Susan Brind Morrow will visit Texas Tech University as a featured speaker for our fourth annual Sowell Collection Conference to be held April 16-18, 2015. In preparation for her visit and for talking to undergraduate students about Morrow’s books, I recently re-read The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, her first book about her travels and studies in Egypt. Early in the book, Morrow describes an ostrich feather fan that she has saved: “I spread the feather fan across my face and inhale it. Its smell is vague and fading now, like the scent of my journals from that time…”
I had supervised the processing of Morrow’s manuscript collection, housed now in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, and I remembered the students listing boxes and boxes of journals and notebooks. With this passage as my inspiration, I requested those boxes and spent days with them, notebook by notebook, page by page.
Morrow’s handwriting flows, almost like water, with barely a ripple to distinguish consonant and vowel, but I came to be able to read many of the passages. I came to see each page as a work of art, beautifully and carefully crafted, as well as a journalistic entry.
In her journals, as shown in the section above, she reflects upon the difficult task she has set herself: “I guess I am just trying to understand that exotic adventures do not matter so much. It is only how well you write–at this point for me it is only the writing– [?] go from writing snippets to writing a book” (box 8, folder 8).
I could never find a particular notebook or journal with the scent of old feathers, with the scent of Egypt–neither the Nile nor the desert–still clinging to the pages. But it must be there somewhere.
Susan Brind Morrow Papers at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tturb/00172/trb-00172.html