Scope and Contents
|The Sanora Babb Papers, circa 1840s-2006 (bulk 1928-2005) consist of manuscript
drafts, galley proofs, correspondence, photographs, publications, topical files,
appointment books, notes and reflections, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks,
artifacts, audio material, and digital material related to the writer Sanora Babb,
her sister, writer-photographer Dorothy Babb, and her husband, cinematographer
Wong Howe. The personal and professional papers provide diverse and comprehensive
coverage of Sanora Babb's remarkable life–which spanned nearly a century–through
extensive correspondence, writings, and photographs. The papers are organized
seven series: I. Literary Activities, II. Correspondence, III. Topical Files,
Photographs, V. Dorothy Babb, VI. James Wong Howe, and VII. Publications.
|Series I. Literary Activities includes products associated with Babb's writing and
arranged into six subseries: A. Short Stories, B. Published Books, C. Poems, D.
Other Writings, E. Notes, Reflections, Story Ideas, and F. Related Material. Though
Babb wrote and published in a variety of literary forms, she primarily considered
herself a short story writer. Works are arranged in alphabetical order by title
untitled drafts, fragments, and miscellaneous works arranged at the end of each
subseries. Within each title, the material is generally chronological following
order of literary production beginning with research notes through to published
drafts. When applicable, related materials such as reviews, correspondence, or
adaptations follow the drafts.
|Babb was an ardent and dedicated correspondent, exchanging lengthy, poignant, and
sincere letters with family, friends, and professional associates that often span
several decades. Series II. Correspondence is arranged into two subseries: A.
Professional and B. Personal, each in alphabetical order by correspondent's name.
This collection of letters documents many facets of Babb's life as a woman and
|Series III. Topical Files contains Babb's address books, daily appointment books,
research files, clippings, and files related to the business aspect of her writing.
The series is in alphabetical order by topic.
|Babb enjoyed taking photographs of family and friends, as well as having her
photograph taken. Series IV. Photographs includes black-and-white and color prints,
negatives, cased daguerreotypes, cased hand-tinted prints on milk glass, tintypes,
photo albums, and scrapbooks. Photographs in the collection span the duration
|Included in Sanora Babb's papers is a small amount of her sister's personal papers.
Series V. Dorothy Babb contains Dorothy's literary output, transcribed letters
Filipino-American writer Carlos Bulosan, still-life photographs, a Garden City
Junior College yearbook, and assorted notes and clippings. Glass slides of Dorothy
Babb's Farm Security Administration photographs have been separated and formed
the California Migrant Farm Workers Slide Collection in the Ransom Center's
Photography Department. All original prints of these photographs were retained
the Sanora Babb papers.
|Series VI. James Wong Howe includes a small amount of material related to Babb's
husband, cinematographer James Wong Howe. Articles, clippings, ephemera, letters,
biographical notes, tributes, and sympathy cards form the bulk of this small series.
Howe's professional papers are housed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Science Center for Motion Pictures Study and a collection inventory from that
repository is also included in this material.
|Series VII. Publications are arranged in alphabetical order by title with the bulk
consisting of magazines and literary journals containing Sanora or Dorothy Babb's
published works, as well as issues retained for research related to particular
|The Sanora Babb Papers includes numerous documents that were typed or printed on
highly acidic paper. Over time, these sheets have deteriorated and are now very
fragile. In order to diminish further deterioration caused by frequent handling,
some original documents have been removed and restricted and replaced with
photocopies or digitized images.
|Series I. Literary Activities, 1925-2005 (33 boxes)
|This series includes materials associated with Babb's literary activities and
is arranged into six subseries: A. Short Stories, B. Published Books, C.
Poems, D. Other Writings, E. Notes, Reflections, Story Ideas, and F. Related
Material. Many of the drafts in the collection are typed on paper that has
become brittle and fragile over time. In extreme cases, originals have been
removed and restricted and photocopies or digitized images have been
|Babb enjoyed writing short stories more than any other literary form and was
frequently published in both literary journals and popular publications.
