So far seven authors have joined the Future Library, a project started in 2014 by artist Katie Paterson. The idea is that manuscripts by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang, Karl Ove Knausgård, and, most recently, Ocean Vuong will, after a ceremony in the Nordmarka forest, be sealed in the Deichman public library in Oslo, Norway. And they’ll stay sealed there until 2114 when one thousand trees, specifically planted just for this project, will be cut down and turned into paper to print one hundred copies of each manuscript.
So each year brings us a little closer to the great unsealing.
This isn’t the first time manuscripts have deliberately been put away until a later date. At least some of Mark Twain’s autobiography was, at his request, published incrementally with the complete volume finally released in 2010. And supposedly the Greek writer Longus would put a finished work away for seven years. At the end of that time he’d pull it out and if he still thought it was good he’d publish it. A lot can happen in seven years–I should know; I’ve got short stories that took at least that long to finish, but those are other stories–but I guess it worked for him since people still read Daphnis And Chloe.
The Future Library project raises a lot of questions. What sort of world will be there to receive the manuscripts when they’re finally published? And I’m going to be optimistic and assume there will still be people around to read the books, and that books will still be printed and preserved in libraries. I know it seems really really optimistic to assume that, although I also assume the internet will still exist in some form even if blogs like this one have long since dissolved, or I will show you fear in a handful of electrons.
A century ago this year, this month, this very week, in fact, the United States passed a major landmark with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, with Tennessee becoming the 36th and final state needed to add the right of women to vote to the Constitution. The Hermitage Hotel, an important meeting place where legislators gathered, has changed in the intervening hundred years but still stands in downtown Nashville, its outward appearance not that much different than 1920.
Considering that it’s not hard to imagine that one woman’s idea of a future library, now less than ninety-six years away and counting, could still come to pass.