A library of unpublished manuscripts

An architectural rendering of the renovated Presidio Branch Library.

In its literary star turn, the Presidio Branch Library, at 3150 Sacramento Street, was transformed into a fictional repository for unpublished manuscripts placed on the shelves at all hours of the day and night directly by the writers themselves.

Yet except for one easily overlooked display case near the checkout desk, there is no evidence the library was used regularly by noted Bay Area writer Richard Brautigan and incorporated into his novel, The Abortion.

That may change now that the historic Carnegie library, which has been serving local readers since 1921, is about to be remade. Planning is in the final stages for a $2.4 million renovation of the library.

The author on the steps of the Presidio branch library.

Branch librarian Marjorie Brean is determined that Brautigan, a former neighbor, will be appropriately honored in the renovated library.


“It’s very special,” she says. “We can’t let that just evaporate into history.”

In the years since Brautigan’s novel was published in 1970, there has been a regular stream of letters from readers of The Abortion asking if there really is a library at 3150 Sacramento Street, and if it really does accept unpublished manuscripts. Some even send a manuscript, although the novel makes it clear the manuscripts must be brought in person by the author.

Now the correspondence comes mostly via email, including a message from a Brautigan reader in the Czech Republic, who wrote in 2007: “I turn on you with a polite request. This time I have been reading a novel about the romantic possibilities of a public library in California,” wrote Miroslav Gojdic. “I would like to ask you if your library is open 24 hours too and if your library is depositary for unpublished manuscripts too.”

Brean answers the inquiries, as did her predecessors. Hers may not operate entirely like the fictional library Brautigan described — she does go home at night — but she says the renovated library will definitely commemorate Brautigan’s creation.

“I am totally committed,” she says. “We’ll find a way to do it.”

5 Responses

  1. Last month I picked up a copy of the New Fillmore in the lobby of my apartment building. I was drawn to the cover story, “Library of Unpublished Manuscripts,” which contained an excerpt from writer and poet Richard Brautigan.

    When I attended university in the 1970s, I read several of Brautigan’s books and short stories (didn’t everybody?). In one of his books, Brautigan turns the real-life Presidio Branch Library on Sacramento Street into an imaginary place, where a 24-hour librarian receives unpublished manuscripts from writers.

    As I followed the story to the mid-section of the paper, I caught sight of a photo of a postcard addressed to the library. The card simply asks, “Do you really exist?” and is signed J. Britton, with a return address in London, Ontario, Canada, postmarked 1975.

    I went to high school with a John Britton and somehow I just knew this had to be the same guy. What are the chances that I would happen upon a note written 34 years ago, printed in a neighborhood newspaper many miles and many years away from that time and place?

    Within 24 hours, I tracked down John in Lakefield, Ontario. Amid the laughter and nostalgia of our reconnecting, he recalled reading Brautigan’s story and writing to the library. Later, I called the person who wrote the article, who offered to meet me at the library and show me the permanent Brautigan display, where my friend’s memento is being kept.

    There are many moments when life is strange, beautiful and random and we find ourselves connected through surprising and unlikely ways. In this case, I simply happened to have my eyes open.

  2. Richard affected many people’s lives in inconceivable ways and people are just starting to realize how important he was to their lives.

  3. […] including library volunteer Marcia Popper, continue to push for an expanded display about the Brautigan connection when the renovated Presidio Branch Library reopens in late […]

  4. […] including library volunteer Marcia Popper, continue to push for an expanded display about the Brautigan connection when the renovated Presidio Branch Library reopens in late […]

  5. While the Presidio Carnegie Library does not accept manuscripts, the Clark County Historical Museum (which is housed in Vancouver, Washington’s Carnegie Library building) now holds the Brautigan Library collection as compiled by Todd Lockwood in the 1990’s in Vermont.

    The Brautigan Library is opening tomorrow (Thursday, October 7th, 2010) at 5 p.m. Lockwood and Ianthe Brautigan will be at the museum for the opening.

    Tomorrow night as well, we will be opening an exhibit on Brautigan entitled ‘Autumn Trout Gathering’.

    We hope you can come.

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