Subseries A. Short Stories is arranged alphabetically by title and includes
typescript drafts, revised drafts, and published versions of Babb's stories,
as well as related material such as correspondence, critiques, and research
notes. Stories with a high volume of drafts or accompanying material are in
individual folders bearing the title of the work. Babb retained multiple
duplicate photocopies of typescripts and published stories to send to
friends and associates; however, identical photocopies have been removed
from the collection.
|Subseries B. Published Books is arranged in alphabetical order by book title
and contains drafts, galley proofs, correspondence, synopses, screen
adaptations, reviews, research files, and marketing materials related to
Babb's book-length works. Published works include two short story
collections, Cry of the Tinamou (1997) and
The Dark Earth and Other Stories of the Great
Depression (1987); two novels, The Lost
Traveler (1958) and Whose Names Are
Unknown (2004); and Babb's memoir, An Owl
on Every Post (1970). Babb's ethnographic research material for
Whose Names Are Unknown is particularly
noteworthy, as she took extensive field notes while working with migrant
families for the Farm Security Administration (F. S. A.). She documented
migrants' personal stories and linguistic patterns, crop cycles and
harvesting procedures, and living conditions. Babb also maintained a small
amount of F. S. A. and camp documents, including her personal case file,
forms, government publications, and labor and camp newsletters. Tom Collins,
an F. S. A. administrator, worked directly with Babb and supported her
research. Collins also assisted John Steinbeck with his research for The Grapes of Wrath, and this subseries contains
two postcards and a letter from Steinbeck to Collins. The research material
also contains copies of "Shorts,"
vignettes believed to have been written by Collins based on his own
experience working with the migrant farmers. Also of interest are family
letters, Jennie Babb's journal entry describing a Kansas dust storm, as well
as Babb's essays about the migrant condition in California.
|Correspondence with Random House and other publishers regarding the cancelled
publication of Whose Names Are Unknown is
filed in this subseries; however, researchers should also consult
professional and personal correspondence in Series II. Correspondence.
Additional material related to Babb's writings is located in Series III.
Topical Files and VII. Publications.
|Subseries C. Poems is arranged by Babb's original groupings: State of
Manuscript, Topic, Chronology, and Assorted. A portion of Sanora and Dorothy
Babb's early poems were removed from a small notebook which also contained
other notes. Due to the arrangement, copies of a particular poem may be
found in more than one location within the subseries.
|Subseries D. Other Writings contains Babb's other literary forms and includes
drafts, published articles, clippings, synopses, film treatments, scripts
for plays and films, and book reviews. This series also contains unfinished
works "in progress," including an excerpt
from an unfinished novel, short stories, poems, and assorted drafts and
fragments. While Babb successfully published numerous short stories and
several novels and poems, she frequently wrote non-fiction including essays,
book reviews, and articles on a variety of subjects, including the writing
craft and the cinematographic work of her husband, James Wong Howe. Because
of Howe's work and connections in the film industry, Babb and Howe
collaborated on several screenplays that were never produced. Present in
this series are drafts for Chinatown Story, Corner
Grocery, and Rickshaw Boy.
|A diversity of material comprises Subseries E. Notes, Reflections, Story
Ideas. Babb was an avid letter writer and frequently maintained segments of
letters she received, as well as copies of excerpts from letters she
composed. She also typed or handwrote reflections on a wide array of often
intensely personal subjects. Such jottings are often interfiled with story
ideas and outlines, character studies, inspirational quotes, clippings and
articles, and other writers' works, perhaps to serve as notes and
inspiration for her writing. Babb's original arrangement of these materials
by topic is mostly intact; however, the bulk of it covers a variety of
subjects and has been filed as "General"
|Series F. Related Material includes index cards containing the titles of
Babb's works, assorted letters from readers, and assorted published reviews
of her novels, The Lost Traveler and An Owl on Every Post. Babb often combined
material associated with these two works.
