Librarian Discovers New Work by Nicaraguan Poet in Stacks

Undiscovered work by Ruben Dario scrawled on pages

With three million volumes and 65 miles of shelf space, it's not surprising that books occasionally get lost at Widener Library.

Still, librarian David R. Whitesell hardly expected to find undiscovered poetry by a world-renowned writer handwritten inside a book among the library's collections.

Visiting the stacks on a cataloguing question in December 1997, Whitesell ended up in the Latin American literature section. By chance, he picked up an attractive red book. What he found would change the next few years of his life.

Whitesell, a rare-book cataloguer for Houghton Library, opened the book and found an inscription from the author to Ruben Dario.

Dario, who wrote around the turn of the 20th century, is considered one of the foremost Spanish-language poets of all time.

"Two questions immediately came to mind," Whitesell said, "Where did Harvard get this book, since it most likely [originally] belonged to Dario? And did Harvard get any other books that Dario once owned?"

Given that Whitesell previously worked with a rare-books dealer, he knew that libraries tend to buy books in batches, making the single book even "more intriguing."

Once he flipped over the small red-bound book, Whitesell realized that its back was inscribed with Dario's name, the year 1901 and a title.