On Valentine’s Day in 1976, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was at a cinema in Mexico City, which had been his home ever since he moved from Colombia, when the legendary writer Mario Vargas Llosa landed a punch on him, leaving him with a black eye. Speculation on the cause for the altercation ranged from a possible liaison between Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa’s wife, Patricia, to differences in political opinions. Garcia Marquez was reportedly unperturbed by the punch and posed grinning for a photo with his black eye.
This photo was dismissed as a rumour until four images surfaced almost four decades later indeed showing the Colombian writer pleased as punch with a bruised eye. The set of photos now lies, along with approximately 27,000 page scans and images, in a treasure trove of a digital archive available free for anybody who wants to dip into the life and work of the writer who made “magical realism” world-famous.
In 2014, a few months after Garcia Marquez’s death, the estate of the writer of the iconic One Hundred Years of Solitude sold the archive of his photos, notebooks, manuscripts and scrapbooks to the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas for $2.2 million. Three years later, in December 2017, the university made over half of the archive available freely in digital form, throwing open a gateway to the private and public life of Gabo, as he is affectionately known, who continues to hold sway over literary critics and the lay reader alike.
The physical archive arrived in 40 cartons, containing manuscripts of ten of his books, including 32 pages of an unpublished memoir, over 40 photo albums, 20 scrapbooks, and over 2,000 pieces of correspondence with other writers, artists, thinkers and politicians. It’s not just an unparalleled resource for researchers, but a fascinating portal into the mind of one of the greatest writers of the 21st century.
Contrary to the popular perception of the writer as somebody who did not bother much with reviews, Garcia Marquez meticulously maintained several scrapbooks dedicated to reviews and articles about his books, neatly organised into notebooks where he also kept his own reported and opinion pieces (Garcia Marquez was also a journalist for many years, known for his work of non-fiction alongside his short stories and novels). But for those obsessed with the writer’s most famous work of fiction, which has sold over 30 million copies, the archive contains a 490-page-long final typescript of Cien Años de Soledad, along with those of his other most loved works.
There is endless mesmerising detail in the archive for Garcia Marquez geeks to obsess over for days, including correspondence with writers like Susan Sontag, a draft of the speech he delivered when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, even scans that show his tickets and hotel bookings when he went to Stockholm to collect the prize (he flew Iberia Airlines and Air France, and stayed at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm). But the biggest treat lies in the photos of the writer at work and with his family and friends, who included some of the most popular artists and writers of South America (and, well, at one point Bill Clinton).
Garcia Marquez’s long-standing and infamous friendship with Fidel Castro is documented through photos, correspondence and in the writer’s notebooks.
But the most enduring takeaway from a plunge into the staggering archive is of a writer dedicated to his craft, friends and music.