Among the literary photographs and ephemera in the bookstore, the one that evokes the most questions is a small photo of the Jefferson Society, University of Virginia. One of the dozen students in the picture gave it to me in 1990, 30 years after it was taken. In the foreground is John Dos Passos, his body turned to the left almost in profile, his head tilted forward looking at a diminutive William Faulkner. Dos Passos appears to be talking to Faulkner, who is facing the camera, gazing down and away, seemingly bored and inattentive. When the photo was taken, Faulkner was the writer in residence at the University, and the gathering was a reception following the Dos Passos address to the group.
Ten years ago, Matthew Bruccolli came in, saw the photo and immediately turned toward me and said, “I must have a copy of that picture. For years I’ve been telling people that I was at an intimate meeting with Faulkner and Dos Passos and no one has ever believed me. Finally, there’s the proof.” I asked him to point himself out and half hidden behind Dos Passos, with a crewcut and dark framed glasses was unmistakably the young version of the man beside me.
I had known of Matthew Bruccolli for some time, had read his excellent biography of Scott Fitzgerald and his book about Fitzgerald and Hemingway. So I sent him a copy of the photo and we became friends. Rosemary and I visited him in Columbia, S.C. and had dinner with him and his wife Arlyn at their home. He twice participated in our Words and Music Conference and was scheduled to come again in 2008. Sadly in the spring of that year he was diagnosed with brain cancer and on August 8 he died.
Matthew, a dedicated bibliophile, loved contemporary writers. He collected their work and wrote more than 50 books about them. He was the editor of the Pittsburg Series in Bibliography. He was constantly busy, his task list endless.
He studied at Yale and at Cornell where Vladimir Nabokov was one of his teachers. He received his doctorate degree from the University of Virginia in 1960. He taught there and at Ohio State University before settling in for 40 years at the University of South Carolina. Just before he died he sent me a copy of a paper he presented at a meeting of The Print Conservancy, a group formed in response to the future of reference books imperiled by digitization. In an amusing footnote he pointed out that the attending librarians had a session on “weeding collections.” His terse comment to that was “Books are not weeds.”
I moved the 1960 photograph of the Jefferson Society, John Dos Passos and William Faulkner from the bookstore to my office. I look at it and always remember my friend Matthew Brucolli and the day he found himself in it.
Thanks, Matthew, for enriching my life.