Rare Book & Manuscript Library

John Howard Griffin papers, 1920-1980

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0522
Bib ID 6749110 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Griffin, John Howard, 1920-1980
Title John Howard Griffin papers, 1920-1980
Physical Description 27 linear feet (45 boxes)
Language(s) English , French .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

Restrictions pertaining to individual items are noted in the container list.



This collection is arranged into 23 series.



Correspondence, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and printed materials by and about John Howard Griffin. The correspondence is extensive and includes letter from Jacques Maritain; Thomas Merton; Maxwell Geismar; Eldridge Cleaver; Robert Casadeus; Abraham Rattner; P.D. East; Joseph Noonan; Sarah Patton Boyle; Lillian Smith; Father August Thompson; Nell Dorr; and Brother Patrick Hart. All of his major works are represented in manuscript form (usually typescript, carbon). In addition there are many original photographs by Griffin, which he pasted throughout his extensive journal, 1950-1980. This journal is a remarkable account of his life and thoughts, extending to over 3,000 pages.

  • Series I: The Early Years, 1920-1947

  • Series II: The Devil Rides Outside

  • Series III: Shorter Writings, 1950s

  • Series IV: Nuni Street of the Seven Angels Passacaglia

    These are the three novels drafted by Griffin during the 1950s while he was still sightless. Only Nuni was published, in 1956. One chapter from Street was published as a short story in 1957.

  • Series V: Land of the High Sky

    This is Griffin's working carbon of the first draft, containing his hand-written changes and cuts. The 336 page manuscript, initially entitled A Land Full of Sky is more than 100 pages longer than the published book. The story of how this book project came into being can be found in the notes by Bradford Daniel.

  • Series VI: The Decade of the Fifties, 1950s

  • Series VII: General Correspondence, 1949-1980

  • Series VIII: Black Like Me

  • Series IX: Personal Essays and Journalism

    By examining these typescripts in relation to the published pieces--both the Dialogue and the Journal article--we get a close look at Griffin's method. The Correspondence from this period--between Griffin and Fr. Thompson; between Griffin and Ramparts editor/publisher Ed Keating; between Griffin and Bishop Greco (Fr Thompson's superior); as well as the correspondences of the priest and the bishop (and both of these men with Keating of Ramparts)--document an interesting struggle that all experienced. Bishop Greco tried to block the interview on the grounds that Fr. Thompson's documented experience of racism by the Church would not be good for the Church. Eventually, the interview ran, setting off a controversy that reached beyond Bishop Greco's diocese to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the US during the 1960s.

  • Series X: The Church and the Black Man

  • Series XI. Scattered Shadows and The John Howard Griffin Reader

    The Reader, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1968, was a 600 page cloth edition of Griffin's best work to that time; the collection sold 40,000 copies, but was never reissued in a paperback edition. The Reader included condensed versions of his two published novels--The Devil Rides Outside and Nuni; ample selections from two other published books--Land of the Hiqh Sky, a history of the staked plains region of west Texas, and Black Like Me. Three other sections completed the volume: a section of his photographic portraits, a gathering of journalistic pieces on racism, and a selection of "works-in-progress" that included two chapters from Scattered Shadows. The Reader was edited by Bradford Daniel, who also condensed the two novels and introduced each portion of the collection. The volume also contained an essay on Griffin's work by literary historian Maxwell Geismar, and several excerpts from Griffin's journals.. This series contains Griffin's correspondence with both Daniel and editors at Houghton Mifflin, and photocopies of the front matter to the book. There are no working manuscripts as everything was gathered from mostly published sources, and all selecting and editing were carried out by Daniel , who was Griffin's secretary at that time. (Copies of published reviews are included.. While The Reader was being readied for publication, Griffin was still lecturing on racism full-time, in order both to fulfill what he considered his obligation (under spiritual direction) to the civil rights struggle, and to support his wife and four children.. Besides the lecture circuit and writing magazine pieces on racism, Griffin worked on the manuscript of Scattered Shadows whenever possible.. Scattered Shadows, the autobiography of his loss of sight, decade of blindness, and eventual sight-recovery, has never been published as a book. The first 11 of 20 chapters were completed for Houghton Mifflin in 1967 and a contract was issued. However, Griffin never revised the last 9 chapters (which would have come from his ongoing journals) because the events of 1968 forced him back on the lecture circuit and also to the trouble spots of racial strife.. He never returned to the autobiography even after the explosions of 1968 had passed because; near the end of that year his friend and colleague, Thomas Merton, died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok (on December 10).. After negotiations with other publishers, Griffin and Houghton Mifflin agreed on a contract for the production of a photographic book (including Merton's photographs and drawings and Griffin's portraits of the monk and photographs of the Abbey of Gethsemani and its spacious grounds, along with texts by Griffin). The project eventually became A Hidden Wholeness: The Visual World of Thomas Merton, published by Houghton 1970. Early on in the process of making this visual book, Griffin interacted with the three members of the Merton Legacy Trust. By spring of 1969, the Trust decided to offer the "Official Biography" to Griffin. At first, he declined; later, he accepted the invitation, hoping that this new large work would support his family and allow him to withdraw from the lecture circuit and write full-time. Considering how difficult lecturing had became due to various medical set-backs and resolving any guilt he might have felt for not continuing the civil rights struggle, he leaped into the project with enthusiasm.. Griffin hoped that Scattered Shadows would be published after the Merton biography--both by Houghton-Mifflin. However, researching the biography took several more years than he had anticipated--partly because the subject was so complex and far-reaching and partly due to his own declining health--and there was never time to return to the autobiography.. The two chapters that appear in The Reader were first published in Ramparts magazine. In fact, the chapters appeared twice in that Catholic periodical--first, in 1963, when Ramparts was a quarterly with limited circulation, and then again, in 1966, when it had become a widely-read monthly. A third chapter, entitled "My Friend, Reverdy" in The Reader, first appeared in Southwest Review, the SMU literary quarterly. Various other pieces from the manuscript were published in such Catholic magazines as Jubilee and Catholic World; and an account of his recovery of sight was published in Readers Digest and in the anthology The Spirit of Man.. This series contains a photocopy of the Ramparts chapters published in that magazine, as well as 20 file folders containing typescript carbons of the first 11 chapters from the unfinished manuscript. (Also six of Griffin's original file folders with typed labels made by the author.). These various chapter drafts afford glimpses of Griffin's manner of line by line revision and section by section reorganization--especially when compared to the few chapters that were published.

