UB James Joyce Museum: Coming Soon!

By Ed Healy

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Buffalo’s once untold cultural treasures have begun to emerge from obscurity. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House is now recognized as one of the architect’s most significant designs. Shea’s Buffalo Theatre has been restored and is now one of the most in-demand stops for touring Broadway shows in the entire country. And, the newly expanded and reimagined Buffalo AKG Art Museum is on the cusp of the global recognition its collection of modern and contemporary art deserves. 

You can add the James Joyce Collection at the University at Buffalo to this impressive list of once well-kept secrets that are coming to the attention of a much wider audience. UB just received $10 million in funding from New York State for the construction of the UB James Joyce Museum — a momentous turn of events that will make Buffalo a literary destination of the first rank.

James Joyce with Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company, ca. 1925 / Photographer: unknown

UB’s Joyce Collection is the world’s largest and most comprehensive repository of his life’s work in the world, comprised of more than 10,000 pages of his working papers, notebooks, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence, portraits, memorabilia, ephemera, and a complete set of first editions. A series of serendipitous events more than 60 years ago resulted in these objects finding their way here over a period of ten years. 

“The origin of the UB James Joyce Collection is a classic example of the right person—Oscar Silverman—being in the right place at the right time,” said James Maynard, curator of the UB Poetry Collection. “But Silverman also had the great foresight to recognize the opportunity that these Joyce materials presented for UB’s growing collection of literary manuscripts, and the rest, as they say, is history. Much to the benefit of Buffalo and the University and the history of Joyce studies.”

The collection is currently housed in a nondescript setting on the university’s suburban North Campus – a location that would seem to be at odds with the work of an author whose greatest work deeply reflects the urban vitality and tumult of Dublin. But that will soon be changing with the exciting announcement of the New York State funding for a new home for the Joyce Collection. 

“This funding will enable us to present these resources in ways that have an even greater impact on local, national and international communities curious about the literary arts and the work of James Joyce,” said Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, vice provost for the UB Libraries.

“The UB James Joyce Museum will provide UB the ability to highlight and share its James Joyce Collection with a broad global audience,” she added. “It presents an opportunity to strengthen the cultural tourism of the region by not only adding another destination to the rich list of visitor experiences, but by expanding the scope of literary arts offerings available in Western New York.” 

A visit to the collection at Capen Hall is an inspiring experience. For anyone who’s ever read “Dubliners”, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” or “Ulysses,” the UB Libraries is a place that resonates with a visceral connection to Joyce and his work. It can be a genuinely moving experience seeing his letters, his walking stick, his glasses, his death mask. You can feel his mythic presence in the room. But a collection this important to a global audience of literature lovers needs a home befitting its stature. That day may soon be upon us.

“We are so proud to be home to this unique trove of literary artifacts, which, for seven decades, has drawn visitors, dignitaries and scholars from all over the world to UB,” said UB President Satish Tripathi. “Now, we look forward to showcasing this magnificent collection in a dedicated UB James Joyce Museum, which will contribute significantly to the cultural renaissance taking place in our region while greatly expanding the public’s access to the life and work of James Joyce.” 

James Joyce Collection at University at Buffalo
420 Capen Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260

Ed Healy headshot

Ed Healy

Ed Healy is the former vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara.