Thursday, January 30, 2014

Case Study No. 1209: Todd Samuelson and Cait Coker

New Exhibit on the Works of George RR Martin Opening at Texas A&M's Cushing Library
He's one of the driving forces in science fiction and fantasy writing. Now, the latest exhibit at Texas A&M's Cushing Library is all about the works of George R R Martin. This week, curators put the finishing touches on Deeper than Swords. It focuses mainly on Martin's latest A Song of Fire and Ice book series. Those stories are the basis for HBO's popular A Game of Thrones TV series. The exhibit runs through early December and is free and open to the public. This story aired on KAGS HD NEWS at 10pm on Tuesday, 3/19/13, in Bryan, Texas. The video and interviews were recorded and edited by Matthew LeBlanc, and the story was written by Steven Romo and Matthew LeBlanc.
Tags: George RR Martin Texas A&M Cushing Library A Game of Thrones A Song of Fire and Ice Fantasy Science Fiction KAGS
Added: 9 months ago
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[scene opens with footage of Cushing Library, with staff arranging displays that feature the works of George RR Martin, as "Deeper Than Swords, Cushing Library Exhibit" appears on screen]
MATTHEW LEBLANC: [in voice over] Have you heard of the TV series "Game of Thrones" on HBO? Well, science fiction author George RR Martin, the author behind the books that the show's based upon, is getting an exhibit at A&M's Cushing Library. The display is called "Deeper Than Swords".
[cut to a male librarian ("Todd Samuelson, Curator of Rare Books, Cushing Library") speaking directly to the camera]
TODD SAMUELSON: We know that there are a lot of people from across the country that will be coming in to see the exhibition, so it's great fun and we're very excited.
[cut to a female librarian ("Cait Coker, Curator of Science Fiction Research, Texas A&M") speaking directly to the camera]
CAIT COKER: Hopefully we have put together kind of the full picture of the development of George RR Martin as an author, and then his own impact on popular culture at large.
[cut to a closeup of a glass display case featuring a "Game of Thrones Iron Throne replica" by Gentle Giant Studios]
MATTHEW LEBLANC: [in voice over] I called him a science fiction author there, I think he's more of a fantasy author.
[cut to a closeup of the "Game of Thrones" pilot script ("Blue production draft, October 22, 2009")]
MATTHEW LEBLANC: [in voice over] Martin will visit A&M this week to kick off the exhibit. His events are already sold out, but there is a chance to meet him from four to six at Cushing Library on Friday.
[cut to a closeup of a replica sword lying on the floor]
MATTHEW LEBLANC: [in voice over] The exhibit runs through early December.



Deeper Than Swords presents objects, editions, and manuscripts from the full scope of George R. R. Martin's career, from early letters and stories to his most recent writings. Major sections of the gallery will be devoted to the writing and reception of A Song of Ice and Fire, the range of his other novels and collaborations, and the international impact of Martin's work.

Free to the public during normal hours March – December 2013
Cushing Memorial Library



If tonight's premiere of season three of HBO's epic fantasy series "Game of Thrones" isn't enough to satisfy your bloodlust for swords, sorcery and Starks, you may want to turn your attention from the Seven Kingdoms to College Station.

That's because Aggieland - best known these days for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel - is also ground zero for fanboys and girls of George R.R. Martin, author of the smash medieval-ish series "A Song of Fire and Ice" (of which "A Game of Thrones" is the best-known book).

Through December, Texas A&M's Cushing Memorial Library and Archives is hosting an exhibit of his works and other paraphernalia carefully selected from the library's vast store of Martinalia.

To promote the opening of "Deeper Than Swords: Celebrating the Work of George R.R. Martin," the man Time magazine once knighted as "the American Tolkien" (and whom his fans call, simply, GRRM) made his first Texas appearance in nearly 20 years, signing books at the library and speaking to a full house at Rudder Auditorium.

"The exhibit commemorates one of the greatest authors of our generation," says Cait Coker, curator of the school's Science Fiction Research Collection. "It shows off his work in an academic and intellectual setting and demonstrates what we do here at Cushing.

"Plus (co-curator) Todd (Samuelson) and I are big Martin fans."

Martin's fantasy series consists of five volumes, with another two promised - although his tendency to write long may see it extended. Indeed, the series was originally conceived as a trilogy.

The hefty books, thus far totaling more than 4,500 pages in paperback, tell the story of the Seven Kingdoms, a fictional land torn apart by no fewer than five kings vying (and, surprisingly often, dying) to become the one true monarch. Truly, a game of thrones.

