C. Jared Loewenstein and Jorge Luis Borges It's not often that an offhand remark can change the course of a man's life. But that's exactly what happened to C. Jared Loewenstein (Col '66, Grad '92).
In 1967, Loewenstein heard that the celebrated and influential Latin American author Jorge Luis Borges was coming to the University to give a lecture on Edgar Allan Poe. An admirer of Borges' work, Loewenstein attended both the reading and a party afterward at the Colonnade Club, and found himself waiting in line to meet the author. The man in front of him asked Borges a question about Jefferson, to which Borges replied, "Ah yes, Thomas Jefferson, the architect of democracy, and the democrat of architecture."
Loewenstein found the quote remarkable in the way it summed up Jefferson's essence with such casual precision. "When I met him and heard that comment," says Loewenstein, "I thought I had to get to know him better."
Thus began a lifelong fascination with the author, the cumulative effect of which has been one of the world's best and most expansive collections of Borges' work, housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Borges in 1976 For half a century, Loewenstein worked for the University Library, where he started out shelving books in Alderman as a student and eventually became head of the reference department.
"This man from Luray, Virginia, meets Borges for the first time, and it changes his life," says Eduardo Montes-Bradley, a filmmaker who is working on a documentary about the two men, focusing on Loewenstein and how his life has been influenced by the author. "In real life, that isn't something that even Borges could have written about."
The two men didn't cross paths again until 1970, when they met at a conference in New York. They eventually spent time together in Argentina, where Loewenstein came to know Borges on a more personal level.
"He was very low key, very retiring, very shy," says Loewenstein, "and not entirely at home in his fame. He was expected to be some kind of oracle, and he wasn't comfortable with that."
Loewenstein Loewenstein tells the story of going to lunch with the author during a literary conference. "Everyone there was expecting some amazing lunchtime fête," he says. When the waitress brought Borges his Coke in a bottle, the author talked at length about the Coca-Cola logo, the unmistakable script, how it could be recognized no matter what the language. "Later he said to me, 'I think they were expecting something different,' and he kind of chuckled. I think he recognized what an icon he was."
Loewenstein traveled to Buenos Aires again in 1976, visiting bookstores and letting the owners know that U.Va. was interested in acquiring the author's works.
The windfall came in 1977, when Loewenstein received a call from a collector in Buenos Aires who said that he had around 400 of Borges' works and offered to sell them. Loewenstein made arrangements, and once the books arrived, the Borges Collection had begun.
"Things just kept happening," says Loewenstein. "We added other books, translations, other manuscripts … under one roof." The collection allows scholars to follow the evolution of some of Borges' work from manuscript form to first printing to complete works. "That's a very powerful tool for literary scholars. It's a way of looking at his development as a writer."
One of Borges' drawings (click for larger view) "The collection is extremely valuable," says María-Inés Lagos, a U.Va. professor of Spanish. "There are things here that are not available anywhere else. There are drawings, and being able to see and touch the manuscripts is an amazing experience."
Lagos once took a professor from New York University, a Borges scholar, to see the items. "She was amazed and could not believe the things we had. I don't think people are aware that we have this incredible collection."
The collection now contains 2,500 to 3,000 items, including one of three known first-edition copies of Moon Across the Way and a first-edition copy of Fervor de Buenos Aires.
"Borges changed the destiny of Jared Loewenstein," says Montes-Bradley. "In the process, the University of Virginia ended up with one of the greatest treasures in literature."