Graduate Student Investigates Strange Worlds of Sci-Fi Writer

Thursday, January 03, 2008

For Andrew Ferguson, The University of Tulsa was the only place he could accurately investigate the fantasy-filled world of Tulsa sci-fi writer and Hugo Award-winning author R.A. Lafferty, who left most of his work to McFarlin Library’s Special Collections after his death in 2002.

Lafferty attended TU before serving in World War II in the army in the South Pacific. After the war, Lafferty worked as an electrician and author of various genres, most notably science fiction. A self-taught linguist, his playful writing resembles the tall tale stories of Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill with the sharp Irish wit and creative language use of Flann O’Brien.

"It’s a wild place to be. There’s a great deal of fun to have in that universe," Ferguson said of Lafferty’s writing. Ferguson began his master’s degree in English this fall and "came to TU because it’s the only place on earth I can have the hands on experience I need to do my research."

Although Lafferty waited until he was 45-years-old to begin his career in writing, he developed a devoted fan base and earned international recognition. Several of his stories won Nebula and Hugo award nominations, and in 1972 the World Science Fiction Society presented him with the Hugo award for "Eurema’s Dam."

For Lafferty’s collection of work, he received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries in 1995 and the Cordwainer Smith Foundation’s Rediscovery Award in 2002.

Lafferty inspired New York Times bestseller Neil Gaiman, who co-wrote the screenplay for "Beowulf," to craft a short story in the author’s quirky style. Gaiman wrote in the introduction to his story "Sunbird" that "(Lafferty) was, for a little while in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the best short story writer in the world. … His stories were unclassifiable and odd and inimitable."

Among the boxes and boxes of Lafferty’s papers in Special Collections, Ferguson has set out to bring a fresh perspective to Lafferty’s writings, including the author’s 15 unpublished novels and about 50 unpublished short stories. He intends to create a guide to reading Lafferty’s work that demonstrates the author’s vision of his works as one extended narrative piece.

"I’m fairly certain that some of the things I’m looking at only the author and I have read," said Ferguson. "I can almost feel him rewiring my brain to see the universe how he wants me to."

For more information about the Lafferty papers in McFarlin Library’s Special Collections, visit

The McFarlin Library Special Collections includes more than 121,000 printed volumes and 3,500 shelf feet of manuscripts. The collection’s internationally recognized areas of emphasis include American, British and Irish literary materials (including works by two Nobel laureates), national and international World War I artifacts, petroleum exploration and production documents, and Native American language and historical materials.