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Sunday, January 13, 2019


The current home of the Brautigan Library, Vancouver, Washington
Mayonaissse (to be discussed later). 
Author, Poet Richard Brautigan (1935 – 1984) wrote a novella titled “The Abortion” in 1966 in which he described a fictional library in San Francisco whose shelves were filled with unpublished novels and poetry collections.

Brautigan, who is better known for his novel “Trout Fishing in America,” created the unique library, where instead of coming to check books out, people come to the library to submit unpublished works they’ve written, and where the books remain forever.

The library no longer exists only in the late poet’s mind and novella, the library for the unpublished became reality thanks to a pair of loyal readers of Brautigan.

The first reader to create Brautigan’s library was Todd Lockwood, who opened in 19??  a real life library for real unpublished books submitted by their real authors.  He opened it in Burlington, Vermont in 1990.

A sign outside in block letters reads THE BRAUTIGAN LIBRARY, a Very Public Library.  By 1996, the library floundered financially and was forced into a spare room at the Fletcher Free Library, also in Burlington.

By 2006,, the folks at the Fletcher library needed the space and shrink wrapped the collection (now 300 books) and dispatched them to Todd Lockwood’s basement.

The Brautigan Library languished in the basement for about another decade until broadcasters Ira Glass and Sean Cole of PBS Radio went looking for it.

Glass/Cole in episode ??? of this award winning radio series “This American Life” pick up the tale of the Brautigan Library, which by the second decade of the 21st century had moved to the basement of the Clark County Historical Museum 3,000 miles away from Vermont in Vancouver, Washington.

The new “librarian” of the Brautigan collection is John Barber, a local college professor, who was once a student of Brautigan and is the closest person, who can be labeled a Brautigan scholar.

Today, the collection sits under Barber’s purview on two shelves against a wall in the museum’s research library, where they’ve been since 2010

Broadcaster Sean Cole adds, “Instead of using Dewey Decimal, the books are organized according to what they call the Mayonnaise System. It's a Brautigan in-joke. He ended Trout Fishing in America with the word "mayonnaise." And it goes by category. So there's adventure, family, future, humor, love, meaning of life, poetry, natural world, social political cultural, spirituality, street life, war and peace, and my favorite, all the rest.

Life is better with mayonaisse even pomme frites.

Cole continues, “It's funny to think about, but in some ways, The Brautigan Library is more like the library in the novel now than it ever has been. The books are housed in a building that looks more like the Presidio branch. They aren't often read by anyone. And it has one librarian, who actually is available at all hours of the day and night to accept new books, but only digitized ones, PDFs submitted online.

But the more I think about it, it's not about how perfectly or imperfectly Todd or John turned a fictional place into a real one. That's not the point. It's that Richard Brautigan in his novel predicted with perfect accuracy what would happen if you did create a library like this. That being there would give you a feeling like you're walking down the street and noticing that everyone has a book they've made tucked under one arm, a jumbled woolly individual transcription of how the world feels to that person.

It's the feeling of being able to read everyone's mind for a moment and being startled by their unedited thoughts because they're nothing like yours, but they're just as weird. It's like the librarian says in chapter two of the novel, "There just simply had to be a library like this."

So, in fiction and reality, the Brautigan Library provides a sense of closure.  It gives the unpublished comfort in know their life’s work  is in a library for all to read—maybe.  More about the library: click here.

John Barber’s website for the Brautigan Library posted Frequently Asked Questions.

What is The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is a collection of over three hundred manuscripts submitted by everyday writers keen to share their stories for general public reading. These manuscripts represent ideas outside the mainstream; an opportunity for their authors to push their creativity, not be held hostage by the limits of commercial publishing success. The Brautigan Library is not so much about being published, or even about literature. Instead, The Brautigan Library focuses on literacy by giving unpublished writing an opportunity for public reading.

What is the inspiration for The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is inspired by a fictional library described by Washington-born author Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) in his 1971 novel, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Brautigan's fictional library, modeled on the Presido Branch of the San Francisco Public Library System, right down to the zip code, provided an archive for manuscripts outside the interests of the commercial publishing industry. Authors were free to place their manuscripts wherever they liked on the library's shelves and although no one could visit the library, or read the manuscripts collected there, everyone seemed happy that the visions and voices of unpublished writers were preserved.

