By Jim Vertuno
Originally published Dec. 10, 2014
The University of Texas on Wednesday refused to release the contract and purchase price for the archive of Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and said it will ask the state attorney general for permission to keep those details secret.
The university previously has disclosed the prices of such purchases – which can often push into millions of dollars – and the effort to keep the cost of the Garcia Marquez archive secret is likely to draw attention in literary and legal circles for its impact on future archive negotiations and Texas public records law.
The school’s purchase of the Garcia Marquez archive has drawn criticism in Colombia and the late writer’s longtime home of Mexico by those who question why the material would reside in a country he often criticized. The collection spans more than 50 years and features original manuscript material for 10 books, including Garcia Marquez’s acclaimed 1967 novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
University officials say that releasing the purchase price could drive up the cost of future collections in the “increasingly competitive” world of buying rare manuscripts.
“Sellers routinely look for a precedent-setting price so they can set increasingly higher prices that hurt the university, and hurt the taxpayers who help fund the university,” university spokesman Gary Susswein said.
Garcia Marquez died in Mexico City in April. His family insists the collection wasn’t put out to the highest bidder and was offered to the university’s Harry Ransom Center because of its reputation as a world-class literary archive.
The Ransom Center has extensive archives on writers Jorge Luis Borges, William Faulkner and James Joyce. Other Nobel laureates included in its collection are Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
The Associated Press asked for the price of the Garcia Marquez acquisition when it was announced Nov. 24. Ransom Center officials refused, initially citing state law protecting details of contracts in a competitive bidding process.
The AP then filed a formal request for the contract under state public records law. The university notified the AP by letter on Wednesday that it would continue to withhold the contract and purchase price and will ask for a supporting opinion from the state attorney general’s office.
Joe Larsen, an attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and public records law expert, said a ruling siding with the university would cripple a major portion of the open records law.
“If it stands, it will blow a hole in public records law so wide it will hobble any oversight of government spending,” Larsen said.
Susswein insisted that other university purchases and expenses, such as salaries, would remain public.
Several previous disclosures of Ransom Center literary purchases don’t reflect a pattern of rising prices.
In 2005, the Ransom Center paid $5 million for the Watergate coverage from reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It paid $2.5 million for the archive of writer Norman Mailer in 2008 and $1.5 million for Nobel prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee in 2011.
The Ransom Center acquired those collections under former director Thomas Staley, who retired in 2013. He was succeeded by Stephen Enniss, who previously worked at the privately held Folger Shakespeare Library and Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.