But what distinguishes Martin's work from so much genre fiction is his willingness to surprise. Through deft shadings, he turns the good-guys-vs.-bad trope on its head. We initially and instinctively find ourselves rooting for Eddard Stark, Lord of the House of Winterfell, beloved for his sense of justice, loyalty and his love of family. Then we're introduced to Daenerys Targaryen, Princes of Dragonstone, whose father, the "Mad" King Aerys II, was killed in a revolt led by those she calls the Usurper's dogs - one of whom was Eddard Stark.

Martin also doesn't hold sacred the unspoken promise between a writer and his readers that beloved characters must never perish. Indeed (spoiler alert!) Eddard Stark, affectionately known as "Ned," is beheaded before the end of the very first book.

The series has been an international success. Books four and five, "A Feast for Crows" and "A Dance with Dragons," are New York Times best-sellers, and the five novels published thus far have sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.

The HBO series, which goes by the simpler title "Game of Thrones," premiered in 2011 and is watched by more than 10 million viewers.

Two years in the making, the "Deeper Than Swords" exhibit traces Martin's masterwork, book by book, from a novella consisting only of the Daenerys chapters from "A Game of Thrones" and published almost a month before that first book appeared, to a partial manuscript from the upcoming sixth book in the series, "The Winds of Winter."

Fans of the series will find fascinating tidbits throughout. There's the pair of manuscript pages displayed side by side that contain the same scene between Jon Snow, Eddard Stark's bastard son, and his half-sister Arya.

In the earlier version of the scene, Snow bestows on Arya a gift, her first sword, which she names Needle.

But in the second, later version, he adds some simple yet memorable advice regarding swordplay: "First lesson," Jon said, "Stick them with the pointy end."

"That's become a real iconic passage, so the pages give you a good sense of how (Martin) re-writes," says Samuelson, rare books and manuscripts curator for the library.

Later in the chronologically arranged exhibit is a set of pins that came bundled within a Chinese edition of the books. Martin writes so long that many international publishers split the books into two, three or even more volumes. The pins served as an added incentive to help sell the books.

"I feel like I'm losing out as part of the American audience," Coker says. "I'm like, 'I want those pins; they're so cool!'"

Elsewhere, the cover page from a working manuscript of "A Clash of Kings," the follow-up to "A Game of Thrones," contains a handwritten note from an unnamed, apparently exasperated editor asking, "Were there this many ellipses in GoT?"

The exhibit catalog entry adds, "Throughout the manuscript ellipses are marked out."

The exhibit also reflects the series' growing influence on popular culture with samples of licensed board games, playing cards, deluxe editions, replica weaponry, even a companion cookbook.

It may seem curious that A&M is the repository for Martin's papers, but the university's relationship with the writer predates the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by decades.

"Students here discovered Martin very early in his career," Coker says.

As far back as 1986, for example, Martin was the invited guest of honor at AggieCon, the school's annual geekfest. And he'd regularly attended going back to the late '70s.

As a result of this relationship, "(a) tightknit and enthusiastic fan base (for Martin) developed in and around College Station," writes Steven Escar Smith, former director of the Cushing Library, in the catalog.

"And," he continues, "Martin cultivated a taste for Texas barbecue,"

Cushing also houses one of the country's largest collections of science fiction manuscripts, fanzines, first editions, pulp magazines, scholarly monographs and other fan-related material. In 2010, the Science Fiction Research Collection hosted the genre exhibition "One Hundred Years Hence: Science Fiction and Fantasy at Texas A&M."

During Martin's two-day visit to the A&M campus earlier this month, he attended a fundraising dinner and reception, signed hundreds of books, posters and other paraphernalia, and later addressed - and answered questions from - a packed house at Rudder Auditorium.

In his talk, Martin discussed growing up in Bayonne, N.J., and how, even at 7 years old, he knew learning to read from the old Dick and Jane books was "stupid." Later, he was introduced to his first sci-fi novel, Robert Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit - Will Travel," and developed a lifetime love affair with books.

"I am," he said, "the sum total of all the books I've read."

During the question-and-answer session, the inevitable complaints about the long interval between books was raised. Book five in the series, "A Dance with Dragons," took him five years to finish before being published in 2011, and he's still working on "The Winds of Winter." While Martin has previously expressed concern that the HBO series might actually catch up with the novels, he told the A&M crowd, simply, "Sorry about that."



