with generous support from the Friends of the National Libraries, and the Friends of the British Library, and a £200,000 grant from the Shaw Fund. Under the terms of his bequest, the British Library receives income from the George Bernard Shaw Estate together with the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and the National Gallery of Ireland. This provides the British Library with an additional source of funding which the British Library Board has agreed should be applied "for the benefit of the readership of the British Library", including for the acquisition of manuscripts and other materials.

The archive consists of manuscripts, notebooks and correspondence remaining in the possession of the poet's Estate, concentrating on the last and most successful years of his life, but also containing significant amounts of material from all stages in his career. The collection contains some 150 standard filing boxes, some 50 manila folders, 23 substantial cardboard boxes and one large folio ledger of manuscripts, published and unpublished, correspondence, diaries, and drafts for collections.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information is available on the Library's website at www.bl.uk.

The British Library is a leading partner in the work of the UK Literary Heritage Group (UKLH), which is working to establish and take forward a national strategy for literary manuscripts and is lobbying for changes in the current tax laws to benefit living authors wanting to deposit their papers with UK libraries.

The Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts (GLAM) was established in 2005 to bring together archivists, librarians, curators, writers, researchers, and anyone else with an interest in the collecting, preservation, use and promotion of literary archives and manuscripts in Britain and Ireland. GLAM is an independent organisation which currently has over eighty members and works closely with UK Literary Heritage.

For any enquiries relating to the Ted Hughes Estate, contact Damon Parker of Harcus Sinclair: +44(0)20 7842 0256 or 07900 498965 or damon.parker@harcus-sinclair.co.uk

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