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Rare poems enhance Libraries collections

A friendship in Madrid 70 years ago has yielded a valuable first edition of poetry by famed Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca for the MIT Libraries.

The book is the gift of Henry C. Rickard '26 of Westwood, who met the young writer during a pre-college sojourn in Spain ("I was trying to get a year older-I'd jumped a couple of grades in school for no particular reason," he recalled).

Mr. Rickard had planned to go to Egypt to see the pyramids, but after arriving in Madrid, he found a job working for the consul general. He wound up staying the rest of the year, studying and living at La Residencia, a student hostel for some of the city's graduate students (and where five of his eight siblings had also spent time). It was there that he met and became friends with the then-unknown Garcia Lorca.

The young poet took Mr. Rickard, one of the few foreigners there, under his wing, showing him places of interest and including him in cafe discussions involving professors and students. "He was an especially cordial person who liked foreigners and people in general," Mr. Rickard said.

One day in June 1921, Garcia Lorca came to Mr. Rickard from the printer where his first book of poems, Libro de Poemas, had just been published. Of the first three copies, he gave one to Mr. Rickard, keeping one for himself and one for his parents. He inscribed the book to "Quique," the nickname he had given to his American friend.

Garcia Lorca went on to achieve recognition as a poet and dramatist and is now considered the most important Spanish playwright of the 20th century. His early poetic work centered on gypsy and folk themes, although he broadened his scope and directed an experimental theater troupe in the 1930s. He was shot in 1936 in Granada by a government firing squad during the Spanish Civil War. Although he was not actively political, he had made known his opposition to fascism, and as an artist moving in avant-garde circles, he was considered an undesirable by the church and the government, according to "The Assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca" by Ian Gibson.

Mr. Rickard donated his copy of Libro de Poemas to MIT this year after having it appraised at $10,000. Appraiser John W. Wronoski called it "a book of great rarity," since Garcia Lorca is the 20th-century Spanish author whose works are most avidly sought by collectors, and only a few hundred copies were printed. No other book dealers, librarians or collectors he spoke with had ever seen a copy. Its value is enhanced by the inscription and by the inclusion of a photograph of Mr. Rickard and Garcia Lorca on a train in Toledo in 1921.

The book donation earned Mr. Rickard a $3,000 tax deduction, but "I felt I was getting a free ride" by benefiting in that way, he said, so he donated that sum to MIT's Independent Residential Development Fund.

After graduating from MIT, Mr. Rickard's international experiences helped him land a job with the United Shoe Machinery Corp. in France and Latin America. he and his wife Frances lived in Buenos Aires for many years before returning to the United States, where he began a second career in management consulting with May Associates. But it was in Argentina, which had its share of Garcia Lorca fans, that he nearly lost the chance to make his gifts to MIT. "My wife brought my book to a class and almost never got it back," he said with a chuckle. "It took a letter from the embassy to get it back."

The MIT Libraries' Institute Archives and Special Collections are accessible by speaking with a staff member in Rm 14N-118 (x3-5136).

A version of this article appeared in the August 17, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 2).

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