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My great uncle's letters

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named arno.jpgGerman author Arno Schmidt was my great-uncle on my mother's side, my maternal grandmother's younger brother. I never met him, but when he died in 1979, my mother ended up with a collection of his writing. We want to donate these writings to a library for long-term preservation. We're going to do this slowly and carefully, because we want to do right by an ancestor, but also to learn as much as possible about the process to apply to preserving digital archives. I'll write more about the book collection later. Permalink to this paragraph

I also have a taped interview with Lucy Schmidt Kiesler, my grandmother, done by a Schmidt biographer, which I'm going to digitize and then release as an MP3 podcast. It'll be the first time I've heard my grandmother's voice since she died in 1977. Permalink to this paragraph

Today I want to see if it's possible to do some detective work to find some of my great uncle's letters to my grandmother, his sister -- from his home in Germany to her home in Rockaway.  Permalink to this paragraph

Here's what I know. According to my mother, in 1977, a doctoral student from the University of Texas, Kenneth Wayne Egan, visited and with permission, studied the letters, which had been left to my mother by her mother, my grandmother, Arno Schmidt's sister. Apparently Mr. Egan took the letters, according to my mother, without permission. One thing's certain -- we don't at this time have the letters.  Permalink to this paragraph

I have a letter from Dr. H-B.Moeller, Assoc Prof in the Department of Germanic Languages, thanking my mother for her help and hoping that she would extend her welcome, if needed again, in the future. My mother says she attempted to contact Dr. Moeller to inquire about the letters, but he didn't respond.  Permalink to this paragraph

I scanned the letter and uploaded it to Flickr. Click on the thumbnail below to see the full image. Permalink to this paragraph

Letter from H.B. Moeller, Nov 8, 1977 Permalink to this paragraph

We did some searching and found Egan's doctoral dissertation mentioned in the bibliography of an analysis of Schmidt's Zettle's Traum. It's possible the originals are in a library at the University of Texas. If so, they should be returned to my mother so we can include them with the collection of our books in our donation. I'm not saying that Egan, or Moeller or the University of Texas did anything wrong, memories can fade over 30-plus years. But we believe the letters belong with the rest of Schmidt's writings, as a collection. In any case, it would be helpful to know where they are.  Permalink to this paragraph

Update: Jeff Beckham sent a link to Dr. Moeller's page on the University of Texas website. I sent him an email asking for his help in locating the letters.  Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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