Magnuson was Michener Center director from 1994-2017

“Magnuson’s archive will be essential to anyone writing about literature in English during the first two decades of the 21st century.”


The University of Texas Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of James Magnuson, former long-term director of the Michener Center for Writers (MCW).


Magnuson’s papers reflect more than fifty years of his work as a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, including correspondence with and about J. M. Coetzee, Louise Glück, Michael Ondaatje, Joy Williams, Ian McEwan, Z. Z. Packer, Colm Tóibín, Marie Howe, Margot Livesey, and Jim Crace.


Magnuson grew up in rural North Dakota and Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He moved to New York City in the 1960s, where he wrote and produced street theatre in Harlem. Magnuson was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University in the 1970s. His first novel was published when he was thirty-two. By his early forties, he had produced many plays and five novels. In 1985, Magnuson joined the faculty of the University of Texas English Department.


Meanwhile, James Michener, who had an office on the UT campus while he was researching Texas, wanted to create a creative-writing program. And so a unique interdisciplinary MFA in Writing was established which allowed students to pursue work in fiction, playwriting, poetry, and screenwriting, while supported by fellowships from the Michener endowments. Magnuson became the program’s director in 1994. While director, Magnuson published five more novels, including Famous Writers I Have Known, which was reviewed by Lone Star Lit.


According to the Ransom Center, the archive includes Magnuson’s notes, drafts of novels and scripts, both published and unpublished, and correspondence related to his years as director. In addition to his own notes, novels, and plays—and his novels to come—Magnuson’s archives also include his notes, letters, and memorabilia that show him to be a man at the center of a literary network that extended from Austin and his office at the Michener Center to the entire English-speaking world. Just as the Center’s Norman Mailer archive, with its abundance of letters and artifacts, is essential to anyone working on the history of American literature from the 1940s to the 1980s, Magnuson’s archive will be essential to anyone writing about literature in English during the first two decades of the 21st century.


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