Thomas F. Staley, 1936-2022

The longtime director of UT's literary archive, the Harry Ransom Center, Staley was also a James Joyce scholar

Thomas F. Staley
Thomas F. Staley in front of the Ransom Center

Thomas F. Staley, author, professor emeritus and 25-year director of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, died March 29, the university announced today. He was 86.

Under his leadership of the Ransom Center, more than 100 authors’ archives were acquired, including the papers of J.M. Coetzee, Don DeLillo, Penelope Fitzgerald, Denis Johnson, Doris Lessing, Penelope Lively, David Mamet, Norman Mailer, Jayne Anne Phillips, James Salter, Isaac Bashevis Singer and David Foster Wallace, among many others.

Staley also expanded the center’s collections beyond literature with such acquisitions as the archives of actor Robert De Niro and photojournalist David Douglas Duncan, and the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein Watergate papers.

And he built what is widely regarded as the most significant collection related to the postwar British theater, acquiring the archives of playwrights Tom Stoppard, Arnold Wesker, John Osborne and David Hare. Other collecting strengths of this period include the archives of many Jewish writers and anglophone African authors.

“The collections that Tom Staley acquired over his 25-year directorship are a lasting legacy and for generations to come will stand as a record not only of our times but of one man’s astute engagement with our culture,” said Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss.

In 2007, The New Yorker’s D.T. Max wrote of Staley: “The Ransom Center, under Staley’s leadership, easily outmaneuvers rivals such as Yale, Harvard, and the British Library. It operates more like a college sports team, with Staley as the coach—an approach that fits the temperament of Texas.”

Staley wrote and edited 15 books on “Ulysses” author James Joyce, Italo Svevo, modern British female novelists including Jean Rhys and Dorothy Richardson, and modern literature, generally.He was the founding editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, which he edited for 26 years, and he founded the Joyce Studies Annual.

“A library is built upon a fundamental optimism, a belief that it is essential to know the past in order to understand the present and to better anticipate the future,” Staley wrote in the 2007 book “Collecting the Imagination,” which documented the first 50 years of the Ransom Center.

Staley was appointed Ransom Center director in 1988. At the time he was vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Tulsa. In Texas, he held a professorship in UT’s English Department and held the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts before becoming professor emeritus. He retired from the Ransom Center in 2013.

“Tom Staley successfully convinced us over the years to be all we could be—to recite poetry and sing out loud,” longtime friend, former Ransom Center Advisory Council Member, philanthropist and collector Suzanne Deal Booth said of Staley.

“Tom brought treasures of the intellectual world to UT Austin, and more importantly, through his wit, passion and brilliance, he brought people closer to the truths embodied in these works of art,” said Jay Hartzell, president of the university. “His enormous impact on the Ransom Center will be felt in perpetuity, and in that sense, Tom lives on.”

Staley is survived by his wife, Muffi; their four children:Tom Jr., Carrie, Mary and Tim; and six grandchildren: Katie Wheeler and John Wheeler, Jake Ramzy, and Emerson, Foster and Cormac Staley.