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University of Texas at Austin

Wilson Harris:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Harris, Wilson, 1921-2018
Title: Wilson Harris Collection
Dates: 1960-1997
Extent: 11 document boxes, 1 oversize box (4.62 linear feet)
Abstract: The Wilson Harris collection includes handwritten manuscripts, typescripts, page proofs, and reviews for several of his books, as well as correspondence.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-01848
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases, 1970-1998 (R4815, R6832, R12422, R12443, R13879, R14351); Gifts, 1992, 2004 (G9585, G12410)
Processed by: Katherine Mosley, 2007

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

(Theodore) Wilson Harris was born on March 24, 1921, in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), the son of Theodore Wilson and Millicent Josephine Glasford Harris. His mixed ancestry included Amerindian, African, and European. When his father died in 1923, Harris and his mother moved to Georgetown, where his mother remarried. In 1929, his stepfather disappeared in the Guyana rain forests and was presumed drowned. Harris, his mother, and his half-sister then moved in with his beloved grandfather, who died in 1937. Harris attended Queen’s College, also in Georgetown, from 1934 until 1938. He worked as a government surveyor from 1942 until 1958 and as part of that work led surveying expeditions from the coastlands into the country’s interior.
Harris married Cecily Carew in 1945; the marriage ended in divorce. Harris emigrated to England in 1959, and he met and married Scottish writer Margaret Burns that same year. Since then, he has been a full-time writer, with occasional employment lecturing and teaching creative writing classes at various universities in the United States and other countries. Harris and his wife lived in the Holland Park area of London, England, until 1985, when they moved to the Essex countryside.
Harris’s personal experiences with the complex Guyanese landscape and multi-racial culture influenced his writing. His novels, known for their abstract and experimental nature, are full of metaphors and complex symbolism, with an intermingling of time, reality, imagination, memory, and dreams; they have been called “psychical expeditions.” Harris’s early works were collections of poetry: Fetish (1951, under the pseudonym Kona Waruk), The Well and the Land (1952), and Eternity to a Season (1954). "The Sun: Fourteen Poems in a Cycle" was published along with prose sketches in the journal Kyk-over-al in 1955. In 1960, Faber and Faber published Harris’s first novel, Palace of the Peacock, which used the geography of Guyana as a metaphor for the landscape of the mind. It was followed by three more novels (The Far Journey of Oudin, 1961; The Whole Armour, 1962; and The Secret Ladder, 1963), making up what Harris calls his "Guyana Quartet." Heartland, which includes characters from Palace of the Peacock, was published in 1964. Harris is also known for his Carnival trilogy, consisting of Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990). Harris’s concern with cross-cultural parallels is evidenced by Black Marsden: A Tabula Rasa Comedy (1972), which is set in Edinburgh, and its sequel, Companions of the Day and Night (1975), set in Mexico. The Age of the Rainmakers (1971) and The Sleepers of Roraima (1970) are reinterpretations of Amerindian myths. Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993) is set in a mental institution with patients representing the world’s greatest cultures. In Jonestown (1996), the 1978 Jonestown Massacre is interwoven with the fall of the Mayan culture. In addition to his novels, short stories, and poetry, Harris also published essays on colonialism and post-colonialism, as well as studies in literary criticism, such as Tradition, the Writer and Society: Critical Essays (1967) and The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination (1983).
Harris won the Guyana National Prize for Literature in 1987 and 2002, was created a Knight Bachelor of the United Kingdom in 2010, and won a Lifetime Achievement Prize from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards in 2014. He died on March 8, 2018 in Chelmsford, England.


British Council Contemporary Writers in the UK website, (accessed 16 April 2007).
Contemporary Authors Online, (accessed 23 March 2007)
Contemporary Literary Criticism, (accessed 23 March 2007).
Durix, Jean-Pierre. “Wilson Harris,” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 117: Twentieth Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, First Series. Detroit: Gale Group, 1992.
Maes-Jelinek, Hena. "Dream, Psyche, Genesis: The Works of Wilson Harris," (accessed 4 April 2007).
Maes-Jelinek, Hena, editor. Wilson Harris: The Uncompromising Imagination. Sydney, N.S.W.: Dangaroo Press, 1991.

Scope and Contents

The Wilson Harris collection includes handwritten manuscripts, typescripts, page proofs, and reviews for several of his books, as well as correspondence, primarily letters written by Harris to Michael Thorpe. The collection is organized in three series: Series I. Works, 1968-1993, undated; Series II. Reviews, 1960-1990; and Series III. Correspondence, 1978-1997.
The Works series is arranged alphabetically by title. Most works are represented by handwritten drafts in notebooks, composite typescript and handwritten manuscripts, final typescripts, and page proofs. Among the works present are The Age of the Rainmakers (1971), The Angel at the Gate (1982), Ascent to Omai (1970), Black Marsden (1972), Carnival (1985), Companions of the Day and Night (1975), The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), Jonestown (1996), Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993), and The Sleepers of Roraima (1970). In addition, there is a photocopy of the published essay Harris wrote for Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series in 1992. Many of the manuscripts include Harris’s notes or annotations explaining his creative process, or what he referred to as the “re-visionary process.” For example, page proofs for Angel at the Gate and Carnival contain his annotations referring to other drafts of those works. Harris included a photocopy of his article "Literacy and the Imagination" with Carnival materials since he felt it illumined a strand regarding inner guide-lines, or intuitive clues.
Series II. Reviews consists of clippings of reviews of works by Harris, as well as a 1960 radio transcript of John Connell’s review of Palace of the Peacock.
Series III. Correspondence is comprised of Harris’s letters to poet and literary critic Michael Thorpe; the letters date from 1978 to 1997.

Related Material

Other materials by Wilson Harris in the Ransom Center are located in the Ronald Christ, Joseph Jones, John Lehmann, and Robert E. McDowell archives. A portrait bust of Harris by Suzie Jones Sarrett is located in the Center’s Art Collection.

Index Terms


Harris, Margaret Rose.
Thorpe, Michael.


Authors, Caribbean.
Caribbean fiction (English)
Experimental fiction.
Guyanese fiction.

Document Types


Container List

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