Herman B Wells
President and Chancellor Emeritus
Dear Dr. Wells,
Over four decades ago, you rolled up your sleeves and began work on Being Lucky. From what I’ve been told, you didn’t really want to be bothered with writing a memoir. Finally—perhaps very reluctantly—you gave in to the continual requests and pleadings to share your valued experiences, wisdom, and wonderful stories.
Thank you for that gift.
You’re known as a legendary storyteller, but writing it all down, from the personal anecdotes to accounts of professional activities, proved difficult at first. Where to start, what to weed out, how to organize it all? You got advice, lots of it, from all quarters. John Gallman, Director of Indiana University Press at the time, gave you a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince and suggested that you adopt its loose essay arrangement and conversational tone, which seemed perfect for your short-burst writing habits. As we all know, that suggestion didn’t work and even gave you writer’s block for some time.
Finally, though, perseverance through dictation, transcription by Dottie Collins, and further editing made it happen, and you sent over the much-beloved and much-labored-over manuscript to Indiana University Press.
I am sorry to say, Dr. Wells, that your enthusiasm for details produced a whopper of a manuscript—far too long for the book’s appropriate audience. As John Gallman told you, “People don’t read a book they can’t read in bed, so it can’t be too big.” What’s also true is that a book of that length would have carried a very expensive price tag. Finally, there were just too many side trip details and narrative wanderings to hold the attention of readers as they made their way through the telling of your life.
Not to worry—that happens all the time in our profession. First drafts of manuscripts, especially memoirs, tend to be overstuffed and need to be trimmed. Following standard procedure then and today, John as your editor granted you, the author, the courtesy of making the cuts to your writing. However, feeling that your part of the process was done and that you had moved on, you told John just to take out what he wanted.
And so he did. The narrative was tightened and the book shortened primarily by the elimination of most of what you called “interchapters.” Your original vision for the book involved placing short pieces of content between the chapters. Those interchapters consisted of anecdotes and recollections about the famous people you knew, as well as engaging and inspiring speeches that hadn’t been published. It was a unique and interesting way to structure a memoir but, in the end, the necessary need to cut ruled supreme.
You loved those vignettes, didn’t you? In a speech to the Men’s Faculty Club in 1980, after the book was published, you lamented that they had been dropped. Even six years later, you remembered them, having a handful of the cut stories printed in a pamphlet that was given out to a few.
Thirty years slipped by. John Gallman stepped down from the directorship of the Press in 2000; I joined in 2014. I first learned of the unpublished stories, and the editing process for Being Lucky, from a tweet by Dina Kellams, Director of University Archives, which linked to your long ago speech at the Men’s Faculty Club. The prospect of unpublished stories immediately intrigued me. With Dina’s invaluable help and advice, we dove into the archival materials related to Being Lucky, discovering nearly all of the edited out vignettes and addresses. I remember fondly the real thrill of seeing them for the first time!
And so we went to work. Dr. Wells, I bet you would have been happy with this new and complete edition of your memoir, made possible through the stunning advances in digital communications technology since 1980 and, as crucially, through the generous financial support of B. J. and Bob Kaufman. It’s exciting that B. J. and Bob’s generosity allows us to offer the digital edition of Being Lucky for free! We managed to track down nearly all of the cut materials and, following the original table of contents, reinstated them exactly where you had originally wanted them.
So there you have it. Forty years later, we’re proud to share your complete story at last.
Gary Dunham, Ph.D.
Director, Indiana University Press