How we brought 3,000 people to the library . . .
With the help of Mr. George R. R. Martin

Todd Samuelson and Cait Coker

Twenty years ago, George R. R. Martin deposited his archive (consisting of manuscripts, correspondence, and editions of his works) at the Texas A&M University Libraries. This disposition was the culmination of many years' effort by librarians and members of the Texas science fiction community. Martin had visited Texas A&M multiple times as a guest of honor at AggieCon, the oldest student-run fantasy and science fiction convention in the country, and on one of his visits had received a tour of the university's Special Collections, which was then housed in Sterling C. Evans Library. He had also met and had multiple conversations with the unit's director, Don Dyal.

In opting to place his archive at Texas A&M (a university with which the author had no immediate connection), Martin based his decision on the assurance of care and quality, which his tour of the library facilities had provided. His interactions with librarians showed him that his work would be valued and protected, and would find a place among one of the country's largest genre collections of its kind.

From the perspective of the library, the Martin donation represented an attempt to develop a relationship with an award-winning author, who also showed a great deal of future promise. Several librarians, including Steven Escar Smith, who traveled to pick up the first deposit of books and manuscripts, had begun to build a collaborative connection with Martin. The relationship matured as the author sent copies of his materials at regular intervals and as the library worked to house, index, and preserve the collection. The archive quickly became available to scholars of Martin's work, the genre, and its growing impact upon popular culture.

The Exhibition

Two years ago, Martin returned to Texas A&M for the first time since his papers had arrived. The occasion for his visit was the opening of "Deeper Than Swords," an exhibition celebrating his oeuvre, together with a series of events including a book signing and lecture. In the years between the placement of his archive and the exhibition, Martin's reputation and readership had grown. He had transformed from a successful fantasy and science fiction author into an instantly recognizable figure and the source of a cultural phenomenon, thanks to the popularity of his bestselling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The Texas A&M University Libraries had grown, as well. One particular development was the renovation and dedication of Cushing Memorial Library, the oldest free-standing library building on campus, as the home of Special Collections (including the Science Fiction Research Collection and Martin's papers).

As with the earlier negotiations that brought his papers to the university, the process of securing Martin's appearance at Cushing Library drew upon the relationship he had built with Cushing librarians. Having kept in regular contact with Martin over the years, confirming donation arrivals and periodically answering requests for copies and other reference assistance, we approached Martin about creating a large-scale exhibit on his work at which he could preside as a special and honored guest. A date was confirmed for 18 months hence. Our timing proved fortunate, since due to the acceleration of his public appearances, Martin's current calendar is booked through 2017.

In organizing the exhibition, we began conceptualizing events with consideration of the great potential that they could have for the library. In 2010, we had produced with former curator Hal W. Hall an exhibition entitled "One Hundred Years Hence," which drew upon the science fiction and fantasy collection. Its reception and ongoing popularity among students, faculty and staff, and the community suggested the possibilities for a Martin-focused exhibition. We began proposing events that would capitalize upon this enthusiastic audience. The foresight of library administrators - foremost among them J. Lawrence Mitchell, director of Cushing Library - communicated the potential of this project to the University Libraries' marketing team and to the dean, who was supportive of the events and committed wide resources to planning and promoting the exhibition.

Building the Exhibit

We visualized an exhibit that would frame Martin's work both biographically and culturally. After initial conversations with Martin to confirm his preferences in overall design, we began to discuss how best to demonstrate the breadth of his work and the intellectual and artifactual richness of the collection. With the runaway success of his fantasy cycle, some readers have not encountered his beginnings in science fiction, and comparatively few remember his roots in the burgeoning fan culture from the 1960s to the 1980s. We identified and procured a few additional items not present in the collection - early Marvel comic books that printed his first letters, a more recent Time Magazine that christened him "the American Tolkien" - and noted influential titles referenced by Martin in his autobiographical essays.

In addition to selecting items from the Martin archive, the curators decided to highlight and interrogate the iconography of Martin's work - much of which has become instantly recognizable. These images have been integrated into the wider cultural consciousness through the publication of the novels and the success of HBO's Game of Thrones series.

One of Martin's preferred artists, John Picacio, is a resident of San Antonio and one of the best-respected genre artists of the day. Through a connection with Charles D. Tolliver and the Fandom Association of Central Texas, we contacted Picacio and negotiated rights to use his artwork in the exhibit and its promotional materials. Because of Picacio's generous collaboration with the curators, Cushing Library was able to acquire several original drawings for the exhibition, which have become part of the permanent collections. Simultaneously, we identified two other artists and approached them about collaborating on the project.

Artist Evangeline Owen worked with the curators in developing interpretations of selected figures from the novels to present in portraits highlighting their distinctness as characters; the libraries commissioned four acrylic paintings and three digital images to be included in the exhibit.

