The records of McSweeney's document the evolution of a startup quarterly literary
journal into an influential small publishing house that creates several serials
a growing catalog of titles under its many book imprints. The bulk of the archive
comprises mock-ups, dummies, art, and proofs used to produce McSweeney's
publications. The records are organized into four series: Series I. Serials,
2001-2012, undated; Series II. Book Imprints, 1950-2013 (bulk 2002-2013), undated;
Series III. Editorial and Administrative Files, circa 1930s-2013 (bulk 2000-2012),
undated; and Series IV. 826 National, 2002-2008, undated.
The McSweeney's materials lacked an overall physical order or arrangement when they
arrived at the Ransom Center. McSweeney's unique history, including a staff
primarily consisting of volunteers and interns with few permanent paid editors,
working in shifting capacities on multiple projects, precludes arranging the
material strictly by person, function, or department. Therefore, the arrangement
materials was created by the Ransom Center to reflect the publishing house's two
main divisions as represented in this body of material: serial publishing and
publishing. Also represented are general editorial and administrative activities
well as McSweeney's involvement with philanthropic projects, primarily the eight
tutoring and writing centers operating under the umbrella organization 826 National.
McSweeney's also operates a daily humor website, McSweeney's
Internet Tendency, but it is not represented by material in this
As the Ransom Center acquired the McSweeney's records from an ongoing business
operation, there aren't many documents associated with the active business aspect
the publishing house. For example, reports, budgets, business plans, circulation
analyses, contracts, internal memoranda, and legal documents are not present.
addition, there is little correspondence between editors and staff or editors
authors. One exception is the large volume of cover letters that accompanied the
unsolicited manuscripts and art submissions sent to McSweeney's from writers and
artists from around the world. The primary strength of the collection resides
materials that reflect McSweeney's dedication to the craft of bookmaking, love
language, and focus on the concept of "book-as-object."
Series I. Serials represents material associated with six serial publications: The Believer, The Goods,
Grantland Quarterly, Lucky
Peach, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly
Concern, and Wholphin. The series is
arranged first alphabetically by publication title and then chronologically by
within each title. The flagship literary journal, Timothy
McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, and monthly mainstay the Believer are represented with the bulk of the materials
in this series. Files are not present for every magazine or journal issue, and
of the files that do exist aren't comprehensive; therefore, it is not always
possible to follow each issue through the publishing process from submission to
final publication. The bulk of the material in this series includes some original
manuscripts and art, edited and unedited proofs, article fact checks, cover dummies,
and design mockups. Some of the manuscripts include notes by editor Eli Horowitz
some proofs contain layout remarks by founding editor Dave Eggers.
The production files for the monthly arts and culture magazine the Believer, as originally maintained by editor Andi Mudd,
included a colored file folder for each issue with a checklist stapled on the
detailing the title of the piece or column, the author, the editor of the piece,
status of the copy edit (C/E), illustrations and images (IMGS), fact check status
(F/C), and other notes. The original folders were not retained, but the checklist
was removed, sleeved and placed at the front of the new folder. On occasion, a
may have been originally planned for a particular issue but was cut or published
a later date; such material may be filed within either issue. Some documents of
particular interest include Kevin Moffett's annotated copy of Dr. Leonard's catalog
used for his essay published in issue 13, postcards included in issue 41 and mailed
in by readers for the 2006 Believer Book Award Reader's Survey, comedian Janeane
Garofalo's handwritten "Sedaratives" advice as guest columnist in issue 43, and
screenplay Mexico by Werner Herzog considered for,
but ultimately not printed in, the 2012 Film Issue (Number 89).
There is very little material associated with the syndicated weekly children's puzzle
page The Goods. Present are Brian McMullen's drawing
that appeared in issue 9 and the San Francisco
Chronicle page where the drawing was published. The first forty-four
issues of the Goods were compiled into a book
published in October 2013, and the proof for that book is filed in oversize box
McSweeney's was associated with the sports journal Grantland
Quarterly for four issues, and the archive contains cover dummies for
issue numbers 1 and 4.
Lucky Peach, the food journal launched in 2011 and
published by McSweeney's until 2013, is not well-represented in the archive and
contains only partial proofs for issue 1 and the fruit stickers included in issue
Of particular interest is the hand-drawn logotype and cover lettering by Brian
Most issues of the innovative literary journal Timothy
McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, from number 8 through number 42, are
represented to some degree in this series, and materials document the editing,
design, and production of the journal through manuscripts, edited and unedited
proofs, book and cover dummies, color swatches, original art, samples, mockups,
correspondence. Each issue has a completely different design, and many issues
guest-edited by writers and artists such as Michael Chabon, Chris Ware, and Paul
Maliszewski. Original manuscripts from established writers such as Sherman Alexie,
Ann Beattie, Michael Chabon, Roddy Doyle, Harlan Ellison, Denis Johnson, Stephen
King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olmstead, and Susan Straight, as well as emerging
writers including Jessica Anthony, Daphne Beal, Doug Dorst, Adam Levin, and Wells
Tower are filed under the numbered issue in which they appeared. This segment
doesn't include material for the original first seven issues, but it does include
dummies and booklets for the second edition of issue 4 published in 2010.
