Scope and arrangement
The James Baldwin papers are arranged in five series:
This series is divided into eight subseries consisting of materials collected primarily by Baldwin and his estate. Biographical Files (.8 lin. ft.) includes a copy of The Douglass Pilot (1938), a school literary journal edited by Baldwin when he was 13 or 14 years old, featuring four articles written by him. Additional early writings include an untitled essay about his life and a bibliography of his works. The file also contains stenographer’s minutes for a 1954 case against Baldwin and four others for disorderly conduct. Other items of note include a transcription of “Take This Hammer,” a 1963 documentary film featuring Baldwin which was produced by NET and KQED-TV in San Francisco, as well as tributes to Baldwin, among them a program for “Evensong and a Celebration Honoring James Baldwin (1974). Lastly, a small group of research materials, artwork and works by others including a play script for To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, edited by Hansberry’s former husband, Robert Nemiroff complete this section.
Correspondence (1.6 lin. ft.) consists of incoming and outgoing letters (some of Baldwin’s letters are unsigned and undated), and telegrams from friends, family, business associates and admirers. Significant correspondents include friends, colleagues and collaborators Alex Haley, filmmaker Elia Kazan, and Toni Morrison. There are also letters received from Maya Angelou, Lorraine Hansberry, Marlon Brando, Owen Dodson, Jean Blackwell Hutson, Harold Jackman, Coretta Scott King, Jacqueline Onassis, Bobby Seale, Nina Simone and William Styron, although Baldwin’s responses are not included. Other correspondents include Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Louise Meriwether, Robert Nemiroff, and publisher Sol Stein.
The Interviews (.4 lin. ft.) files contain several substantive and unique documents that illuminate Baldwin’s thoughts on a variety of /various topics including race, history and literature. The interviews are comprised primarily of transcriptions with edits and copies of published versions. Although this series includes interviews featured in James Baldwin: A Legacy (1989) and James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (2014), it appears that several/many of the interviews have not been collected in any published volume. Among the most significant interviews are “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde,” published in Essence Magazine (1984?) and “Is There a Case for Segregation,” a segment for the NBC television show, The Open Mind, in 1962.
The Organizations and Projects (.4 lin. ft.) files provides a snapshot of Baldwin’s activities and interests, although his activism is recorded throughout the collection (see WRITINGS series, particularly nonfiction work such as The Fire Next Time, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, among others.) Among these files is a file of correspondence, flyers and other materials related to the appeal and conviction of six Harlem youth, known as the Harlem Six, for the murder of Margit Sugar (1966). Baldwin’s file for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (1961-1967) is comprised of letters, copies of Student Voice newsletters and information about a benefit held in 1967 where Baldwin raised funds for the Harlem Six and civil rights work in Dorchester County, South Carolina. Groups he sponsored such as National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, Inc. (SANE) (1961-1964) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1961-1967) are filed here. The Recommendations File (.1 lin. ft.) include letters supporting candidates for The Black Scholar’s annual W.E.B. DuBois Essay Awards, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, among others.
The Travel File (.1 lin. ft.) documents some of his travel for speaking engagements/ appearances and is comprised of a small number of itineraries, receipts for air travel, accommodations and car rental and other expenses. (Evidence of Baldwin’s other travels is represented across the collection, most prominently in the BUSINESS RECORDS series.) The Fan Mail File (.4 lin. ft.) includes letters from admirers of Baldwin’s across the world. The Awards File (.8 lin. ft.) contains files for honorary degrees, awards and citations Baldwin amassed during his lifetime and posthumously.
- 1938 - ca. 1992
The largest and most substantive series, WRITINGS is divided into the following eight categories: Novels, Plays, Nonfiction and Essays, Short Stories, Poetry, Screenplays, Collaborative Works, and Other Writings. Materials within each subseries are arranged by order of composition moving from handwritten manuscripts, multiple drafts or notes to annotated typescripts and galleys. Baldwin seldom dated his handwritten or typed scripts, so files have been placed intellectually within the subseries. Published and unpublished works include, but not all, of the following formats: handwritten drafts, typed scripts, galleys, correspondence, reviews and other related materials. Early in his writing career, Baldwin often composed on orange Rhodia notebooks and letter and legal yellow pads.