|Series II. Correspondence, circa 1910-2006 (24 boxes)
|Correspondence is arranged into two subseries following Babb's general
arrangement: A. Professional and B. Personal. Babb frequently retained
carbon copies of her outgoing letters, and incoming and outgoing letters are
often interfiled; however, she filed a small number of outgoing letters
separately. In her letters, Babb reveals her thoughts and feelings, provides
advice and comfort, describes progress with her writing, and details her
daily life and activities.
|Subseries A. Professional correspondence consists of incoming and outgoing
letters to publishers, literary agents, and other professional associates
and is in alphabetical order by the organization name or topic. Babb's
literary agents included Maxim Lieber, Harriet Wolf, Joanna Dearcopp, Mary
Abbott and Julie Fallowfield with McIntosh and Otis, and Patience Ross with
A. M. Heath & Company in London, England. Several notable publishers
such as Saxe Commins at Random House, Kyle Crichton at Collier's, and Millen
Brand at Crown Publishers nurtured her writing career through their
critiques, support, and recommendations. Significant correspondence with
publishers regarding specific works may also be located under the work's
title in Series I. Due to Babb's life-long relationship with many of these
individuals, correspondence often became more personal, and may also be
filed in Subseries B. Personal Correspondence.
|Subseries B. Personal Correspondence contains incoming and outgoing letters
to family, friends, and associates and is arranged alphabetically by
correspondent's last name or by topic. The most significant and voluminous
letters in this series are between Babb and her sister Dorothy, her husband
James Wong Howe, and her mother Jennie Babb (Kemper). Sanora and Dorothy
engaged in frequent, lengthy, and candid correspondence; however, Sanora
often didn't retain Dorothy's letters in their entirety, rather she kept
only certain pages which interested her, perhaps to be used later as
material or inspiration for her writing. In addition, these letters are
often undated or difficult to date due to missing pages and envelopes.
Letters with Dorothy and her mother often describe aspects of the family's
early years in Oklahoma and Colorado and daily events.
|Babb and Howe corresponded frequently, as he was often away on-location for
various films. In addition to the personal dialogue between man and wife,
Howe's letters provide details about his work and experiences on film sets.
|As a writer and wife of a Hollywood cinematographer, Babb regularly met and
corresponded with other notable artists, though she often down-played this
aspect of her life. Her correspondence demonstrates her life-long
friendships and brief encounters with both the famous, such as actresses
Joan Crawford and Lynn Redgrave, and the unrecognized. She maintained a
forty-year correspondence with her distant cousin whom she never met, Lillie
Pollard, as well as with Kathleen Hawkins, a Colorado ranch woman Babb hired
after Hawkins placed an ad as a typist in a writing magazine. Notable
correspondents include Ray Bradbury, Hal Croves (one of many aliases
associated with B. Traven), writer and intimate friend Ralph Ellison, dancer
and choreographer Waldeen, Filipino-American writers Carlos Bulosan and José
Garcia Villa, writer Melissa Blake Levitzky, painter Henry Koerner, and
novelist William Saroyan. Correspondents often wrote to Howe and Babb
together as evidenced by brief notes from Dorothy Parker, Pearl S. Buck, and
Vincent Price. Also of interest are a 1943 letter and Christmas card author
Toshio Mori sent Babb while he was interned at Topaz Internment Camp in
Utah. Correspondent names are listed in the Partial Index of Correspondents
located at the end of this finding aid.
|Series III. Topical Files, 1878-2003 (bulk circa 1940s-1990s) (9
|Topical Files are in alphabetical order and contain Babb's address books,
daily appointment books, research files, clippings, and files related to the
business aspect of her writing. Babb also maintained clippings, writings,
and correspondence about other writers; however, correspondence with those
individuals is predominantly located in Series II. Of particular interest in
this series are Babb's Biographical files, teaching files for a short story
writing course she taught at University of California Los Angeles,
correspondence regarding literary rights for B. Traven's stories, and
correspondence with Arnold Rampersad concerning Babb's relationship with
author Ralph Ellison.
