Lowry collection a magnet for scholars

Ask Prof. Emeritus Basil Stuart-Stubbs when UBC acquired the first component of its renowned Malcolm Lowry archive, and he'll resolutely tell you that it was on March 1, 1961.

Since then the archive has become the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of the author's books, drafts, manuscripts, personal correspondence and photos.

Stuart-Stubbs, head of UBC's Special Collections Division between 1960 and 1962, recalls the pivotal role played by poet and then UBC Prof. Earle Birney in convincing Lowry's widow, Margerie, to sell her husband's papers to the university.

"Birney was a close friend of Lowry's and very influential in Margerie's decision to have the collection housed at UBC," he says. "At the time of Lowry's death in 1957, it was discovered that his papers were dispersed among different friends and neighbours. Birney helped gather them for return to Margerie who owned the collection and the copyrights. She told Birney that her husband would have wanted the papers to go to UBC."

The collection currently includes more than eight metres of manuscripts, 375 books, including first editions of his modern masterpiece, Under the Volcano, and 750 photos, many depicting Lowry at his beach-side shack in Dollarton on Vancouver's North Shore. Relevant recordings, films, serials and microforms round out the archive.

"Scholars from five continents have come to campus to use the collection," says Brenda Peterson, head of the Special Collections Division and Fine Arts Library.

"Special Collections has the most unique and extensive holdings in the world as a result of efforts to acquire all pertinent Lowry publications and archival materials."

Peterson encourages all interested persons to view the collection. A number of bibliographical tools are available to assist with the thousands of catalogued items.

Many items from the Lowry archive were recently displayed in Main Library to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Under the Volcano and the recent publication of the second volume of Lowry's collected letters, edited by UBC English Prof. Sherrill Grace, under the title Sursum Corda. Latin for "lift up your heart," the phrase was used by Lowry to close his letters.