Two and a half document boxes of correspondence, photocopied
manuscripts, and clippings comprise the John Howard Griffin Collection.
Containing mainly correspondence, the collection reveals Griffin's interest in
religious, social, and literary issues. The collection is arranged into three
series: I. Works, nd, 3 folders; II. Correspondence, 1954-1980, 33 folders; and
III. Decherd Turner Materials Relating to John Howard Griffin, 1952-1980, 3
folders. Because the collection arrived in two groups, the first a donation
from then Ransom Center Director Decherd Turner, and the second a purchase from
the Griffin estate, registration numbers have been added to each folder to
identify the provenance of the materials.
Series I contains manuscript drafts by Griffin, all in photocopied form.
Two versions of
Black Like Me are present--the first is a
near complete copy of the manuscript, which appears to have been pulled
together from two or three different drafts, and the second version is abridged
and highlighted by stage directions and notes for a theatrical presentation. Of
note in this folder is a drawing of a set design for this presentation. The
series concludes with a short draft of a essay titled
"Publication Year," in which Griffin discusses
his feelings about being published.
Series II, which forms the bulk of the collection, contains
correspondence to and from Griffin. Although the dates range from the 1950s to
1980, the bulk of the correspondence dates from the 1960s, a period of great
productivity in Griffin's life. Divided between outgoing and incoming
correspondence, the files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent, and
chronologically within each folder. The bulk of the outgoing correspondence is
addressed to Griffin's close friend Decherd Turner, and covers both personal
and literary topics. With a few exceptions, these letters are photocopies whose
originals are housed in the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University
in Dallas, Texas (see file 3.4 for a letter from SMU sending Turner these
photocopies). Subjects of note in these letters include religion, race
relations (particularly after the publication of
Black Like Me), and Griffin's 1961 meeting
with Anaïs Nin. Other outgoing letters are addressed to Carl Brannin, Mrs.
James A. Hiser, and Mrs. Goldie Renfro.
The incoming correspondence subseries is rich in its depth and variety,
spanning Griffin's youthful days in Europe to his later years as a writer in
the United States. The letters pertain largely to religion, but they also
document Griffin's interest in social issues, literature, and photography. Much
of this correspondence is in French. The largest compilation of correspondence
in this series came from American literary historian and critic Maxwell
Geismar. Over 200 chatty and sometimes gossipy letters and postcards follow
Griffin and Geismar's literary friendship from 1961-1977, and include such
topics as Geismar's work at
Ramparts, new books, publishers, the
literary scene of the 1960s, family and personal news, and mutual literary
Seventy letters from the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain are
included in this subseries, as well as 96 additional letters written by his
assistants, Sisters Anne de St. Jacques and Marie Pascale. Griffin considered
Maritain his spiritual mentor, and the letters contain references to Maritain's
ongoing works, as well as his responses to Griffin's books.
Another important correspondent of Griffin's was Nobel Peace Prize
winner Father Dominique Pire, whose 68 letters were sent to Griffin between
1966-68. Pire and Griffin worked together through the University of Peace in
Huy, Belgium, and their collaboration included several peace programs and
publications, documented in this correspondence.
Other correspondents include Berenice Abbott, the famed American
photographer; Anne Fremantle, who was interested in writing about Griffin;
Jonathan Kozol, a young social and educational critic who looked to Griffin as
a kind of mentor; composer Arthur Lourie, whose correspondence dates from
Lourie's stay in Princeton, N.J., and who calls Griffin “mon seuil vrai ami
dans ce pays” (my only true friend in this country); Francis Poulenc, who
wrote to Griffin as he worked on his religious opera, Dialogue of the
Carmelites; and Father Gerald Vann, a Dominican theologian who was instrumental
in Griffin's conversion to Roman Catholicism.
Within Series III are three folders of materials collected by Decherd
Turner pertaining to John Howard Griffin. Two folders of incoming and outgoing
correspondence with Turner document his activities on behalf of Griffin, and
particularly Turner's association with
The John Howard Griffin Reader. No
correspondence with Griffin is present in this series. A third folder contains
newspaper clippings about Griffin, documenting the publication of his first
book, the restoration of his sight, and the reaction of his hometown to the
Black Like Me.