Right now in Lutnick Library’s Rebecca & Rick White Gallery, the stunning result of alumni-student collaboration is on display until July 16. A pristine exhibit of original first-edition books and letters from poets William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, curated by Charlotte Scott ’21 from the collection of Alan Klein ’81, illustrates the literary outcome of an especially complicated era in American life.
Klein’s collection consists of Stevens and Wallace’s work, as well as the work of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney.
“I began seriously collecting these books almost 25 years ago when I happened to come across a rare book store in London one afternoon, which had a window filled with Seamus Heaney signed first-editions,” said Klein. “On an impulse, I bought some of the books in that window and that started me down a path, step by step, of building a collection of his work and that of Yeats and of two of my favorite American poets, Stevens and Williams.”
Having come from the private collection of a Haverford alumnus as opposed to Haverford’s own collection, Writing the Modern World: Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Science and Technology in the United Statesis unique among campus exhibitions.
“The exhibit is a great opportunity for the Haverford community to engage with materials they otherwise wouldn’t have access to,” said Sarah Horowitz, curator of rare books and manuscripts and head of Quaker and Special Collections. Additionally modernist literature and the early 20th century represented a topic and time that had not been covered in campus exhibitions recently.
Williams and Stevens lived in a time of crisis and change in which technology and science were changing conceptions of reality. The works they crafted responded to this change and marked a moment of new American poetry in which science and technology became a common theme. In her curation, Scott decided to hone in on the dual-presence of literature and science present in the poems.
“It was an exciting accomplishment for me to complete a very interdisciplinary project at the crossroads of literature and science,” she said. “I hope to continue this sort of work in the future, exploring where fields like psychology, physics, and even mathematics intersect with comparative literature.”
“I think it’s really easy for us to think of literature and science existing in separate spheres, and how those fields can be brought together is a really exciting aspect of what the exhibit discusses,” said Horowitz. “I hope that everyone who visits continues to think about the ways in which science and poetry might engage with each other.”
Students living on campus, as well as faculty and staff with campus access, may visit the exhibit in person in the White Gallery. For those off-campus, library staff have made a virtual version that they can visit from home.
Scott, a psychology and comparative literature double major, began her curatorial process by studying a catalog of Klein’s collection and researching the poetry and its time period. This process piqued her interest in science as a potential theme, but ultimately she decided to focus on technology. Scott began to group and narrow down the list of items she wanted to include.
“It wasn’t as simple as just picking my favorite items,” she said. “I was trying to give my future audience a sense of how varied and exciting Alan’s collection truly was, while also speaking to my themes of interest and providing a coherent narrative.”
“Charlotte was an ideal curator. She took the material in my collection and brought a fresh perspective to it,” said Klein.
Along the way, she received feedback from Klein, Horowitz, and Research and Instruction Librarian Semyon Khokhlov.
“We discussed ideas, provided feedback on writing, and talked about how the exhibit might be structured,” said Horowitz. “I provided advice on writing specifically for exhibits, how to think about layout in the gallery, and selecting materials.”
“The experience of working with her and [Librarian of the College] Terry Snyder, Sarah Horowitz, and Semyon Khokhlov was really a terrific collaboration,” said Klein. “The support, encouragement and guidance they provided Charlotte was a model of how to let a student find their path into a subject.”
“Alan did a great job of sharing some really foundational information with me about these poets and their relationship,” Scott said. “He has this amazing store of knowledge which really came across during our meetings, and it’s obvious from hearing him speak how much he loves these poets and his collection.”
One thing Scott found particularly difficult about her curatorial duties? Keeping the written collateral brief. On Horowitz’s advice, she wanted to keep the exhibit labels to under 50 words, including item descriptions and information on context and points of interest.
“It was surprisingly difficult to strike a balance in that process, because I wanted people to appreciate these objects in the way I did,” she said.
But she learned more than just how to edit down word counts. Scott not only broadened her knowledge of modernist poets, but also her skills as an independent researcher–skills that will come in handy for her impending senior thesis. Her passion for the project was fed by elements of surprise and revelation about the poets of the time period.
“In terms of working with the material, my biggest surprise was exactly how interconnected the community of American modernists really was,” she said. “Even just researching Stevens and Williams, I got a sense for all of the conversations, debates, and even gossip that was going on between poets and artists at the time.”
“The exhibit is remarkably successful,” said Klein. “I think it really enables someone to better understand an important element of the development of American modernism in literature and the arts, which is the effect on writers and artists of the immense amount of technological change in the first third of the 20th century, as well as the revolutionary developments taking place at the time in the scientific understanding of the world.”
Events related to the exhibit will continue throughout the spring. On May 1 at 2 p.m., there will be a scholarly panel on poetry and science with Reed College’s Kenan Professor of English and Humanities Lisa Steinman, Penn State’s Professor and Head of English Mark Morrisson, Queen Mary University of London’s Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature Kitt Price, and Haverford College Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dan Grin, who fact-checked Scott’s writing about physics for the exhibit. Then at 4 p.m. there will be a poetry reading and conversations with poets Terrance Hayes, Jennifer Soong, and Alex Dimitrov, moderated by Haverford College Associate Professor of English Lindsay Reckson.