FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The popularity of Bloomington native Ross Lockridge Jr.'s first novel, "Raintree County," swept the country when it was published in 1948. A review in The Atlantic that year dubbed the 1,000-plus-page tome the "Hoosier War and Peace," and it was excerpted in Life magazine, became a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection and won a movie deal.
While Lockridge died just a few months after his book's publication, his legacy lives on in a collection housed at Indiana University's Lilly Library, which will celebrate his centennial birthday with an exhibition, events and film screening.
On view now, "Raintree County: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Ross Lockridge Jr." is open through May 19.
Thousands of the author's personal belongings -- including letters, mementos collected from a year spent abroad in Paris, unpublished writings and a portion of the original manuscript for his famed novel -- were gifted to the library by family members and are on display. There's even an original 19th-century atlas he used while writing his book, which is set in a fictionalized Henry County, Ind.
“We’re very pleased to be able to host this remarkable exhibition documenting the lives and works of members of the Lockridge family, and the creation of Ross Lockridge Jr.’s monumental novel, 'Raintree County,'” said Joel Silver, director of the Lilly Library. “Special Collections libraries offer visitors and researchers the opportunity to come into contact with the original source materials of history and literature, and this powerful and evocative display reflects the world of 'Raintree County' in all of its aspects, from its earliest development to its publication, reception and feature film adaptation.”
Lilly Library curator of manuscripts Cherry Williams worked closely with the Lockridge family to assemble this exhibition. “The Lilly Library is a perfect fit for the Lockridge collection," Williams said. "In addition to the fact that Ross Lockridge Jr. was born and raised here in Bloomington, we also have the papers of other notable Hoosiers such as Ernie Pyle and Wendell Willkie, as well as iconic Indiana authors James Whitcomb Riley and Kurt Vonnegut, all of which create opportunities for in-depth, cross-disciplinary research."
Those who have used the Lilly's collection include Eric Sandweiss, the Carmony Chair of the IU Department of History and editor of the Indiana Magazine of History.
"The Lilly’s Lockridge collection offers a remarkable record of the making of a novel in the context of the making of a life," he said. "Lockridge’s work on the book was so wrapped up in the events and emotions of his short life, and in these papers you can see the man and his art intertwining and affecting one another.
"For a historian, the Lockridge papers are particularly valuable. They reveal the biographical history of the family itself -- a multigenerational span of influential Hoosiers who helped to shape this state. But there’s also the chance to trace the work of two important Hoosier historians: Ross Lockridge Sr. and Jr. Both men wrote extensively about this state’s history, and each did so in imaginative and creative ways that reflected their different personalities and different times."
Other highlights of the Lilly's centennial celebration include a free screening of MGM Studios' 1957 adaptation of "Raintree County," starring Elizabeth Taylor, at 2:30 p.m. April 10 at IU Cinema. Following the screening, at 5:30 p.m., the Lilly Library will host a reception and remarks by Ruth Lilly Dean of University Libraries Brenda L. Johnson and Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, who is expected to proclaim April 7 to 13 as "Ross Lockridge Jr. Week" in Bloomington in recognition of Lockridge's work and his strong ties to the community.