June 19, 2012
Joseph Heller’s typewriter and desk on display at university library
by Nick Davies
For fans of novelist Joseph Heller, a library at the University of South Carolina’s campus at Columbia is the place to go for Heller’s work and memorabilia. According to an Associated Press article (available here through the Washington Post), library officials stated that the university’s library hosts one of the largest collections of Heller’s papers and manuscripts, and now, they’ve set up an exhibit where people can see his desk and typewriter, on which he wrote his first and best-known novel, Catch-22.
Heller’s belongings aren’t just on display; students and library visitors can actually sit in his chair and test out his typewriter, a portable Smith-Corona with dark green keys. Elizabeth Sudden, director of the Irving Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Ernest F. Hollings Library (where the exhibit is located) said, “We acquired this with the expectation that students would type on the typewriter and experience sitting at his desk,” and students who have grown up without ever using a typewriter have found the sensation unusual, noting that they have to hold their hands differently than they would with on a computer keyboard. But even Heller apparently didn’t find the typing on the Smith-Corona easy. He wrote in his autobiography Then and Now that he specifically ordered a “writer’s keyboard” to make typing easier, with punctuation marks in lower and upper case, but reported that “it made no difference.”
A USC English professor, the late Dr. Matthew Bruccoli, led the charge to acquire Heller manuscripts and artifacts, and donated books from his personal collection as well. It was under Bruccoli that the typewriter was acquired by the university in 2003, while Heller’s widow Valerie donated the desk and a lamp this past year. The exhibit will remain open through late December of this year.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.