Each of Baldwin’s six Novels (6 lin. ft.) are represented here in order of publication: Go Tell It On the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head.
The subseries begins with the Go Tell it On the Mountain (1953) file, which contains a sixteen-page outline of the novel (1950) and several handwritten and typed manuscripts with annotated notes and fragments. The first proof for the novel with marked corrections and with questions (1952) is listed here. The Giovanni’s Room (1956) files feature the author’s original manuscript for the novel (1956), as well as several typescripts with author and editor’s corrections and edits and annotations, fragments, and play scripts (1964 and 1982), a stage layout, and several iterations of the adapted screenplay.
Another Country (1962). File includes Baldwin’s plan for the novel, the original publisher’s manuscript, early draft typescripts (some incomplete), several with author edits, as well as a galley. Several rewrites, additions, inserts, notes, contracts, a screen treatment, a screenplay, correspondence with Claude Jauvert, and Baldwin’s response to reviews from The New York Times and Time Magazine augment this file.
Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968). There are files of two incomplete handwritten manuscripts, incomplete typescripts with edits, handwritten notes, and the galley for the book.
The If Beale Street Could Talk file (1974) includes two handwritten manuscripts, a typescript, a tentative casting list for a film project and notes. There are also letters from the Dial Press and Universal Pictures, the latter requesting a copy of the novel (1970-1975).
The file for Baldwin’s last novel, Just Above My Head (1979) encompasses several handwritten partial manuscripts on yellow pads, numerous original and photocopies of typescripts with annotations and notes. “Act One” of play script with edits based on the novel, sheet music and scores, and a copy of a contract for a French edition of the novel are filed here. Lastly, there are two typescripts and other material for an unfinished novel, “No Papers for Mohamet.”
Plays (.8 lin. ft.) Baldwin oversaw the production of two of his original plays, The Amen Corner and Blues for Mister Charlie. A dramatization of Giovanni’s Room, the play script and related materials are filed in Novels.
The majority of the The Amen Corner files contain play scripts with typed and handwritten edits, a cast list and notes (ca. 1964). Notably, one play script is inscribed by the members of the Actors Studio cast (1964). A French translation of the Amen (1982) by Belgian-born French novelist and essayist, Marguerite Yourcenar is also filed here. Correlative materials include a flyer, a program, playbill, a press release for a European Festival Tour in 1965, and a book jacket for the published play.
Blues for Mister Charlie. Files include a manuscript on a yellow notepad and loose sheets of paper, a handwritten manuscript and typescripts with notes and rewrites, a galley, screen treatments and background research. Additionally, there are production notes, opening night telegrams, a sketch of a set design, letters from the Actors Studio, contracts, letters discussing the possibility of Mister Charlie as a film, and fan mail.
An unfinished work, The Welcome Table (ca. 1970s) focuses on Josephine Baker’s home and her proclivity for inviting people of all cultures into her family. These files include original and photocopied handwritten and typed play scripts and a sketch for a set design.
Included in the third subseries, Nonfiction and Essays (3.2 lin. ft.) are drafts of Baldwin’s published and unpublished nonfiction. Seven collections, Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), The Fire Next Time (1953), No Name in the Street (1972), The Devil Finds Work (1976), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985) and The Price of the Ticket (1985) are represented in handwritten drafts, typescripts, and sometimes published versions. Of special note is a revised typescript and correction for the essay “Notes of a Native Son,” a signed carbon copy of “Nobody Knows My Name,” “Faulkner and Desegregation” with clippings, an original typescript copy of “Down at the Crossroads,” returned from The New Yorker, and a handwritten draft of No Name in the Street.
