Archive or trash?–and who owns it?

At The Atlantic, “The Man Who Made Off with Updike’s Trash” asks, more or less, when is an archive not an archive? When it’s trash?  In this case, a man who on a whim took some of John Updike’s trash years ago continued the practice and now has an archive of discarded pieces. 

Moran has kept thousands of pieces of Updike’s garbage—a trove that he says includes photographs, discarded drafts of stories, canceled checks, White House invitations, Christmas cards, love letters, floppy disks, a Mickey Mouse flip book, and a pair of brown tasseled loafers. It is a collection he calls “the other John Updike archive,” an alternative to the official collection of Updike’s papers maintained by Harvard’s Houghton Library. The phrase doubles as the name of the disjointed blog he writes, and it raises fundamental questions about celebrity, privacy, and who ultimately determines the value and scope of an artist’s legacy.

The blog is at, and it reproduces all kinds of print materials, including full letters from Updike (with no copyright restrictions? That seems unlikely). 

As the Atlantic article and his biographer Adam Begley points out, Updike was a pretty fair curator of his own legacy, sorting materials and dropping them off at Harvard.

What, then, should scholars make of the alternative archive or trash archive or whatever it should be called?  Should it figure into scholarship on Updike? Does thoroughness demand that scholars working on Updike work from both?


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