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Stephen Harrigan

A Guide to the Stephen Harrigan Papers, 1971-2000, n.d.

Collection 012

17.5 linear feet

35 boxes plus oversize


Acquisition: Donation since 1987. Donors: Stephen Harrigan, Bill Wittliff.

Note: Additional Stephen Harrigan archives have been received since this on-line inventory was compiled. Contact the archivist for the latest information on our holdings.

Click here for complete inventory

Access:  Direct inquiries to Archivist, Writers Collection, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, 78666-4604.

Processed by: Jennifer B. Patterson, May 1994, Amanda Oates, 2000, Inventory Revised 2005.


Biographical Sketch

Stephen Harrigan was born on October 5, 1948, and grew up in Oklahoma City, Abilene and Corpus Christi. After receiving a degree in English from The University of Texas at Austin in 1971, Harrigan briefly attended graduate school and worked as a yardman and as an ad writer for the University Co-op. He contributed articles to a number of magazines, including Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and The Texas Observer. He became a regular writer for Texas Monthly shortly after its inception and co-founded and edited Lucille, a journal of poetry, which published 10 issues between 1974 and 1978.

Harrigan received a Dobie-Paisano fellowship in 1977, which allowed him to complete his first novel. Aransas, published by Knopf in 1980, tells the story of Jeff Dowling, an alienated young man who comes to terms with himself and the world as he trains two dolphins for a circus in Port Aransas, Texas. The New York Times named the novel one of the notable books of 1980, and reviewers praised its realism and style. His second novel, Jacob's Well, also focused on man's relationship with nature, following the lives of three people who are drawn together to explore an artesian well in Central Texas. The book was named one of the best books of 1984 by The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News.

Harrigan's recent books, until the publication in 2000 of Gates of the Alamo, have been nonfiction. As a freelance writer and later staff writer and editor for Texas Monthly, Harrigan displayed a talent for journalism, contributing interviews and other investigative pieces, but he also focused on the natural environment, writing about rivers, Big Bend, Padre Island and other Texas landmarks. Many of these essays were collected in Harrigan's third book, A Natural State: Essays on Texas (1988), which was recently republished by the University of Texas Press.  His 1992 book Water and Light: A Diver's Journey to a Coral Reef combined research on aquatic life with his own experiences scuba diving off a coral reef in the Caribbean. The New York Times Book Review called Water and Light "moving, intelligent ... literary," and praised Harrigan's "remarkable ability to discuss the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of underwater exploration." Harrigan has also published a book of poetry and written screenplays, one of which, The Last of His Tribe, was broadcast on HBO.

Harrigan's works are characterized by an intense interest in humans and their relationship to the environment around them. He once wrote of his interest in natural subjects: "I don't know what nature is exactly--whether it is a category that includes human beings or shuts them out--but for me it has always contained that hint of eeriness, the sense that some vital information--common knowledge to all the universe--has been specifically withheld from me. Sometimes, as with the snake, this secrecy has seemed malevolent, but far more often it has been wonderfully tantalizing. For much of my life I have been obsessed with nature, but not in the way a naturalist would be obsessed with it--driven to classify, to define relationships, to comprehend the world's marvelous intricacy. I have simply wanted to feel more fully a part of that intricacy, to see something other than neutral scorn in the eyes of that half-imagined snake." (Introduction to A Natural State, UT Press, 1994)

Harrigan lives in Austin.


Scope and Content Note

The collection is composed of 21 boxes of manuscripts, galley proofs, notes, clippings, correspondence, artwork, financial and legal papers, screenplays, photographs and artifacts, 1971 to the present that document Stephen Harrigan's writing career. It has been arranged into six series: Works (1971-2000, n.d.), Correspondence (1976-1991, n.d.), Personal Materials (n.d.), Works by Other Authors, (1971, 1982, 1992-1993, n.d.), Texas Institute of Letters (1982-1983, 1985-1986), and Clippings (1971-1983).

The Works series comprises the largest part of the Harrigan collection. It thoroughly documents Harrigan's methodical writing process. Most of the books and articles can be traced from the earliest notes taken by Harrigan to a proof copy or published work. The other series relate generally to his writing career. The materials are arranged in chronological order. Largely absent from the collection are personal papers or correspondence.

Books in the Stephen Harrigan Collection have been cataloged separately. See the Jan Reid Collection for correspondence with Harrigan. See also accession nos. 88-052 for photographs of Harrigan by Bill Wittliff, 89-012 for an interview with Harrigan, among others, for the 90th anniversary of TIL, 90-061 for a note by Harrigan tipped into a copy of Raven's Bride, 92-061 for a teleplay by Harrigan for the TV series “Ned Blessing”, 92-073 and 92-093 for clippings about Harrigan by Susan Hanson, and 93-108 for an interview with Harrigan and others by Michael Hall.