Some previously published and unpublished essays collected posthumously in The Library of America’s Baldwin: Collected Essays and the Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings (2010) may be found in the alphabetized file at the end of the subseries. The Alpha file includes the essays “Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone,” “In Defense of Stokely Carmichael,” and “Patty Hearst.”
Short Stories. (1 lin. ft.) This section contains draft materials for Baldwin’s only short story collection, Going to Meet the Man, published in 1965. The file contains manuscripts, typescripts, and notes for the stories “Come Out the Wilderness,” “The Outing,” “Previous Condition,” “Sonny’s Blues,” and “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon.”
Poetry. (.6 lin. ft.) Baldwin began writing poetry in high school and published one volume of verse his during his lifetime, Jimmy’s Blues (1983). Posthumously, two collections, Gypsy & Other Poems (1989) and an edited edition of Jimmy’s Blues, with an introduction by poet Nikky Finney, was published in 2014. The first edition of Jimmy’s Blues is represented by a galley, a photocopied version of the work, and iterations of several poems that appeared in the work. Other poems in the papers are filed alphabetically.
Screenplays. (2 lin. ft.) Baldwin’s unproduced screen works include The Inheritance (also titled “In the Cross, a Trembling Soul: The Inheritance”). The file includes edited drafts, a bound copy of screenplay, a note on a potential casting for the production and handwritten notes. Another screenplay, The Swordfish (also called “The Sacrifice” with the working title “Holding On”) was based on based on a novel by Osmen Naomi Gurmen. The file contains manuscripts, typescripts, and notes. Lastly, this section includes proposals, manuscripts, galleys, correspondence, notes and related items for One Day When I Was Lost, based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Collaborative Works (.2 lin. ft.) The file contains information about Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man Little Man: A Story of Childhood (with Yoran Cazac) (1976) and includes a photocopy of the published book.
The Other Writings Files. (1.2 lin. ft.) This section includes Notes, Lectures and Speeches, Reviews and other works. The Notes Files features a typescript recalling Baldwin’s meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and notes on Birmingham, Alabama. Also filed here are ideas for a novel, “Any Boot-Legger,” ideas for a speech, “Bring Me a Minstrel,” and a short story, “The Outer Life.”
Throughout his life, Baldwin was in-demand as a speaker, nationally and internationally (see Invitations to Speak in the BUSINESS RECORDS series for more detailed information.) The Lectures and Speeches section includes handwritten notes for a speech at Harvard entitled “The Cultural Implications of the Negro Revolt,” and a 9-page transcription of an untitled speech on civil rights.
Among the handful of Reviews is a response to Nelson Algren’s review, “Is ‘[A] Raisin in the Sun a Lemon in the Dark,” published in Tone magazine in 1961. An 8-page edited typescript for the review, “On Catfish Row,” Baldwin’s assessment of George Gershwin’s 1934 film, Porgy and Bess, which first appeared in nonfiction collection The Price of the Ticket, initially titled “On the American Performer” is also filed here. Lastly, Baldwin’s take on Andre Gide’s Madeleine, published under title, “The Male Prison,” first appeared in the magazine New Leader (1954) and reprinted in the collection Nobody Knows My Name (1961).
The remainder of this subseries includes proposals, librettos, teleplays and other miscellaneous writings in handwritten drafts, typescripts, and letters. There are copies of a four-page proposal for “Unto the Dying Lamb,” a project described by Baldwin “that would document, in photographs and in prose, the influence and awaiting entrapment of storefront churches in Harlem for the African Americans who frequented them.” According to Biographer David Leeming, this project was never completed for lack of a publisher (Leeming 55).
- 1940s - ca. 1992
The final series, BUSINESS RECORDS (1940s-ca.1992, 8.6 lin. ft.) remarkable for its depth and expansiveness, records Baldwin’s career as a writer and public speaker spanning over four decades. Along with the WRITINGS series, this series provides a complex look at Baldwin’s relationships with publishers, literary agents, lawyers, and other business associates. The files include contracts, correspondence, proposals, royalty statements, telegrams, carbons of Baldwin’s letters, and other records.
