Center for Library Partnerships

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

From Pen to Print: The Handwriting Behind the Book

Boston Public Library, 2011-2012

Image of From Pen to Print: The Handwriting Behind the Book flyer

“From Pen to Print: The Handwriting Behind the Book” was an exhibition that featured handwritten letters, notes, postcards, and manuscripts that reveal personal, private, and otherwise veiled aspects of the production of books. Putting authors’ manuscript materials on display alongside their print books, the exhibition revealed the passions, obsessions, lofty dreams, and gritty realizations triggered by the writing and publishing process. 

These materials captured the relationships between19th- and 20th-century American authors, editors, and readers—the dynamics that exist “behind the book.” Featured authors include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Cary, Rufus Griswold, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau, Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké, and Robert Frost. These writers’ correspondence and notes, paired with rare editions of the books discussed therein, brought many fascinating facets of composition and publishing to light, notably the working relationships between authors and their editors and the interactions between authors and their readers. The exhibition also offered such curiosities as digitally enlarged signatures, a cross-hatched letter, book illustrations, and author portraits.

This exhibition was the result of an innovative ongoing partnership between UMass Boston's English MA Program and the Boston Public Library. UMass Boston students take a course in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room, engaging in hands-on research that generates a student-curated exhibition. This exhibition presented the results of a seminar that focused on the scholarly transcription and annotating of handwritten texts.