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In 2004 the American University of Paris awarded an honorary degree to acclaimed novelist Muriel Spark, who was 87 years of age at the time. Spark travelled to Paris to accept the award at the annual graduation ceremony, from her home in Tuscany, and spent a week being fêted by members of the AUP community and by her Paris readers.

Two years later Spark died and was buried in her local cemetery where her gravestone says, simply, “Muriel Spark, Poeta”.

In 2019 Professor Dan Gunn was asked by Penelope Jardine, Muriel Spark’s companion and the administrator of her literary estate, if he would undertake the job of editing her friend’s letters.

Asked why he had been chosen for such an honour, Dan Gunn responded:

“I can only speculate since I didn’t ask Penelope why she had chosen me, and I certainly was not about to quibble.

I grew up in Muriel’s hometown, Edinburgh, and left it and Scotland around the same age as she did, which is to say when we were eighteen.

Then, through my twenty-five years of working on Samuel Beckett’s letters, I have gained a lot of experience of the challenges facing any editor of a recently deceased writer.

I know Muriel’s work well – twenty-two novels, poetry, essays – and have written and published admiringly on it.

I also know Italy well and the Italian language; this seems to me important as Muriel spent the last forty years of her life in Italy.

I have some familiarity, not least through my teaching at AUP, with America and American life, which may be of some significance since Muriel spent important patches of time in America and knew many of her greatest successes there.

And then, perhaps most importantly, I got to know Penelope when she accompanied Muriel to Paris for the acceptance of her honorary degree, and have continued to visit and correspond with her since. What my experience of working on Beckett’s letters taught me is that it is crucial there exist a relationship of trust between an author’s literary estate and the individual charged with editing the writer’s work, in this case Muriel’s letters. I am fortunate enough to have such a relationship of trust with Penelope, both of us being committed to publishing as good a selection of Muriel’s letters as possible.”

In late-2019 a contract was signed between Muriel Spark’s literary estate, Dan Gunn, and Virago Books UK for a two-volume edition of The Letters of Muriel Spark.

The arrival of Covid-19 in early-2020 entailed the closure of most of the world’s archives, and this has slowed somewhat the process of obtaining and transcribing the letters; but the work is ongoing and accelerating now, with AUP Comparative Literature alumni assisting at the chief repository of the Spark archive, in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland, and current AUP students helping in Paris.