Save literary archives, Poet Laureate urges

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The Independent Culture

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, has called for government action to stop the archives of Britain's best writers being sold abroad.

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, has called for government action to stop the archives of Britain's best writers being sold abroad.

He wants the Government to increase the budget for buying manuscripts and to offer tax breaks for writers who sell their papers within Britain. With a growing worldwide interest in literary archives, British institutions frequently lose out to better-funded international rivals, Motion said.

The University of Texas in Austin holds the papers of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene and sizeable collections from DH Lawrence, Dylan Thomas and Tom Stoppard.

But Motion said it was not just a question of money, but of the speed of decision-making and the greater value attached to writers' archives overseas.

The situation could be improved by the appointment of a "manuscripts tsar" dedicated to highlighting the importance of literary manuscripts, he said in an article for the Royal Society of Literature magazine. Motion said: "The nuts and bolts of writing, and manuscripts, have a primitive fascination."

The Government could help by giving tax breaks to writers to donate their archives to the nation and by making the sale of British manuscripts to British libraries exempt from VAT. Rules which stop the export of important cultural objects apply to items more than 50 years old.

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