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Robert M. Wren:

An Inventory of His Africa Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Wren, Robert M., 1928-1989
Title Robert M. Wren Africa Papers
Dates: 1963, 1968-1989
Extent 10 boxes (5 linear feet)
Abstract The papers document Nigerian and other African literature and society. Correspondence, diaries, manuscripts and other materials were created and collected by Professor Wren while living in Africa as a Fulbright scholar and while teaching at the University of Houston.
RLIN record # TXRC97-A22
Language English.
Access

Open for research




Acquisition

Gift, 1991 (#8745)

Provenance

After Robert Wren's death in 1989, Bernth Lindfors, a friend and colleague of Wren's and Professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin, feared that Wren's "African papers" would be lost. He suggested to Wren's sister, Nancy Wren Harris, that she make a gift of the papers to the Harry Ransom Center (HRC). She agreed and transferred the papers to Lindfors in late 1990, who deposited them at the HRC in January 1991.

Processed by

Jane Fleming, Sheryl Fowler, John P. Rees, Michael Swann, 1995; Stephen Mielke, 1997

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin


Robert Meriwether Wren was born February 21, 1928, to Clark Campbell and Mamie (Culpeper) Wren in Washington, DC. He earned his BA at the University of Houston (1954), and his MA (1956) and PhD (1965) at Princeton University. He initially focused his research on Northern European theater, but in 1968 shifted his interests to African literature. Wren held academic appointments as Instructor in English, Douglas College at Rutgers University (1956-1960); Instructor in Drama, State University of New York at Binghamton (1960-1962); Instructor in English, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois (1964-1965); and at the University of Houston as Assistant Professor (1965-1968); Associate Professor (1968-1979); and Professor (1979-1989).

Wren was twice a Senior Fulbright Lecturer in Nigeria. His first appointment from 1973 to 1975, at the University of Lagos, was at the invitation of writer and English Department Chair, J. P. Clark. Wren accepted the appointment after originally seeking to lecture in South Africa, where he was denied a visa as an undesirable person. He spent his second Fulbright fellowship at the University of Ibadan from 1982 to 1983.

At Lagos, Wren taught Shakespeare, American and African literature, and lectured occasionally on Robert Frost (who he met in 1955). Outside of teaching, Wren traveled extensively, produced a play, and directed a Nigerian opera. He wrote fiction, including an unpublished novel, and became interested in the work of the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. His interest in Nigerian writers' adaptation of British English usage and his attempt to understand the cultural context of Achebe's Arrow of God led to his book Achebe's World: The Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe (Three Continents Press: Washington, DC, 1980). While at Lagos, he also developed a working relationship with J. P. Clark, the subject of his second book, J. P. Clark (Bernth Lindfors, ed. Twayne's World Authors Series, G. K. Hall: Boston, 1984). During his stay in Ibadan, Wren conducted interviews and produced extensive notes for his book Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature: 1948-1966 (Three Continents Press: Boston, 1991).

In addition to his books on African literature, Wren published numerous articles on American and African literature, European Renaissance and 17th century theater and religion. He also wrote fiction under the pen name Robert Campbell. Singularities, an anthology of short fiction, was published by Acolyte Press (Amsterdam) in 1989. At the time of his death, he was reportedly working on a manuscript on homosexuality in 18th century England.

Wren had a strong interest in tennis and sponsored several Nigerian tennis players from secondary school through college. He was a member of the International Federation for Theater Research, the Malone Society, African Studies Association (Program Director 1976-1977), Western Association of Africanists (President 1977-1979), and served on the editorial board of the Journal of Homosexuality. In the late 1980s he served on the steering committee of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).

Wren was killed June 11, 1989, when a Scenic Air Tours plane crashed in Hawaii. He was visiting Hawaii prior to taking a Fulbright fellowship in Indonesia.


Correspondence, diaries, creative works, printed materials, photographs, financial records, and one audio tape illustrate Robert Wren's affinity for Nigerian culture and literature. The papers document his stays in Nigeria (1972-1975, 1982-1983) where he conducted research on Nigerian literature and also created works of fiction. The papers also document his involvement in other artistic endeavors, such as playwriting and production, and his activities as a participant in Nigeria's society and culture. Also visible in these materials are Wren's relationships with Nigerian public figures, including authors Amos Tutuola and Chinua Achebe. The papers do not reflect Wren's activities in the United States, and only minimally document Wren's academic career as a professor of English at the University of Houston. The papers are organized into three series: I. Works, 1968-1988 (5 boxes); II. Correspondence, 1967-1989 (4 boxes); and III. Other Writers, 1963-1979 (1 box).

The bulk of the papers consist of diaries, research notes, printed materials, and writings by Wren located in the Works series. These materials include notes from research concerning Nigerian writers (1982) and notecards from interviews (1982-83). These notes formed the basis of Wren's last published book Those Magical Years: The Making of Nigerian Literature, 1948-1966. Wren's study of Nigerian writers and culture is further revealed in collections of newspaper articles and other printed works (1968-1988) such as The Umuahian, edited by Chinua Achebe, and a playbill of The Masquerade, directed by Wren in association with the play's author J. P. Clark in 1974. Also present are articles and fiction and non-fiction works by Wren, as well as materials that he edited. Especially noteworthy is the holograph manuscript, edited by Wren, of Amos Tutuola's The Wild Hunter.

Extensive correspondence, dating from 1967 to 1989, is mostly personal in nature and documents Wren's concern for political events in Nigeria and the United States. Professional and financial materials are also represented in the Correspondence series to a lesser extent. Correspondents include Chinua Achebe, J. P. Clark, and Isador Okpewho. A full list of correspondents appears at the end of this inventory.

The smallest series, Other Writers, contains creative works by others, such as Chinua Achebe and Peter Nwana, with the exception of materials by and concerning Amos Tutuola, which are located in the Works series following Wren's original arrangement.


Subjects

University of Houston. Dept. of English.

University of Ibadan. Dept. of English.

African fiction (English).

Authors, African.

Authors, Nigerian.

Places

Nigeria--Social life and customs.

Document Types

Christmas cards.

Photographs.

Diaries.

First drafts.

Postcards.

Sound recordings.