Series Descriptions
Series 1: Works, 1971-2000, n.d.
Boxes 1-16, 18-31

This series surveys Harrigan's creative works from his work as ad writer at the University Co-op to the publication of his most recent book, Water and Light. It includes manuscript drafts, notes, notebooks, galley proofs, correspondence, magazines, clippings, financial and legal papers, screenplays, photographs and artifacts. In some cases Harrigan added notes and inscriptions describing the materials and providing background information.  This series is further divided into six subseries: Early Works, Books, Screenplays, Songs, Contributions to Texas Monthly, and General Works. 

The first subseries, Early Works, contains notes, clippings, manuscripts, correspondence, artwork, financial papers and forms documenting Harrigan's writing before the publication of his first book. It contains clippings of the ads Harrigan wrote for the University Co-op and materials from Lucille, the journal of poetry that he helped found and edit. Both are introduced by notes written by Harrigan in 1988 giving additional information and background about his job at the Co-op and his association with Lucille. The Co-op clippings are arranged chronologically, and the Lucille files have been grouped by type of material, having lost their original order. Of particular interest in the Lucille files are the three folders of submissions of aspiring poets, some of whom have gone on to literary success, such as Naomi Shihab (Nye), R.S. Gwynn and Vassar Miller.

The second subseries, entitled Books, contains research notes, background materials, legal papers, handwritten and typed manuscripts, galley proofs, correspondence, reviews and artwork for four of Harrigan's published books. There are multiple drafts of each book, and the handwritten notes and early drafts of Aransas, Jacob's Well, Water and Light and Gates of the Alamo provide an overview of Harrigan's writing process. His attention to detail and in-depth organization are demonstrated in his research for Water and Light, which includes two boxes of index cards with notes about the sea and the history of diving as well as his personal notes from his trip to Grand Turk Island. The materials are arranged alphabetically by book.

Screenplays, the third subseries, contains research notes and multiple drafts of Harrigan's screenplay ISHI, which was filmed for HBO in 1992 as The Last of His Tribe. Many of these drafts were maintained in notebooks (which are stored in the Artifact cases at the end of the collection) and materials found in the pockets of these notebooks have been placed at the back of each folder. The drafts are arranged chronologically, from the earliest draft to the final production script and shooting notes. Also found in the subseries is the script “Moonwalker,” co-written by Harrigan and Lawrence Wright.

The fourth subseries, Songs, contains various typed and handwritten drafts of a song written by Harrigan entitled “The Old Three.”

The fifth subseries, Contributions to Texas Monthly, contains research materials and notes, manuscript drafts, galley proofs, correspondence, photographs, artwork, and published articles written by Harrigan for Texas Monthly magazine. Harrigan's talent as a journalist is well documented here, showing the broad range of his interests, from an interview with Governor Bill Clements to research on the sculptor Pompio Coppini to essays on the natural wonders of Texas. Some of these articles were later published in Harrigan's third book, A Natural State: Essays on Texas. Also included are a number of complete issues of Texas Monthly in which Harrigan's articles appeared.   

Within the final subseries are general materials relating to Harrigan's writing career. It includes multiple handwritten and typed drafts on broadcasting, a typed essay on the exploration of Texas, an application for the NASA "Journalist in Space" program, a press release, and a clipping about the author. Also included are handwritten notebooks of Harrigan’s poetry and prose.


Series 2: Correspondence, 1976-1991, n.d.
Box 16
Within this series is correspondence relating to Harrigan's writing. The letters range from requests for articles from magazines and journals to letters of interest from agents and publishers, "Letters to the Editor" forwarded to Harrigan from Texas Monthly, letters from other writers and friends, fan mail, and correspondence from organizations like the Texas Institute of Letters, of which Harrigan is a former president. The series is arranged chronologically except for one folder of short notes from Lee Goerner, Harrigan's editor at Knopf. Other correspondents of note include John A. Sterling, Wallace Stegner, A.C. Greene, Elmer Kelton and Gunnar M. Hansen.

Series 3: Personal Materials, n.d.
Boxes 16, 33
Within this series are a few materials relating to Harrigan's personal life. Of particular interest are swimming fins and underwater slate, still imprinted with faint notes from a scuba diving trip.


Series 4: Works By Others, 1971, 1982, 1992-1993, n.d.
Boxes 16-17, 31-32
This series contains the typescripts of one screenplay and two books by writers other than Harrigan. Arrangement is alphabetical by author.


Series 5: Texas Institute of Letters , 1982-1983, 1985-1986
Box 32
This series contains material from Harrigan’s years as an active member of the Texas Institute of letters.  The documents include meeting minutes, financial statements, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and programs from Institute events.


Series 6: Clippings, 1971-1983

Boxes 32, 34-35

This series includes photocopies of newspaper clippings about Harrigan and his work saved by the author and original clippings of his ads for the University Co-op.  His Co-op ads have been preservation photocopied and reside in Series I.