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UConn Joins Penn to Publish Theodore Dreiser's Works
(Released: 04/20/01)

By Sherry Fisher, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- For the past 17 years, The Pennsylvania Dreiser Edition, a scholarly edition of the writings of American novelist Theodore Dreiser, has been sponsored solely by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Now, the University of Connecticut will work in collaboration with Penn to produce the internationally recognized edition, which so far has 14 volumes.

Comparable to the Thoreau Edition at Princeton University and the Mark Twain Edition at the University of California-Berkeley, the joint publication will be called the Pennsylvania-Connecticut Dreiser Edition. Thomas P. Riggio of MANCHESTER, a UConn English professor who has been the edition's general editor since 1986, is instrumental in the venture. The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, the office of the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the UConn Research Foundation, and the Department of English are UConn's project sponsors.

"Theodore Dreiser is a major figure in the American literary canon," says John Abbott, professor and head of the English department at UConn. "The agreement joining the University of Connecticut with The University of Pennsylvania Press in publishing future scholarly editions of Dreiser's work is a major literary coup."

The University of Pennsylvania, the trustee of the Dreiser Estate, owns the literary rights to all Dreiser's manuscripts, including his books, unpublished writings, letters and diaries, and personal holdings. Most of these, in some 700 boxes, are housed in the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Riggio, an Americanist and Dreiser expert, will continue to be general editor of the edition. He says four volumes will be published during the next five years, the smallest of which will be 500 pages and the largest more than 1,000. As general editor, Riggio chooses editors for each volume, helps locate manuscripts, negotiates contracts, handles funding for the program, and checks all work.

Over the years, Riggio has personally edited five volumes: The American Diaries, 1902-45; The Theodore Dreiser-H.L. Mencken Correspondence, 1907-1945 (two volumes); Dearest Wilding: A Memoir (with Yvette Eastman); and The Russian Diary.

"Dreiser kept everything," Riggio says, "even his laundry lists." Most of the diary entries for The American Diaries, for example, were written on small sheets of paper, he says. "Occasionally, you'd get something written on a menu. He threw away nothing."

Dreiser, born in 1871, battled throughout his career against censorship. "What makes this edition unique is that Dreiser wrote at a time when censorship in publishing resulted in his issuing truncated versions of most of his books," says Riggio. "For example, in 1912, he published The Traveler at 40, a book about his travels in Europe. When it was published, it had 52 chapters. I now have a professor at the University of Mainz in Germany working on a new volume that has 104 chapters." The book will be published as Dreiser originally wrote it, along with historical and textual notes for the modern reader.

Riggio is now working on two volumes of New Dreiser Letters. Dreiser wrote about 20,000 letters, of which only 1,200 have been published. The volumes will include more than 1,000 previously unknown letters Dreiser wrote to famous figures, lady friends, publishers and others. The volumes will be fully annotated.

Riggio loves the work. "There is nothing more exciting than seeing original letters in my hands and reading the stuff," he says. "It's the greatest kick in the world."

He encourages other faculty to become involved in editing and archival work. For instance, UConn associate professor of English Clare Eby is editing an edition of Dreiser's The Genius. It is not, however, the book published in 1915, but "a very different version of the novel, with a different emphasis," Riggio says, "one that was written in 1911 and has never before been available to readers."

Thomas P. Wilsted, director of the Dodd Center, and Michael Ryan, director of special collections at the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library, will administer the Pennsylvania-Connecticut Dreiser Edition Fund, which will be used to help meet production costs.

Riggio says the project provides many opportunities for students and faculty, as well as for the Dodd Center, the library and the English department to collaborate. He foresees graduate students in the English department becoming involved in the Dodd Center's program to train students in editing and archival work. He also hopes the project encourages faculty members who have access to archival documents to consider the Dodd Center as a resource for housing and editing their materials.

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