mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Howard Gotlieb, BU Archivisit (1926-2005) - The Asimov Connection

Last Saturday, the Boston Globe reported that Howard Gotlieb, the Boston University curator of archives, had died on Thursday at the age of 79. They ran a very nice obituary by Mark Feeney. I want to acknowledge his passing here for one very important reason.

If you are a science fiction fan, you should care about Howard Gotlieb.

You see, Gotlieb presided over BU's department of special collections for 42 years. And during that time, he became almost obsessed with acquiring the private papers of many important figures of the 20th century. Gotlieb wanted to create the preeminent archive for future historians to study the lives of the prominent people of his time. To that end, he managed to acquire the papers of notables such as David Halberstam, Bette Davis, Dan Rather, Martin Luther King...and Isaac Asimov.

That's right. Gotlieb decided that Asimov was a worthy name to add to BU's collection, and when Asimov was living in Boston and still somewhat early in his career, Gotlieb got in touch. As Asimov recounted in his autobiographies, Gotlieb was horrified to learn that Asimov had been burning his old papers with regularity in the barbecue pit in his backyard. Gotleib insisted that Asimov send him everything -- every single scrap of paper that he would have thrown out otherwise. Over the course of his life, Asimov sent BU copies of all his old manuscripts, his works in progress, his fan mail, and his letters.

Because of Gotlieb's foresight, scholars today can trace the life and career of Isaac Asimov, one of the most important Amercian science fiction writers of the 20th century. I myself have visited the archives, and found myself drawn into Asimov's correspondence of the early 1970s, when he was undergoing his divorce from his first wife. One of the letters, to Massachusetts Blue Cross/Blue Shield, is all about making sure that his ex-wife and children continue to receive their health insurance. A rather pedestrian letter, I suppose, but if it weren't for Gotlieb, we wouldn't have it today.

Gotlieb left no survivors, and BU has scheduled a memorial service in Marsh Chapel for January 6th. I have no idea if I can be there, but I hope the place is packed. Gotlieb deserves to be thanked for his role in preserving science fiction history.
Tags: personal, science-fiction

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