Unsolicited submission cover letters and some manuscript submissions are filed
boxes 101 through 105 as part of Series IV. Editorial and Administrative Files.
As each issue of the Quarterly Concern has a new
design, each issue represented in the archive contains unique material, but there
are several items of particular interest. There were two goals for issue 10, titled
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales,
guest edited by author Michael Chabon. The first goal was to introduce writers
genre fiction by asking the most popular genre writers to contribute a piece and
non-genre writers to experiment in a new style. The second goal was to raise money
for 826 Valencia tutoring center. Subscribers of the Quarterly Concern received a version printed by McSweeney's early
Icelandic printer, Oddi, and rights for a separately sold edition were sold to
Viking with proceeds going to the tutoring center. Included in the records are
folders of proofs containing author queries and authors' edits from contributors
Chaon, Michael Chabon, Michael Crichton, Harlan Ellison, Karen Joy Fowler, Glen
David Gold, Laurie R. King, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Kelly Link, and Rick
Also of interest are the twenty-minute stories submissions for issue 12 contributed
by authors such as Charles Baxter, Benjamin Cheever, Jennifer Egan, Myla Goldberg,
Jonathan Lethem, David Shields, and Luis Alberto Urrea. A complete list of author
submissions is included in the Index of Authors and Artists at the end of this
Material associated with issue 16 provides a good overview of the publishing process
and includes original manuscripts from Anne Beattie and Adam Levin with editor's
notes, proofs with copy-edits, printing proofs, color swatches, comb samples,
early handmade design mockup.
Determining fact from fiction is sometimes difficult with McSweeney's publications,
as issue 17 (known as the bundle of mail) demonstrated. The
Yeti Researcher journal was so realistic, it wasn't uncommon for people
to believe the bundle of mail had been misdelivered and forward it to the fictitious
Sgt. Maria Vasquez at the given address. Folder 17.8 includes one such journal
a handwritten note attached. Also included in this segment is an unopened issue,
the original look and feel of the issue is preserved. An open issue is accessible
via the serials section of the Ransom Center Library.
Issue 33 was published as a full, multi-section, Sunday-edition-sized newspaper
called the San Francisco Panorama. The paper included
actual sports and comics sections, a magazine, and investigative journalism with
contributions from 218 writers and artists. The archive contains the files on
Bay Bridge and Sarah Palin stories and the numerous fact checks. McSweeney's took
great care in the design of each issue, and thorough research went into making
realistic and legitimate newspaper, as evidenced by the presence of two boxes
sample newspapers and two boxes of newspaper dummies.
Infamous issue 36 in the shape of a man's head demonstrates McSweeney's visionary
design. The archive includes mock-ups of each work included in the issue as well
two dummy boxes, each containing various dummy booklets, postcards, and scrolls.
Series II. Book Imprints contains production material for many of the books published
under McSweeney's eight imprints and is arranged alphabetically by imprint: Believer
Books, Collins Library, McSweeney's Books and McSweeney's Rectangulars, McSweeney's
Insatiables, McSweeney's McMullens, McSweeney's Poetry Series, and Voice of Witness.
Within each imprint, the material is in alphabetical order by author. Material
within author files is in chronological order or in the logical order of production.
For example, filed first are original submissions or manuscripts, then proofs,
followed by materials associated with the design of the book. The majority of
publicity material is filed within Series III. Editorial and Administrative
As with the serials, the bulk of this series comprises edited and unedited proofs,
design mock-ups, dummy covers and books, and some original manuscripts. Beck's
Song Reader, which was published entirely as
vintage sheet music, contains numerous proofs, some with edits written in an
unidentified hand, as well as two yearbooks from Austin High School that Beck
acquired and submitted to McSweeney's as design samples. David Byrne's How Music Works includes an early chapter of Byrne's
manuscript with Eggers's edits, as well as numerous revised proofs. Michael Chabon's
Maps and Legends includes Eggers's original
jacket design sketch. Perhaps the best example of the editorial relationship
established between author and editor is apparent in the multiple drafts and edits
between Eli Horowitz and Millard Kaufman for Kaufman's novel Bowl of Cherries.
