The collection marks a pivotal period in Thompson's life and career, and vividly communicates the ways in which his identity—both personal and professional—was shifting and taking shape. Thompson was a prolific letter writer from an early age, using these as his primary mode of communication. Such items of correspondence (to include postcards) were generally typed, a habit Thompson began as a teenager, with a carbon copy made of each. Twenty-five of the letters in the present collection were published in 'Proud Highway: The Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman' (1997). Remarkably, however, at least one letter in the archive is the only known copy, with Thompson declaring: "I am so fucked up that I don't even have carbon paper to preserve the letter." The piece of correspondence in question is dated the 22nd of February 1963, and sent from Rio de Janeiro. It is lengthy, and typed out on ruled yellow legal paper for want of something more appropriate. Thompson continues: "as a matter of fact I didn't even have paper, but rooted through this strange apartment and found this grub from the Embassy." The tone throughout the collection is outlandish and idiosyncratic—characteristic of the founder of Gonzo journalism—but perhaps because these ruminations were intended for a trusted childhood friend, there are also many instances of intimacy and insight alongside the humor and eccentricity. "The horrible thing about it is that I am now making money; I get invited to lunch with the foreign minister and the ambassador to Washington...I have a paunch, too, and my calves have shrunk up like dried meat. Sandy [Thompson's wife] thinks I am going to pieces and I have to deny it because I am."
Thompson and Semonin lived with or near one another in New York and Puerto Rico at various points, and took a road trip across the U.S. together. Their correspondence was a vigorous one, and touched upon some of the most formative events of 60s and 70s, and indeed in the nation's history. In a letter sent from Woody Creek and dated the 28th of November 1963, Thompson comments on the assassination of President Kennedy: "I am trying now to compose a reaction to the heinous, striking shit-filled thing that occurred today. Supposedly it will be the 'local' reaction, but of course it won't. It will be my own, couched in local color. Nobody has asked for it but I am sending it anyway. 1000 words—damn few to fill the awful hole...Wayne Vagneur, the rancher up the road, stopped by with the news. I started to cry but figured that was not called for, so cursed instead." In relation to the death of Martin Luther King Jr. five years later, Thompson writes: "The King business has pretty well soured me on the future of this fucking country."
On many occasions the subject matters turns to Thompson’s own estimation of his work, and how it might be positioned in the cultural and political milieu of the day. In a letter written from San Francisco and dated the 6th of July 1965, Thompson explains: "I warn you that you are going to find me a much tougher and shittier person than the one you left in Louisville 2 years ago. I have the score now, and it don't make me happy. It has finally come home to me that I am not going to be either the Fitzgerald or the Hemingway of this generation—and for a while I was a little nervous out on my own limb. I am going to be the Thompson of this generation, and that makes me more nervous than anything else I can think of."
The archive touched upon the Vietnam War, the police riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, and other various events that came to define the tumultuous political landscape of the 60s. It also chronicles Thompson’s various journalistic efforts, his struggles with 'The Rum Diaries' (written in the early 1960s, but not published until 1998, after the manuscript was discovered amongst Thompson's papers by Johnny Depp), the writing and publication of 'Hell’s Angels,' and the early seeds of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.'
An extraordinary archive, vividly documenting the personal and professional evolution of one of the 20th century’s most innovative writers
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