Similarly, Anise Press, a Texas-based press known for its cards and posters using literary quotes, set wood and metal types to letterpress print a suite of four broadsides. These finely produced posters, which were also incorporated into the exhibition, provided visual designs of statements from Martin's work having to do with reading, writing, and the impact of language. These three collaborations provided widely varying interpretations of Martin's work and a vivid visual presentation for the walls of the gallery.

Preparation and Production

As we worked to identify objects that best articulated the creative development, publication, and impact of Martin's work, we also examined secondary literature - from scholarly monographs to interviews with the author. This research was incorporated into a document that simultaneously describes the selected objects and presents a narrative about the value, research potential, and cultural significance of the items in the collection. This text, combined with images of many of the objects chosen for inclusion, was produced as an exhibition catalog that documents the project. The University Libraries' Graphics Designer Kim Topp worked closely with us in the presentation of the catalog, which also contains a preface by the Dean of the Libraries David Carlson and introductory essays by Steven Escar Smith and Lisa Tuttle, a close friend of Martin's and well-known author whose papers are also housed in Cushing Library. Each visitor to Cushing Library was given a complimentary copy of the publication at the exhibition opening.

Concurrently, we worked on designing and fabricating the exhibit itself. A central gallery dedicated to A Song of Ice and Fire contains five large vitrines (each dedicated to one of the published novels) in a ring around a smaller case, which contains unpublished pages from the forthcoming Winds of Winter. In addition to the pieces of original and commissioned artwork, the gallery contains large informational panels containing our curators' statement, a biography of the author, and essays about Martin's work and its cultural significance. An adjoining gallery contains cases that present the development of Martin's early work. These contain sections on his influences and juvenilia, the landmark works of the first half of his career, and his many collaborations. Alcoves in this gallery contain a representative sample of international editions, as well as framed oversized maps of the lands from his A Song of Ice and Fire sequence. The details of the installation - from the reproduction sword and war hammer hung on the gallery walls to the sigils we designed which appeared as heraldic symbols on labels and panels - were intended to link the narrative of the exhibition to Martin's iconic writing.

The Events

As the exhibition was being developed, our ambition was to draw in the largest possible audience to see the work, engage with Martin, and to introduce the participants to Cushing Library. Aware that we would be accessing a demographic which, in many cases, had never entered a special collections, we wanted to demonstrate the values and resources of the library. In order to increase the opportunities for the audience to engage with the exhibition, we planned a series of events to draw in Martin's readers and fans: a fundraising dinner and exhibition preview with the author, a book signing to increase traffic for the opening, and a lecture and Q&A available to the public at large. Working closely with the University Libraries marketing team, we succeeded in realizing these concepts:

For the fundraising dinner, we commissioned local chef Tai Lee (who had appeared on the Food Network) to develop a series of themed dishes. Lee's Mobile Bistro food truck was also commissioned to sell street-food variations of these recipes - including lemon cakes - on campus during the public opening of "Deeper Than Swords." We also organized a book signing, which was attended by 650 individuals, including 150 "expedited line" tickets that confirmed the opportunity to meet the author and obtain his signature. Together, these two events raised more than $33,000 for the libraries, with proceeds going towards the support of the libraries' exhibition programs.

Anticipating the size of Martin's audience, we booked a campus venue that seats 2,400 for Martin's talk about his life as a reader and for his moderated interview. After observing public anticipation for the event, HBO sponsored an advance screening of the first episode of season three of Game of Thrones, as well as a catered reception for donors and library employees. Martin, who had spent the previous week on HBO's press junket, noted that the A&M audience was the largest and most enthusiastic he had seen. The talk and interview, which were recorded, have received tens of thousands of additional viewings from YouTube and Martin's Web site.1

Finally, we arranged a private tour of the exhibition for Martin, allowing him the opportunity to focus on the presentation of his collection, as well as to see his holdings in situ in the stacks. Since his initial deposit the collection has grown to encompass more than 200 hundred boxes of processed manuscripts and memorabilia, and nearly 1,000 volumes of first editions and translated works. His response in seeing his work, both presented for the public and preserved in archival boxes, was uniformly positive. The 3,000 visitors who participated in the events shared his enthusiasm with unrestrained fervor.

The success of this venture was due largely to the presence of an author and cultural figure of the stature of George R. R. Martin. It is also a testament to the collaborations possible when an institution brings together author-donors, local artists and businesses, and the community. This exhibition created a narrative of the power of words, demonstrating how Martin's often-cited influences as a young and avid reader led to his own creation of works that are now shaping literature and popular culture. We believe that our efforts to present that process of influence and impact extends to the library as well, and to the readers who entered to see the exhibition.

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