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Friday, January 13, 2012

The first typewritten manuscript

Who produced the first typewritten manuscript?

Mark Twain, it seems, with his story "Life on the Mississippi"

And can you blame him?  "Mississippi" is a lot easier to type than to write.

Joking aside, there is an interesting discussion developing on the internet, starting with milestones in publishing (such as the first typewritten manuscript), and focusing on word processors.

So, who was the first to produce a manuscript on a word processor?

No one knows, according to a fascinating article in the NYT by Jennifer Schuessler.  But there are plenty of guesses, mostly involving science fiction writers -- which is only logical, when you think about it.  Frank Herbert could well have been the first to submit a book on floppy disks, but in the absence of the disks themselves, let alone the data on them, it is impossible to prove.

(For that matter, it could have been yours truly.  In 1990 I produced She Was a Sister Sailor on a Brother rather like the one pictured above, and sent it to the publisher -- Mystic Seaport -- on floppy disks, which were a lot cheaper to mail than a typewritten manuscript.  They had to borrow an identical machine to read the confounded things.)

In her NYT story, Jennifer Schuessler tells us about Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, a university professor who is hot on the trail of the first word processor-produced manuscript, according to a recent lecture at the New York Public Library, saucily titled "Stephen King's Wang."  (A Wang was King's first word processor.)  Mr. Kirschenbaum also collects old word processors, and has a novel method of cleaning mother boards -- by putting them through the rinse cycle of the dishwasher!

According to Ms. Schuessler, the lecture was drawn from Mr. Kirschenbaum’s book Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, which Harvard University Press is set to publish in 2013, or as soon as he can finish tapping it out on his iBuyPower 64-bit laptop.



Caron Dann said...

My parents bought me an electronic word processor in about 1982, which I did lots of writing on (but not a novel ms). I can't remember the brand (Japanese though) and, sadly, I disposed of it about 10 years ago and wish I hadn't: it belongs in a museum now. It had a little screen (the first such gadget any of my friends had seen) and a short memory, but a memory none-the-less. People who saw it at my house would ask me what on earth it was.

Joan Druett said...

About 1988 an Australian friend wrote to me in desperate need of advice. Her husband had bought her a "Star Writer" and she didn't know how to use it. I had never even heard of such a thing!

How the world has moved in the past few years. Now we're grappling with digital publishing, and -- as you say -- word processors belong in museums.