|Series IV. Photographs, circa 1840s-2005 (6 boxes)
|Photographs in the collection include black-and-white and color prints,
negatives, cased daguerreotypes, cased hand-tinted prints on milk glass,
tintypes, photo albums, and scrapbooks. Photographs in the collection span
Babb's life beginning with early nineteenth-century family, infant, and
childhood photos through her final jacket photo for Whose Names Are Unknown. These photographs provide visual
documentation of significant people and events in her life. There are a
large number of historical family photos, including several early prints of
the Baca County, Colorado, homestead that provided the setting for Babb's
memoir, An Owl on Every Post. Many of the
photographs are snapshots taken while traveling, including photographs of
Europe just prior to World War II, social gatherings, and personal family
moments, as well as studio portraits, including Babb's screen-test shots for
|Babb frequently appears in photographs with her immediate family, including
her parents, Walter Babb, Jennie and step-father Clarence Kemper, Dorothy,
and her husband, James Wong Howe. Photographs of Howe include candid family
photographs and a small number taken on-location at various movie sets. Due
to their content and artistic composition, Babb's scrapbooks documenting her
early school days, as well as her years at The University of Kansas and
Garden City Junior College, are of particular interest. Also of interest are
modern snapshots of Babb's childhood communities in Colorado, Kansas, and
Oklahoma, taken by her biographer, Douglas Wixson.
|The series also includes a photo album that belonged to Babb's sister,
Dorothy, containing photographs of locations in Europe, California and New
York, the Kemper family store, as well as Dorothy, Sanora, Walter Babb,
Jennie and Clarence Kemper, and friends including author Carlos Bulosan.
|Series V. Dorothy Babb, 1926-1996 (1.25 boxes)
|Though not as prolific a writer as Sanora, Dorothy Babb did achieve limited
publishing success. Series V. is comprised of Dorothy's personal papers and
includes drafts and published versions of her short stories, essays, and
poems. Dorothy was a close friend of Filipino-American writer Carlos Bulosan
and she intended to publish a book of their correspondence, but never
completed this work. A draft of this manuscript comprised of typed carbon
transcripts of Bulosan's letters and an incomplete draft of her memoir are
included in her works. Also in this series are a small number of Dorothy's
still-life photographs, her Garden City Junior College yearbooks, and
assorted notes and clippings. The Ransom Center has formed a separate
collection of Dorothy Babb's Farm Security Administration glass slides, the
California Migrant Farm Workers Slide Collection. Prints of these images
remain in the Sanora Babb papers.
|Series VI. James Wong Howe, 1939-2003, (0.75 boxes)
|This series contains material related to Babb's husband, cinematographer
James ("Jimmie") Wong Howe. The bulk of the
items is comprised of biographical material related to Howe's film career
and includes clippings, articles, tributes, filmographies, photographs,
sympathy cards, and ephemera. Howe owned a Chinese restaurant called Ching
How in Los Angeles during the 1940's, and several menus, reviews, and
advertisements are also present. Researchers should also consult Notes,
Reflections, Story Ideas in Series I. for additional Howe-related material
Babb was compiling for use in writing a Howe biography, as well as a
screenplay for several proposed Howe film projects. Howe's professional
papers are housed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Center
for Motion Pictures Study, and that collection inventory is also present.
|Series VII. Publications, 1928-1999, (12 boxes)
|This series contains magazines and literary journals, the vast majority of
which contain Sanora or Dorothy Babb's published works. A small number of
serials were originally used for research purposes and filed within topical
files, but to facilitate easier access, these have been separated from their
original location and filed alphabetically with the other publications.
Separation sheets mark their original location.