With few exceptions, this series has been kept primarily as it was organized by the Baldwin Estate. Some of these files were possibly maintained by Baldwin’s representatives, his sister and secretary Gloria Smart, author David Leeming, secretary Bernard Hassell, and literary agent Robert P. Mills.
Invitations to Speak. (1.4 lin. ft.) The subseries features hundreds of letters and telegrams requesting Baldwin to speak from various high schools, colleges and universities, arts councils, libraries, civil rights organizations, religious institutions, and book clubs, to name a few. The letters are often dated and annotated (e.g., “replied,” “out of town,” “cancelled,” etc.) and sometimes include a carbon copy of Baldwin or his representative’s responses. These records at best illuminate the author’s busy writing, traveling and speaking schedule. In one note to David, Baldwin’s brother, an unnamed secretary writes: here are the two lectures Jimmy consented to do. There are about 30 or 40 that we turned down…” (1963). A sample of requests includes letters from the American Civil Liberties Union, Dartmouth College, Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU), Howard University, Mensa, The Poetry Center, Temple Beth Emeth of Flatbush, and the University of Washington.
Agents and Agencies. (1.2 lin. ft.) The agents and agencies are filed alphabetically and include short and long term representation. Included in this series are files for Edward Action (1980s), Rodlphe Ankaoua (1970s), Beldock, Levine & Hoffman (1980s), Eugene C. Braun-Munk, Bruna and Zoons (1970s), Conference Speakers International, Inc., (1980s), Cohen & Meyohas (1970s), Enterprise Unlimited (1970s), Robert Lantz (1965-1970s), Ruth Liepman (1970s), Michael Joseph Ltd (1964-1966), Robert Mills Ltd (1967-1971), and the William Morris Agency (1948-1970s). It is not known whether these files constitute a comprehensive record of Baldwin’s business associates, but cover the late 1940s until his death in the 1980s. There is also considerable overlap within the subseries, as there is correspondence involving two or more parties related to a specific publication, lecture or project.
The bulk of the Publishers Files (1 lin. ft.) concern Dial Press and include contracts, publicity materials, flyers, clippings and original letters and carbons of Baldwin's letters to publisher’s representative Donna Schrader for the publications Go Tell It On the Mountain, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, as well as a guest book for a party at Small's Paradise in 1962 to celebrate the publication of Another Country.
Other publishers include Doubleday, Knopf, Inc., Lippincott, McGraw-Hill (a photocopy of a signed contract for "Remember This House," also known as "Death Come Creeping in My Room"), Open Gate Books, and magazines and journals such as Daedalus, Harper's, The Nation, Preuves and Saturday Review. The files contain correspondence, contracts, clippings, fan mail, and other items. The Lawyers Files (.2 lin. ft.) for the firms Ramseur & Witofsky, and Shanks, Davis & Remer, include letters, fee schedules and other related items.
Invitations to Speak. (1.4 lin. ft.) The file contains requests for speaking engagements, and responses from Baldwin’s literary agents and secretaries. The bulk of the letters dated 1963, the year he published The Fire Next Time and participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There are letters from Brandeis University, Dartmouth, Congress of Racial Equality, Columbia University, New York University, among for hundreds of others, filed in this section.
A separate file for Contracts (.2 lin. ft.), maintained by the Estate, includes original but mostly photocopies of contracts for publishers, appearances, an unsigned photocopy of an option for the screen rights to Giovanni's Room, some correspondence, and clippings. Similarly, the Permissions Files (.2 lin. ft.) includes contracts for the use of his works for anthologies, textbooks, and documentaries. Notably, there is a 1982 letter from Oxford University Press thanking Baldwin for granting permission to convert The Fire Next Time into computer-readable form.
The very last section, Business Correspondence (1.2 lin. ft.) is organized chronologically (1955-1989) and includes inquiries for projects such as "Bessie" by Michael Wilcox, The NAACP, Herbert Kline Productions, and a file of letters concerning dramatic productions for Giovanni's Room, Blues for Mister Charlie, and The Amen Corner.