  • Series XII. The Decade of the Sixties, 1960s

    This Series is the second largest in the Griffin Archives. It gathers all the correspondence, documents and marginalia. from that decade.

  • Series XIII: The Thomas Merton File

    The close friendship of Thomas Merton and John Howard Griffin is detailed by Griffin in his "Prologue" to Follow the Ecstasy; as well, there is a discussion of their affinities in Robert Bonazzi's "Foreword" to the Orbis Books edition of Follow the Ecstasy. The correspondence focuses on a wide range of subjects--race relations, the Vietnam War, major change in the Church under Pope John XXIII, and their mutual friendship with French philosopher Jacques Maritain, etc. The most discussed subject, however, turned out to be Merton's new-found passion for photography, which was greatly encouraged by Griffin (who gave the monk a good camera and processed his negatives).

  • Series XIV. A Hidden Wholeness and Follow the Ecstasy

  • Series XV. The Jacques Maritain Files

    Jacques Maritain, author of thirty books of philosophy and theology, was one of the most important Catholic writers of the 20th Century. He and his wife, the poet Raissa Maritain, are remembered in more than a dozen biographies, as well as in her popular memoirs--in particular, We Were Friends Together, which tells the story of the famous French circle that gathered around the Maritains in the 1930s and 1940s in Paris. They were in close consort with the many great artists of that period, including Picasso, Braque, Reverdy, the philosophers Gilson and Pegeuy, the composer Lourie, American painter Abraham Rattner, and many others. The Maritains were converted to Catholicism by the radical philosopher Leon Bloy during their student days. Maritain, known principally for his work on St. Thomas Aquinas, was considered the ultimate Thomist in modern times. He had great influence over Thomas Merton and John Howard Griffin--also Catholic converts--who considered the French philosopher to be their friend and mentor. Griffin, in particular, saw Maritain as his ultimate mentor and spiritual guide.

  • Series XVI. A Time To Be Human

    Commissioned by MacMillan as a book on racism for young adults, A Time To Be Human was published in 1977. It was Griffin's last book about racism (and human rights issues), as well as a summation of all his work in this area:. With Black Like Me and The Church and the Black Man it forms a remarkable trilogy. The text reprises the Black Like Me experience with different anecdotes and a re-evaluation of the 1960s; and it draws on many of his Sepia articles from the 1970s, as well as updated materials. Begun as a tape recording, Griffin worked up the published book through three manuscript drafts, giving the scholar a rare overview of his method.. The series includes Griffin's Original Typescript of the First Draft, a 73 page manuscript, with the author's corrections. Major changes can be studied in Griffin's Second Draft, also the Original Typescript, which runs to 71 manuscript pages. Finally, there is the 75 page manuscript of the Final Draft (a photocopy), including both the author's and the editor's changes. The Editor in this instance was David Reuther of MacMillan, who had made Griffin's acquaintance through correspondence regarding another MacMillan publication for young adults--the Cornelia and Irving Sussman biography of Thomas Merton. Griffin provided the cover photographs for the Merton biography, as well as advice to its authors, the husband and wife team who were his close friends (see their correspondence in Series VII)

