Faculty, student join to study archives

Natasha Bazika, Chief Photographer

A president’s mentorship award resulted in a faculty and student collaboration between professor Jeremy C. Justus and senior Jacob Williamson-Rea.

The grant funded a scholarly review of 13 years’ worth of unpublished documents related to Kurt Vonnegut.

They included drafts, personal correspondences and doodles.

They also examined drawings, meanderings and an unused lifetime gym membership card from Vonnegut.

The Vonnegut papers are housed at Indiana University’s Lilly Library in an archival collection, where both Justus and Williamson-Rea spent three days working seven hours.

Archival documents in boxes included drafts of some of Vonnegut’s novels, including “Slaughter House Five”, Vonnegut’s first novel, according to Justus.  “Once I got through one box, they brought out a cart that had eight more boxes,” Justus said.

Justus and Williamson-Rea both did not expect that much material.

Justus and Williamson-Rea started by sorting the piles of papers together. However, they quickly changed to a divide-and-conquer method, as they knew there was so much to look through.

According to Williamson-Rea, when they found something interesting, they would show each other and continue to sift through the documents — armed with only notebooks and pencils.

One interesting object found was an unused lifetime gym membership card Vonnegut owned.

Justus said he was amazed at the opportunity they were presented with.

“Jacob and I held his gym membership card and personal letters, things that Vonnegut himself once held,” he said.

Justus and Williamson-Rea said they were astonished at what they were holding and the opportunity they had been given.

Williamson-Rea also said he was grateful.

“I’m extremely lucky to have this opportunity and I’m super thankful to Pitt-Johnstown for the opportunity.”

Justus was recently commended for his publication of scholarship on Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five.” Justus said there was little publication on Vonnegut’s unpublished work and his paper was the first in many years.

Justus was surprised at the response he received when he handed in the paper. Justus said he was told it was the most important essay on Slaughter House Five in at least a decade.

According to Justus and Williamson-Rea, they would do similar research again. They said they are looking at a follow up study on a different novel.

“By the end of it, we felt we personally knew Vonnegut; we felt closer to him,” Justus said.