J.G. Ballard had a secret archive after all


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When asked, author J.G. Ballard told interviewers that he had no papers to be donated. ‘There are no Ballard archives,’ he said plainly in 1982. ‘I never keep letters, reviews, research materials. Every page is a fresh start.’


Now we know that claim wasn’t true. Saturday it was announced that the archive of Ballard -- who died of prostate cancer in April 2009 -- was donated by his daughters to the British Library.

The archive includes manuscripts, rough drafts, magazines that printed his stories, as well as documents from his youth in Shanghai and the internment camp at Lunghua -- experiences that formed the basis for ‘Empire of the Sun.’ A handwritten draft of that novel is included among 15 large boxes of materials that have yet to be cataloged.

Upon Ballard’s death, books editor David Ulin wrote:

The signal text remains ‘The Atrocity Exhibition,’ a book so strange it’s nearly impossible to describe. Collecting 15 ‘stories,’ all of them so compressed and fragmentary as to render traditional concepts of narrative or character moot, it provoked its own kind of violent reaction: After the book was published in 1970, notes the 1990 RE/Search Publications edition, ‘Nelson Doubleday saw a copy and was so horrified he ordered the entire press run shredded.’

Until this weekend, that’s what most thought had happened to Ballard’s copies of his own papers. This collection, The Independent writes, may come as a shock to scholars who had believed Ballard when he said no archival material existed.

In addition to the manuscripts, many of which are heavily edited by hand, the archive includes correspondences. There are letters from other literary figures -- Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and Will Self -- as well as personal letters between his wife and sister. Ballard also kept copies of letters he sent, which the British Library describes as ‘long, full, reflective and revealing letters answer queries, discuss his own work, and offer his views on art and artists, film, the dominant role of the visual, major events and trends, the assassination of Kennedy, politics and politicians, the early Blair years and much more. There are also retained notes on citizenship, modernity, consumerism and other topics.’

The archive is expected to be fully accessible by summer 2011.
-- Carolyn Kellogg


Jerry Bauer / Farrar, Straus and Giroux