  • Series XVII.The Decade of the Seventies, 1970s

    During his last decade, Griffin concentrated most of his energies on the research and writing of the official Biography of Thomas Merton--a project he relinquished to a second biographer (Michael Mott) in 1977. In order to support his family, he also became an editor for Sepia, the monthly magazine which had serialized his "Journey into Shame" articles which eventually became Black Like Me. Also, he lectured at universities on the theme of racism, but he spoke about Thomas Merton's spirituality as well. He traveled increasingly to Toronto, where he developed a huge Catholic student following, lecturing in Canada more often than in the States. By 1976, he experienced a serious decline in health, with complications that eventually ended his hope of completing the Merton biography. But from 1969-1972, he was. in reasonably good health, and completed most of the Merton research in a series of retreats at the monk's hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Series XIII and XIV cover that period and document the Merton connection. Series XVIII is the journal he kept at Gethsemani, a book he worked on in 1979 and 1980, the year he died.. Even though he worked most diligently on the Merton materials until 1977, he did manage to write and publish a wide variety of shorter pieces and complete an immense number of photographic works.

  • Series XVIII. The Hermitage Journals

    Subtitled A Diary Kept While Working on the Biography of Thomas Merton, this 231 page published book charts Griffin's 18 visits to Merton's hermitage, from August 5, 1969 through June 15, 1972 (plus three other entries made at his home in Fort Worth, Texas). The edition includes a short preface by Griffin--his last piece of writing composed for publication--and a folio of his photographs of the hermitage and its surroundings. The cloth edition was published by Andrews and McMeel in 1981, the year after Griffin's death; a paperback version appeared a few years later under Doubleday's Image imprint.. Like Black Like Me, this book is a diary set apart from Griffin's ongoing Journal (1950-1980), and was intended as a self-contained work for publication. The scholar will not find either text in the overall pagination of the Journal, even though there are other entries for the years (in which these two books were composed) in that larger 3,000 page compendium. Nonetheless, if one were to read the two published diaries and the Journal chronologically, the overall story of Griffin's life-line continues uninterrupted from 1950 to 1980.. In the case of The Hermitage Journals, the text was first drafted as a diary from 1969-1972. That draft was edited and a second draft was made in 1978-1979 by Griffin in collaboration with Father Tom McKillop, the author's close friend and spiritual guide during the last three years of life. That second draft was edited by Conger Beasley for the cloth edition. But because both Father McKillop and Griffin's widow, Elizabeth, did not favor all the deletions Beasley had made from the second draft, yet a fourth and final draft was agreed upon for cloth publication.. The Hermitage Journals, then, was the last book Griffin prepared for publication under contract, although it appeared posthumously.

