When writing the novel that was the inspiration for the hit musical “Wicked,” Gregory Maguire drew upon some unusual inspiration — the University at Albany campus.
Maguire, a graduate of UAlbany’s class of 1976, recalled construction of the residence towers during his freshman year.
“My first file folder with the first papers that came from the university I titled ‘Oz matters’ because the towers rising up looked to me like the Emerald City. It looked too big and grand and glorious to be dominating Pine Hills and it seemed liked some place magical,” he said.
Maguire returned to that magical place Tuesday as he officially donated his papers to the university library’s M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives.
The papers include 30 or 40 handwritten pages of a first draft of “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Maguire said as a child he loved the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and would act out characters from the story with siblings and friends. “My parents were very strict. They loved books. They didn’t let us watch TV, but they did let us watch that film once a year,” he said following a ceremony in the Standish Room of UAlbany’s Science Library.
The papers also include writings from Maguire’s father, former Times Union columnist John Maguire, and poetry from stepmother Marie McAuliff Maguire.
Brian Keough, an associate librarian, said the staff will take care of Maguire’s work. It will join papers from other notable authors with local ties including “Ironweed” author William Kennedy, presidential speech writer and author Joseph Persico and children’s book author and illustrator Marcia Brown.
The university also has a rich collection of children’s literature with more than 15,000 titles dating from 1850 to 1960, according to Keough. This includes a copy of “The Admiral’s Caravan,” which was written in 1891 by Charles E. Carryl. It is about a young girl named Dorothy who takes a journey with three young statues who come alive on Christmas Eve.
“It sounds a bit like Frank Baum’s ‘Wizard of Oz,’ doesn’t it?” he asked.
Maguire described himself as an archivist. He saved clippings from his father, who wrote a column for the Times Union from 1963 to 1978.
Editor Rex Smith recalled being close to the family and remembered the younger Maguire talking about the “Wizard of Oz” story he was doing.
In 1986, Maguire put together excerpts from his father’s writings that he titled “Without Tattoo or Cummerbund,” which was a phrase from his father’s first column.
“He will be a man about town without tattoo or cummerbund — basically saying [a] middle-of-the-road kind of guy telling the story of what he sees and what stories he hears as an Irish raconteur,” Maguire said.
Maguire included in his papers a letter to his agent in New York City explaining what he was trying to do with “Wicked.”
“I was not trying to write a ‘Saturday Night Live’ parody and I was not trying in any way to ‘dis’ L. Frank Baum, although I suppose back then ‘dis’ wasn’t really a verb,” he said.
Maguire said he never anticipated that the book would go on to sell 5 million copies. “I thought maybe some college kids would like it. Maybe it would sell 100,000 copies over a 10-year period,” he said.
Maguire said the book has taken on a life of its own. (The Broadway musical ‘Wicked’ is playing at Proctors in Schenectady through Sunday.)
Maguire also donated some drawings, diaries and other papers, including a poem he wrote in college that was published in UAlbany’s Phoenix Literary Journal titled “Sacrifice to Sanity,” which he said pretty much sums up his career.
The university also gave Maguire a copy of his college transcript, which he promptly put in one of the boxes.
UAlbany Provost Susan Phillips closed with a quote from Maguire. “Books fall open, you fall in. When you climb out again, you’re a bit larger than you used to be.”
“The University at Albany is much larger and greater for having Gregory Maguire being part of its legacy,” Phillips said.