Richard Brautigan photographed on Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, circa 1960/70s.

What is the history of The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library was first opened in 1990 in Burlington, Vermont, by Todd Lockwood, a Brautigan fan. True to Brautigan's vision, the Library accepted manuscripts from authors keen to tell their stories. Late in 1995, The Fletcher Free Library, also in Burlington, agreed to display the books in the collection. This arrangement ended in 2005 when negotiations were announced with the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, the physical inspiration for Brautigan's fictional library. The negotiations for this move, however, failed to materialize and the Brautigan Library collection was placed in storage until its movement to Vancouver, Washington, in 2010.

What is the present location of The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library is safely stored in hermetically sealed caves in Vancouver, Washington.

Why Vancouver, Washington?
There are several connections between Vancouver, Washington, and Richard Brautigan. First, Richard Brautigan is a Pacific Northwest native. Born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1935, Brautigan lived in Washington and Oregon until he left for San Francisco, California, in 1956. Brautigan's earliest publications were featured in Portland, Oregon, newspapers, just across the Columbia River from Vancouver. His writings frequently refer to hunting and fishing and observing life in the Pacific Northwest as a child. Despite his native son status, no other Washington city honors Brautigan's work, or carries out his vision of a democratic library where anyone might contribute a book which, in turn, anyone might read. Finally, there is community interest and support for The Brautigan Library. This support is in keeping with Vancouver's history as the earliest center for transportation, commerce, and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

How are the manuscripts organized?
Manuscripts in The Brautigan Library are organized according to The Mayonnaise System, a book cataloging system consisting of thirteen categories: Family, Natural World, Spirituality, Love, Humor, Future, Adventure, Street Life, War and Peace, Social/Political/Cultural, Meaning of Life, Poetry, and All the Rest. Manuscripts are cataloged according to category, then year of submission, and then order in which they were received. For example, LOV 1990. 011 indicates the eleventh book submitted in 1990 to the category LOVE.

Who curates The Brautigan Library?
The Brautigan Library's curator and librarian is John F. Barber, faculty member of the Creative Media & Digital Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver. Barber is also the developer and curator of The Brautigan Bibliography and Archive (, an interactive, online resource generally acknowledged as the premier information source for the life and works of Richard Brautigan and the editor of Richard Brautigan: An Annotated Bibliography and Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life.

What are the future plans for The Brautigan Library?
Future plans call for submission of digital manuscripts that will be cataloged, added to the collection, and circulated using contemporary digital technologies. True to Brautigan's vision, The Brautigan Library will accept and share manuscripts from authors keen to tell their stories. Says Barber, "The Brautigan Library is not about being published, or even about literature. It's about people telling their stories in a democratic way. It is a home for grassroots narratives in a digital age."

Are submissions still accepted by The Brautigan Library?
Please consider submitting your unpublished manuscript(s) to The Brautigan Library where they will be shared with interested readers. You retain copyright of your manuscript, or assign Creative Commons licenses. If you publish your manuscript, the digital copy remains in the Library collection. Learn more.

What are some gems of The Brautigan Library?
Truthfully, each manuscript in The Brautigan Library is a gem, representing the unique vision and voice of its author. But, here are some suggestions to help you become more familiar with this writing from the heart.

The McNowski Papers by Donald McNowski of Burlington, Vermont, is a collection of satirical letters from Burlington's premier cultural critic Donald McNowski to the local newspaper, and responses to them from irate citizens. McNowski deals with patriotism, religion, and America's repression of drunk drivers with wit and verve.

Autobiography About a Nobody by Etherley Murray of Pittman, New Jersey, was submitted to forty publishers who, although they liked the story, did not publish manuscripts of nobodies. Murray's autobiography follows her from Depression-era Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she ate onion sandwiches, to postwar New Jersey, where she began "wearing coats that belonged to women who had just departed this life."

Albert E. Helzner, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, contributed sixteen philosophical manuscripts to The Brautigan Library. In 365 Bits of Wisdom to Enrich Your Daily Life, Helzner channels the pithiness of Benjamin Franklin when he writes, "I was once a soft and gentle person. I became hard as nails as a result of living through the reality of life."

Mayonaisse?  Brautigan's in-joke remains his.  He died in 1984 by suicide.

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