William T. Vollmann's seven-volume study of violence, Rising
Up and Rising Down, was one of McSweeney's most ambitious publishing
projects. Though many publishing houses were interested in publishing the 4,000-page
manuscript with additional pages of annotations, footnotes, and illustrations,
were daunted by the logistics of publishing such a work. In winter 2001, Eggers
wrote to Vollmann and offered to publish it. At the time, McSweeney's had limited
staff, and Eli Horowitz was hired, in part, to oversee the complicated process
editing, fact checking, and indexing the massive work. The archive contains
twenty-one boxes of material including a copy of Vollmann's hand-numbered
manuscript, extensive fact checks, drafts with copy-edits and notes from Vollmann,
and Vollmann's hand-picked image files.
Material associated with McSweeney's McMullens, the children's book imprint that
launched in 2011, contains edited and unedited proofs, dummy books and covers,
dust jacket/poster proofs. McSweeney's playful experimentation in book design
evident in the mock-up, proofs, and dummies for Hang Glider
& Mud Mask (Brian McMullen and Jason Jägel, 2012). The original
blow dryer, which served as the inspiration for the heat-sensitive ink design
Jordan Crane's Keep Our Secrets, is housed in the
Ransom Center's Personal Effects collection.
Surviving Justice: American's Wrongfully Convicted and
Exonerated was the first book published under the non-profit oral
history imprint Voice of Witness, and it is the most completely documented work
in this segment. The material includes files for each exoneree profiled in the book
along with binders containing fact checks with supporting court documents and
articles (for preservation purposes, the material was removed from each binder),
interview transcripts, drafts, and proofs of the edited interviews. Audio recordings
of many of the interviews were transferred to the Ransom Center's Sound Recordings
The final section of the book imprints series contains "non-McSweeney's anthologies,"
consisting of foreign editions of McSweeney's books published by Hamish Hamilton
McSweeney's content published by other publishers such as Chronicle Books, Big
Picture Press, Vintage, and Knopf. Also included in this material is a promotional
chapbook of a story written by Wells Tower. Tower quickly wrote the story about
brothers, primarily from the perspective of one brother. Not satisfied with the
original story, he later decided to rewrite the story from the other brother's
perspective. Both versions of the story were published first in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (numbers 23 and 30), and
later in Tower's short story collection Everything Ravaged,
Everything Burned (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009).
As the primary focus of the McSweeney's Records is the editorial and design
processes, business files are present in very small numbers in Series III. Editorial
and Administrative Files. The series is arranged into four subseries: A. Editor
Staff Files, 2002-2012, undated; B. Unsolicited Submissions and Correspondence,
2002-2011; C. Marketing and Publicity, 2000-2013, undated; and D. Art and Design,
circa 1930s-2010 (bulk 2005-2010), undated, and includes correspondence, unsolicited
submissions, and other material associated with the day-to-day operations of
Subseries A. Editor and Staff Files contains material associated with Dave Eggers,
Brent Hoff, Eli Horowitz, Andrew Leland, Brian McMullen, and Chris Ying. Many
McSweeney's editors began as volunteers and/or interns and worked in different
capacities and positions on numerous McSweeney's publications and projects, making
it difficult to assign them a specific job title or to particular publications.
subseries is ordered alphabetically by last name and concludes with a segment
material associated with various staff and interns. Materials related to Dave
include his original drawings for the McSweeney's office at 849 Valencia and an
editor's checklist he wrote with publisher Oscar Villalon. The bulk of material
associated with Brent Hoff, Managing Editor of the film quarterly Wholphin, includes over forty film and cinematography
magazines and journals he collected for reference and research. Eli Horowitz held
many positions at McSweeney's from volunteer carpenter to editor, designer, managing
editor, and publisher; he is also a published author. His file titled "Misc
Documents" contains some notes from his work on Bowl of
Cherries and The Instructions and
includes one of the few contracts in the archive, with Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren
for their book Comedy by the Numbers. Two notebooks kept by Believer editor Andrew Leland are perhaps the most personal items in
the archive. The notebooks begin in the summer of 2003 and contain daily "to-do"
lists, editorial checklists, and other jottings giving a brief glimpse into the
creative, interesting, and mundane aspects of being an editor. Designer and editor
Brian McMullen also filled multiple roles at McSweeney's, including artistic
director and founding editor and namesake of the children's imprint McSweeney's
McMullens. Two items of significant interest are the literary journal Dancing
which McMullen submitted to McSweeney's as an application, and his original sketch
of the McSweeney's McMullens logotype. Editor Chris Ying worked on several projects,
including Voice of Witness publications, and co-founded and co-edits with David
Chang (founder/owner of Momofuku group) the food journal Lucky Peach. One file includes his notes and sketches.
