project

Taking Leave of Nancy

Taking Leave of Nancy is book documenting the story of a private edition of Nancy MacIntyre: A Tale of the Prairies, published by my great-grandfather Felix Harris in 1951, and distributed by hand to almost 1800 people over the course of his lifetime.

While I grew up hearing some general family lore about Felix and Nancy, most of what I know of my great grandfather comes from three of his original journals, and a collection of hundreds of letters sent by Nancy's grateful recipients. Everyone who had known Felix was dead by the time I was old enough to appreciate his story, so as a kid I would crawl into the attic and pore over Felix's journal entries, or read the letters people had sent him. I wanted to understand the ancestor who would undertake such an interesting life's work. And I wanted to inhabit the bygone world where large groups of people gathered after dinner to listen to Felix recite passages from Nancy instead of watching television, and where Nancy's recipients wrote letters of thanks instead of emails.

The key to answering these questions lay in a pile of dusty books and papers. Thus began my fascination with the archive. Ultimately Taking Leave of Nancy is a case study for distilling a large archive of letters, journals, and personal interviews into a series of parallel narratives that combine to give compelling insight into the character of the people involved.

The story of Nancy MacIntyre: A Tale of the Prairies, and how it travelled the world through a completely analog social network, was a perfect counterpoint to the fast-paced culture of the modern world I am addressing in my thesis.

The book contains interviews with five of Felix's surviving family members, but I included my survey questions in the project so that the book might become a vehicle for its own growth.

The original author of Nancy Macintyre, Lester Shepherd Parker, was a larger-than-life character in his own right. A prominent businessman and civic leader in St. Louis, Missouri, Parker also wrote poetry, painted portraits, and composed lyrics and music for hymns. Pages in the book documenting Parker's life are masked with green.

Felix made his living at the insurance agency that he founded, but he was well-known and well-liked by many in Dallas for his involvement in local politics and his ardent support of the Camp Fire Girls organization. Pages in the book documenting Felix's life are masked in blue.

The book is organized by the edition number written on the inside leaf of each copy, starting with zero and finishing at 1809, the last documented copy of Nancy to be given away. Letters and interviews appear in the book according to what edition number the subject received.