The Harry Ransom Center’s Guy Davenport collection opens to the public this month. The papers cover sixty years of his career as a writer, scholar, and painter; they include journals, artwork, and manuscript pages. But much of the collection is given over to correspondence. From his home in Kentucky, Davenport traded letters with some twenty-three hundred people, many among the brightest minds of their day: John Updike, Eudora Welty, Marianne Moore, Louis Zukofsky, Cormac McCarthy, Hugh Kenner, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, Ezra Pound, and more, their exchanges sometimes spanning decades.
To celebrate the collection, the Ransom Center has shared the three letters below with us—one from the writer and designer Roy Behrens, whose stationery is appropriately a work of art, and the other two from Davenport himself. To explore the collection more, use the Ransom Center’s finding aid and schedule a visit.
TO THE DRIVERS OF LEXINGTON:
All of you, without exception, gape-mouthed teenagers who squawl your tires around the clock with no policeman to say you nay, ministers of God who take time off from sliding around in your Mercedes-Benzes to set me an example of charity, blue-haired ladies who never in your life have seen a stop sign, politicians too terrified of losing a vote to do anything about traffic which defines anarchy and illustrates idiocy, speeders, light-jumpers, drunks, dope-addicts, and the entire moronic, arrogant, shiftless lot of you: you have killed some 900 of yourselves this year in Kentucky, and maimed another 2000 for life, and this afternoon you killed my cat—not, I’m certain, on purpose, for with yourselves to kill, and children, and bigger game than cats, I do not suppose you could focus your feeble wits enough to do anything so concentrated as a deliberate act. You killed my cat out of the same sloth and God-forsaken laziness and pride by which you use the city streets for a race track and a parade ground to show off all that you have of significance on this earth, your expensive, poisonous, noisy, bullying, fast, lethal automobiles. I have taken this ad to express openly my utter contempt for the lot of you, and for the politicians who pretend to govern our city and who still let you have your selfish and degraded pleasure behind the wheel.
Guy Davenport is no longer able to supply his hundreds of correspondents with blurbs, letters of recommendation, literary advice, invitations to visit, interviews, loans, or help with writing. He will continue as long as he can to correspond with friends but not with elbow-swingers, snoops, sneaks, and the personality-challenged.
He has given up writing. This is not a sharper turn into misanthropy and grouchiness, but illness and a longing for rest. He has been obliging for over 65 years. Write your own prefaces and introductions, even your own reviews (Whitman did, and Anthony Burgess). He apologizes (almost sincerely) for the inconveniences this shutting down of services may cause.
with absolute finality
[signed] Guy Davenport