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Ransom Center Acquires Spalding Gray's Archives

Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia notebook
Image courtesy Harry Ransom Center
Cover of Spalding Gray's performance notebook for 'Swimming to Cambodia.'

Writer and performance artist Spalding Gray's archives will be available to researchers at the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center, the museum announced yesterday.  Gray died of an apparent suicide in 2004. He was 62.

The Ransom Center says the collection includes more than 90 handwritten performance notebooks and 100 private journals.

The notebooks are heavily revised and annotated, offering ample evidence of the growth and development of Gray's most significant pieces. Gray continually expanded and revised his monologues based on audience reception and his own changing needs as a performer, and nearly all of the notebooks contain additional handwritten pages inserted by Gray.   Gray's private journals provide a coherent timeline of Gray's thinking and psychological development throughout his career. The handwritten journals are largely diaristic, filled with witty asides detailing everyday experiences, pages of philosophical reflection, dream records and Gray's examination of his own moral nature. Together, the performance notebooks and private journals provide insight into how works such as "Swimming to Cambodia" and "Monster in a Box" were drawn from Gray's most intimate and personal reflections on his daily experiences.

The Ransom Center also posted audio of what is perhaps Gray's best known monologue: Swimming to Cambodia.

Ransom Center curator Molly Schwartzburg wrote in her blog about the Ronald McDonald notebook in particular, the one Gray used in his Swimming to Cambodia performance. She writes that"one can follow along with the film’s soundtrack while reading the notebook, tracking Gray’s progress through key phrases and words noted in order on the page."

The archive was partly gifted and partly purchased, according to Statesman arts critic Jeanne Claire van Ryzin.

The archive, valued at $595,000, is partially a donation by Gray’s widow, Kathleen Russo, and partially a purchase by the Ransom Center, which paid $250,000. The gift portion of the collection is valued at $345,000.

Here's some of Gray's performance from Swimming to Cambodia.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.