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University of Texas at Austin

Donald E. Herdeck Records of Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press:

An Inventory of the Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Herdeck, Donald E. 1924-2005
Title: Donald E. Herdeck Records of Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press
Dates: 1941-2007 (bulk 1970-1999)
Extent: 68 document boxes (28.56 linear feet), 1 oversize box, and 96 electronic files (16 MB)
Abstract: The records document the life and career of Donald Elmer Herdeck (1924-2005) and include files on the business and production operations of the two publishing houses he founded and directed. Also present are files of his correspondence with the authors he published and those he failed or declined to publish. Files concerning legal and financial matters, inventories, permissions, as well as contracts with the many individuals and companies he employed are located in the collection as well.
Call Number: Manuscripts Collection MS-05199
Language: English, Arabic, Ashanti Twi, Bulgarian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tonga, Turkish, Wolof, Xhosa, Zezeru
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted. Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation: Donald E. Herdeck Records of Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press (Manuscript Collection MS-05199). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Gifts, 2009-2017 (09-11-008-G, 11-05-009-G, 17-08-015-G)
Processed by: Bernth Lindfors, 2018 Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Rebecca Wells and Brenna Edwards, 2021-2024.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Donald Herdeck was born In Chicago in 1924 and grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois, where he was an award-winning journalism student in high school. He went on to study for the next two years, first at Drake University, and then as a drafted military cadet at Texas A&M, before serving in the U.S. Army Infantry at various fronts in Europe during the Second World War. After the war ended, he worked for a year on a Strategic Bombing Survey for the Army Air Force in London and the U.S. until he returned to undergraduate studies in English, initially at the University of Washington in Seattle while waiting for admission to the University of Chicago, where he earned a B.A. in 1947 and an M.A. in 1948. At that point he decided he wanted further experience and education in Europe, so under the G.I. Bill he enrolled in classes in literature and art at universities in Paris, Grenoble, and Florence for the next three years, picking up a fluency in French and Italian along the way.
When he came back to America, he taught English and French for a year at Girard College, a prep school in Philadelphia, before entering a Ph.D. program in the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he concentrated in British and American literatures. However, after completing all requirements except the dissertation, he chose to join the U.S. Foreign Service, taking consular appointments at UNESCO as well as in Italy and Guinea for the next ten years. When his health broke down in Guinea, he left the diplomatic service and found a teaching job at Georgetown University in 1965 while simultaneously working on his long delayed doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania on the poetry of Ezra Pound.
His first teaching assignments were staple courses in American literature and English composition for foreign students, but in addition he soon added courses on African literature as well as interdisciplinary courses on literature and the arts based on what he had learned in Europe. His African courses were cross-listed in Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where they were attended by students aiming for a career in diplomacy such as he himself had had. At the same time, he moonlighted by teaching African literature courses at Howard University. He managed to complete his dissertation in 1968, at which point he qualified for a tenure track position as an Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown. He earned tenure there in 1972.
The following year Herdeck edited and published as his own first book a revised edition of Introduction to the Arts, a textbook originally issued by the University of Chicago Press while he was a student there. He needed such a text for students in his interdisciplinary course on the arts, so he secured permission to bring it out as a publication of the School of Foreign Service and sell it to his classes. This was his first venture into book publishing, and it appears to have been part of what inspired him to start his own publishing company.
As early as 1970 he had contemplated compiling a bio-bibliographical survey of black writers in Africa, America, and the Caribbean as well as editing an anthology of African writing. At the end of 1971 he proposed such projects and others to Hill and Wang, informing them that he was considering starting a company to be called New-World Press. He elaborated on this plan a year later, saying his press would "obtain American rights to works now only in manuscript (new works) or in foreign languages, then to prepare a good typescript of the ms and/or translation, and then to offer the work to established publisher." He brought this intention to fruition in 1973 by launching his own firm, which he decided to call Three Continents Press. Within a year and with an investment of only $450, he was able to bring out his press's first book, a small 83-page paperback entitled Beside the Fire: Two Modern Tales from Nigeria by Obioma Eligwe, who had recently completed a doctorate in African Studies at Howard University.
The following year he published three more books, all of which dealt with Africa. A year later he ventured to publish ten more books, five of which dealt with literature or politics in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, and Africa more generally, as well as two literary works by writers from Guyana and Jamaica, and two collections of poetry and fiction by writers and scholars from Iran. So, in that single year he justified his claim to be a publisher of books from three continents. He and his wife were able to sustain this level of activity by financing it with their own salaries as well as with investments from a handful of enthusiastic shareholders. Herdeck also prescribed many of these books in the courses he taught, selling them to his students.
In later years the wide international range of the press eventually extended even further. By 1993 he was publishing works by writers living and writing in five continents. At that time, he had 254 titles in print with 33% coming from Africa, 30% from the Middle East, 15% from Asia/Pacific, 12.7% from the Caribbean/Latin America, and 9% from the United States.
A good number of these titles were volumes of verse, often published in bilingual editions. Translations were some of his most significant contributions to world literature. He also made a special effort to publish books by and about women. As with the books by men, these female writers came from many different parts of the world, contributing their insights into the rich cultures they depicted.
Very few of the books Three Continents Press published were best sellers, though a number of them were reprinted several times. Those most frequently reissued were works by the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1988. Before the Swedish Academy selected him, Herdeck had been the first American publisher to bring out four of his narratives in English translation. After the prize was announced, orders came flooding in.
Herdeck frequently made co-publishing arrangements with Heinemann Educational Books and later with a portion of Longman's Drumbeat Series. He also secured agreements with other foreign companies, not always to co-publish, but rather to distribute their books in exchange for selected Three Continents Press titles that could be marketed abroad in the same way.
By 1993 Three Continents Press was receiving 500-600 unsolicited manuscripts each year. Herdeck retired from teaching at Georgetown in 1987 to cope with the increasing workload, but as time wore on, he began to experience serious health problems, including a heart attack in 1988, a few months before Mahfouz won the prize. He moved his company from Washington, D. C. to Colorado Springs in the middle of 1993, but suffered a stroke there in February 1995. That may have been what prompted him to sell 167 of his titles to Lynne Rienner, another Colorado publisher, in August 1996. He still retained the rights to 60 of the books he had published so he decided to set up a new company, called Passeggiata Press, to market them, as well as to finish work on several contracts he had made, especially with authors he had published with success earlier. He also wanted to see into print new books that came his way and excited him.
By 1999 Herdeck was considering liquidating his new press, but he hung on for another year in order to bring out three more books by his former authors. He died in 2005, and the last book bearing the Passeggiata Press imprint was published by his widow Margaret two years later.
Donald Herdeck was an energetic and intelligent entrepreneur who took great satisfaction and genuine pleasure in the pioneering work he did as a publisher of unusual books. He was alert to the many difficulties he faced as a small press, but he surged on boldly, convinced of the value of bringing samples of non-Western literature to the attention of the Western world.


