Friends, SmithJournalonians, podcast lovers, lend us your ears! Cause we’ve got some hella-sick stuff to put in 'em. The Princeton Digital Archive – an archive that began in 1966 – recently released more than 1,500 hours of audio material that hasn’t been available to the public until now. Our favourites include: 'An Evening of Forbidden Books and Forbidden Writers' with Arthur Miller and Susan Sontag (1984), a 1973 interview with James Baldwin, and a recording of Haruki Murakami’s first ever speaking event in 1991. There’s also an incredible track from 1966 of Pablo Neruda featuring on a panel with Buckminster Fuller, discussing ‘The Writer in the Electronic Age’. (Yep, that was back in '66!)
On its site, they shared the origin story of the archive, outlining how it was almost buried forever:
"Arriving at the small, sun-filled reading room, eager to dive into recordings featuring the likes of Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and many more, our staff met a dead end: Princeton denied us access to the recordings. A loud argument ensued. Our staff insisted on seeing the collection; both the archivist and the curator said no. Our staff begged. The curator stood his ground. The recordings had been deemed so vulnerable that a single spin of a record through a player could cause irreparable damage that would render the recording unusable."
Over the following five years, with various philanthropic support, the most high-risk materials were carefully preserved and digitised. Now visitors to the PEN America Digital Archive can search the recordings by author/participant, date, genre, location, and media (including audio and video). And when we say that Miller, Baldwin, Sontag and Neruda are just scraping the surface, what we actually mean is that you might need to take the week off work to explore the gems in this aural Aladdin’s cave.