Among Duke's alumni are a number of well-known authors, and the papers of several of them, including William Styron '47, Hon. '68. Tucked among the manuscripts and correspondence related to such collections lies the unexpected--three scrapbooks compiled by William C. Styron Sr., chronicling his son's childhood and early career as a writer.
"Billy" was born June 11, 1925, in Newport News, Virginia. The joyous occasion is marked in his father's scrapbook with a birth announcement and a picture postcard of the hospital. Baby pictures fill the first few pages, along with assorted mementos of early childhood: a lock of hair; drawings of his dog, Nick; a map to his "Treasure Island"; and the sketch of an ocean liner he christened Styron Line. There is a telegram from Santa Claus encouraging young Billy to retire early Christmas Eve and a note from a teacher praising his creativity. "He is a very natural sort of a boy, bright, even witty at times, able to mimic others, and embellish a story by exaggeration, in order to make it more interesting," the teacher wrote.
The first scrapbook also includes writing from the author's high-school and college years. One piece, which dates from Styron's brief enrollment at Davidson College, satirizes the social and political ramifications of staying in school versus enlisting in the armed forces--mimicking the styles of Coleridge, Shakespeare, Shelley, Kipling, and Tennyson. Ironically, Styron joined the Marine Corps in 1943.
After his brief military service, Styron came to Duke, where his talent flowered under the tutelage of Professor William Blackburn. Some of Styron's student writings included in the scrapbook were published in The Archive, Duke's undergraduate literary magazine, as well as in Blackburn's anthology, One and Twenty: Duke Narrative and Verse, 1924-1945.
In the other two scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, book jackets, and printed interviews chronicle Styron's literary career. These materials share space with correspondence that offers insights into his early novels, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), Set This House on Fire (1960), and The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967). Styron's father donated the three scrapbooks to Duke in 1969.