Herdeck, Donald. Letter to Hill and Wang, December 6, 1972. Donald Herdeck papers, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
Herdeck, Donald. Appreciating the Difference: The Autobiography of Three Continents Press (Pueblo, Colorado: Passeggiata Press, 1998)
McBride, Donna."Profile: Three Continents Press," Translation Review, 41 (1993): 16

Scope and Contents

The papers of Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press are divided into six series: I. Donald Elmer Herdeck; II. Publishing Records, including Subseries A. History, B. Documents, C. Photographs, D. Book Jackets and Covers; III. Books published by Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press; IV. Other Publishing Arrangements; V. Abandoned Projects and Rejected Manuscripts; VI. Business Records including Subseries A. General Correspondence, Subseries B. Vendors, Subseries C. Operations, Subseries D. Sale of Press.
Materials representing the life and career of Donald Herdeck date from 1941 to 2003 and include autobiographical memoirs as well as records documenting his education, military and diplomatic service, teaching experience, publications, public activities, and personal correspondence.
The publishing records of Three Continents Press and Passeggiata Press consist of historical accounts, newspaper and periodical articles published about them, official articles of incorporation, catalogues issued periodically by both presses, copyright applications, and correspondence with book programs and bibliographical services. Of special interest are the questionnaires returned by prominent authors, editors and scholars in 1993 and the list of distinguished foreign writers who visited Three Continents Press. Some of these forms contain authors' social security numbers; and for reasons of privacy, original forms have been removed and replaced with redacted copies. Subsequent subseries of photos, book jackets and covers, and maps add interesting visual records to the archive.
The detailed notes in Series III on books published by both presses include contracts and extensive correspondence with authors, editors, translators, and illustrators as well as book reviews, interviews, and occasional royalty statements. Corrected proofs are also sometimes available.
Series IV on other publishing arrangements focuses on connections with collaborators and co-publishers, agreements about exchanging books with distributors, contracts and correspondence about translations and foreign rights, samples of book catalogues and periodicals received, and representative articles, reviews, and lectures on international literatures.
A good number of the books Herdeck expressed an interest in publishing and issued contracts for were never completed and had to be abandoned or transferred to Lynne Rienner for publication. Some wound up with other publishers. Herdeck also rejected thousands of book proposals. Lists of these abandoned and rejected projects appear in Series V.
Series VI contains general business correspondence conducted from 1973 to 2002 and correspondence with Tod Newcombe and Norman Ware, who functioned as longstanding editors, typesetters, and proofreaders for Herdeck. There are also lengthy lists of printers, other typesetters, photographers, illustrators, book binders, indexers, shippers, warehouses, and booksellers with whom Herdeck interacted. One can also find advertisements, applications for subsidies, submissions for awards, correspondence about legal matters, addresses of reviewers, permissions requests, minutes of shareholders' meetings, sales at conferences and book fairs, financial records, and taxes in this Series. Records of Herdeck's correspondence with prospective buyers of Three Continents Press as well as details of his agreement to sell most of the books he had published to Lynne Rienner can also be found here.

Related Material

Other materials associated with Amos Tutuola and Robert Wren are located in the Ransom Center's Tutuola, Wren, and Bernth Lindfors collections.

Separated Material

Books acquired with the records were transferred to the Center's Library and are cataloged separately.
Computer disks were transferred to the Center's Electronic Records Collection.

Index Terms


Abdul-Baki, Kathryn K.
Burness, Donald.
Chraïbi, Driss, 1926-2007.
Deonna, Laurence.
Fleck, Richard F., 1937- .
Ḥakīm, Tawfīq.
Mahfūz, Najīb, 1911-2006.
Mutswairo, Solomon M.
Nichols, Lee.
Tham, Hilary, 1946- .
Tutuola, Amos.
Wren, Robert, M.


American University in Cairo Press.
Heinemann Educational Books.
Longman drumbeat.


African literature.
African American literature.
Asia-Pacific literature.
Caribbean literature.
Latin American literature.
Middle Eastern literature.

Container List