Subseries B. Unsolicited Submissions and Correspondence is composed of editor's
correspondence, fan mail, general letters to McSweeney's, selected subscription
cards (including one completed by David Foster Wallace), contest submissions,
cover letters that accompanied the many unsolicited book, short story, and
non-fiction manuscripts, as well as poems, comics, and illustrations sent to the
editors of McSweeney's. The editorial correspondence is in alphabetical order
last name and is mostly a small sample of incoming correspondence. Andrew Leland's
correspondence file includes an outgoing package (appears to be unsent) containing
letter to one of Leland's former Oberlin College professors and three issues of
Believer (August 2003, December 2003/January 2004, May 2004). A photocopy of each
cover and table of contents is filed with the letter in box 100.3, and the original
issues were transferred to the serials section of the Ransom Center Library.
McSweeney's original chronological order of short story submissions from 2005
2010 is maintained. Selected correspondence is listed in the Index of Correspondents
at the end of the finding aid. Submission letters are not indexed.
Subseries C. Marketing and Publicity contains promotional material, McSweeney's
catalogs, posters for McSweeney's events, book reviews, and press about McSweeney's,
as well as printed material, such as subscription cards and rejection cards. The
series is in alphabetical order by subject. Some items of particular interest
include the Dzamamamamazd card game designed by Marcel Dzama and given as a gift
re-subscribers and the Animal Man #1 comic book,
which pays homage to the style and format of the Believer interviews.
Subseries D. Art and Design includes drawings and art used for merchandise and for
general, unrealized, or unidentified projects. Included in this series are more
forty self-portraits drawn by actors, artists, filmmakers, and writers from Jonathan
Ames to Sarah Silverman. McSweeney's planned to publish a book of self-portraits
many of these portraits were published in McSweeney's
Quarterly Concern issue 34. This subseries also contains unidentified
and/or unused color swatches, dummy books, covers, and mockups. Cards, photographs,
and printed material that were loose and not identified are arranged in a
"Reference" file, with the presumption that these items were collected as samples
for inspiration or other use, but a relationship to a specific McSweeney's
publication or project isn’t apparent.
Series IV. 826 National contains material associated with the eight 826 writing and
tutoring center chapters located in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington
D.C., Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Though each chapter is
independently founded and managed, the umbrella organization 826 National provides
support, leadership, and other resources to ensure the success of each chapter.
McSweeney's staff and volunteers often work on projects that support the centers,
including publishing books with all proceeds benefiting the organization, as well
offering design and editorial assistance with 826 publications. Included in the
archive are postcards depicting Chris Ware's mural illustrating the development
the human race and its need for different modes of communication that adorns the
exterior of 826 Valencia. Also included are assorted flyers and proofs.
Some documents in the McSweeney's records contain personal information and are
redacted or restricted to protect an individual's privacy. Examples are Social
Security and account numbers and personal records. The originals were removed
replaced with redacted photocopies, which have an identifying statement at the
Sticky notes were used frequently for editing purposes and affixed to numerous
documents. For preservation purposes, pages bearing sticky notes were photocopied
order to preserve the document's original layout. Depending on the nature of the
note, the sticky notes were removed but retained either in a plastic or paper
or placed on the photocopy.
Selected correspondence from throughout the collection is listed in the Index of
Correspondents at the end of the finding aid. In general, fan mail and unsolicited
submission cover letters are not indexed.
The Index of Writers and Artists with Original Works located at the end of the
finding aid contains a list of original or transcribed manuscripts, some
unsolicited, that were submitted to McSweeney's for publication or
Descriptive terms used in the finding aid:
Advance proof- A form of book privately released
by the publisher before the book is printed for mass distribution, so errors
be caught before further printing. It is often sent to reviewers, distributors,
book stores, etc. It generally lacks the final jacket design.
Bound proof- In this collection, this term is used
for a bound set of 8.5x11 proofs.
Chapbook- Historically, it is a small book or
pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts. The term is
still used today to refer to short, inexpensive booklets.
Copy edits- Edits that improve the formatting,
style, and accuracy of text by correcting errors in spelling, grammar, and
Cover dummy- A book cover made of the material
used in actual production and shaped to the final form of the printed product,
whereby its physical qualities can be previewed.
Dummy book- Unprinted or partially printed samples
of a projected publication and made of the material used in actual production
suggest the appearance of the completed work. Most of the dummy books in
McSweeney's are white, blank books or other layouts, such as boxes or
Jacket proof- Proof, usually printed on paper, of
Manuscript- Typed or computer printout of a work
written by an author; may be a photocopy.
Partial Proofs- Incomplete samples or a particular
segment of copy, art, and layout produced at various stages in the production
the regular edition, in order to correct, add to, or check the development of
Proofs- Samples of copy, art, and/or layout
produced at various stages in the production of the regular edition, in order
correct, add to, or check the development of a work. For McSweeney's, this
includes computer printouts of the text layout used for copy-editing, color
printers proofs used for color correction and layout, and page proofs.
Unbound signature proofs- or gatherings, are a
group or section of sheets, folded in the middle, and bound together with other
gatherings into the binding.