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Last on

Mon 21 Nov 2011 16:00 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 21 November 2011

Julia Blackburn talks to writers whose private papers, like her own, have been acquired by Leeds University Library.

Imagine your teenage diaries being studied by research students - or anyone else who's interested. That's what will happen to Julia Blackburn's journals, family letters, childhood photographs and other personal papers, all of which are in the process of being archived by Leeds University Library.

In this documentary she talks to other writers including poets Simon Armitage and Sophie Hannah, whose private archives now reside in the iconic Brotherton Building in Leeds. Julia discovers how the material is archived and catalogued; in other words, how it is turned into a library in itself, with the help of curator Chris Sheppard. These archives are important because they verify the published work and may reveal new insights to researchers, but there is also a magic in handling original documents, complete with doodlings, coffee stains and other evidence of a real life.

Julia Blackburn's papers relate to an intensely painful period in Julia's life with her parents, poet Thomas Blackburn and the painter Rosalie de Meric, upon which she drew in writing 'The Three of Us' (winner of the Pen/Ackerley prize for autobiography 2009). In the documentary Julia explores the process of releasing private material into a public arena. Some have never thought of doing such a thing before being approached by the library; others see it as a testament to their lives which they must prepare for before death. Many writers have destroyed such material (or requested it be destroyed) rather than leave themselves open to a potentially unkind scrutiny of historians or literary analysts. The writers in this documentary have chosen the difficult and unusual path of allowing their material into the public domain in their lifetime.


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