  • Series XIX.The Griffin Journal, 1950-1980

    "In my teens, when I was a student at the Lycéee Descartes, in Tours, France," wrote Griffin in the unpublished preface to his Journal, "a man I greatly admired suggested that I begin keeping a journal of my life. He said it was one way of learning to know myself provided I let no one else see it, wrote it honestly and wrote in it even when I felt I had nothing to say.". From the age of sixteen until he was twenty-one, Griffin continued his journal; but when France was about to fall to the Germans, he gave the autograph journals to a schoolmate for safe-keeping, and returned to the states. "Years later when I returned to France [in 19761, I retrieved the journal which had been buried on my friend's father's farm during the war." He began to read his reflections. "It was a sickening experience. Pages were filled with literary analyses, musical analyses, foods we ate, with scarcely a word about the supreme reality of the war which preoccupied us day and night. It was pure escape from that reality rather than any attempt to handle it. I was heartsick to find myself so false.... I burned those pages and did not resume [a journal] until some years later when I was blind and had learned to use the typewriter.". Curiously, it was again on the advice of a man he admired--the theatre critic John Mason Brown--that Griffin began to write. But it was not a journal; it was his first novel, The Devil Rides Outside, written in 1949. His mature Journal was launched in December of 1950, during the third year of sightlessness. When.he was not working on novels or short stories, he poured impressions into the Journal, which became a seedbed for most of work he would publish later. We find in its pages fragments and drafts of stories and novels; essays and articles; voluminous meditations on ethics, religion and philosophy; responses to the music he listened to constantly; discussions of cooking, farming and family relationships; insights into the realities of blindness and how the condition is wrongly perceived by the sighted; speculations on psychology, sociology, anthropology and the arts in relation to the diminishment of culture in America. We hear every tone of voice from the compassionate to the dismissive; styles that range from lyric to polemic, from the scholarly to the absurd. At times he was naive and narrowly opinionated; at other times, measured and wise. He reflected on literature and life--the books he had read (and those which were read to him or recorded on tapes) and all the places he had traveled and lived. He was always a bit nostalgic for the high culture of France and the great joy of learning he had discovered in that adopted land; nostalgic also for the year he spent on a remote island in the South Seas living among the native inhabitants. Conversely, he had been horrified by war--both what he had witnessed working in the French Underground and the devastation of combat while in the Air Force in the Pacific.. Reading the Journal one is always aware that it is an intensely human document--full of contradictions and paradoxes; hope and despair; criticism of the world and self-criticism; fear and anguish over what often did not matter, as well as heroism in the face of what mattered most. The writing is, by turns, elegant and crude; often brilliant and sometimes ignorant; and splattered with passages that roar with comic hyperbole or soar with a spiritual clarity. But always one reads as if one has discovered a secret document; that one is looking over the shoulder of a man who is truely alive in the immense process of becoming a genuine artist and thinker. And later we meet the justly famous author who has absorbed the profound wisdom of humility.. This massive Journal runs to 2,762 pages of single-spaced typed pages. This page count does not include ten autograph notebooks he kept away from the typewriter nor the published books (previously mentioned) that were pulled out of the overall Journal and composed into separate books.. During the period of his blindness--recorded in the Journal from December of 1950 until sight-recovery in January of 1957--he typed almost 900 pages in a span of just slightly more than six years. That is roughly 150 pages each year. Yet, the count for 1951, the first full year of keeping the Journal, is 231 pages (the third highest volume for any year). This was a period of intense introspection for Griffin, he was in the process of making what the French call "the great yes" or the leap of faith from indecision to belief; Griffin became a convert to Catholicism in 1952.. In 1954 we find the second most voluminous year with 255 pages. That year, he was suffering not only from the complications of blindness and diabetes, but he had contracted spinal malaria--a condition which paralyzed him from the waist down and confined him to a wheelchair. All he could do was sit at the typewriter, listen to music, and write.. The entries of 1954 record a very real agony and ecstasy. Griffin experienced the most alienating depths of despair alternating with some of the greatest spiritual heights of his life. Without the love and understanding of his young wife (Elizabeth Holland and Griffin married in 1953), as well as his parents and also her parents--and with absolute faith in God--he would not have survived the ordeal. Instead he wrote about everything that year and drafted over 400 pages of Nuni, his second novel.. In the decade of blindness--from 1947 to early 1957--Griffin composed five novels (two were published, two remain unpublished and the fifth was lost); over sixty short stories (most unpublished); a short book on blindness (Handbook For Darkness); music lectures and articles; and nearly a thousand pages in the Journal . Virtually all of his fiction--literally thousands of pages--were written during the decade of sightlessness. Except for revisions of earlier novels in draft and one short piece of humor ("Pilgrimage"), his career as a fiction writer was over when he regained his sight.. During the 1960s he managed to average over100 pages per year in the Journal, including the second highest page count (248) in 1966. In general, however, these entries move away from introspection toward the concerns of a public life--a-decade which found him away from the studio and his expanding family and in a world of turmoil. His writings were much shorter and their focus was temporal not eternal. He published polemical and journalistic articles on racism, injustice, war, censorship, politics, and lectured extensively on these same issues (and, of course, specifically- on his experiences in Black Like Me, its aftermath, and the civil rights battles that followed. He wrote brilliantly and courageously, and his lectures and writings were in great demand. But the public life took its toll on the books he was forced to leave unfinished (novels as well as Scattered Shadows), and what limited private time that remained was spent with his family and friends and in the darkroom (where his photographic career blossomed), but not in the writing studio. Those years also took their toll on his fragile health. He was no longer blind and the paralysis had lasted only one year, but the stress of his schedule far from solitude increased the debilitating effects of his diabetic condition. He experienced blackouts and exhaustion. His Journal records all this activity in a cryptic rather than expansive manner.. With his appointment as the Official Biographer of Thomas Merton, illness turned toward relative health, exhaustion was replaced by energy, and Griffin once again found spiritual joy in solitude and a fascinating long-range project. The Journal, from 1970-1980 runs about 650 pages--about 65 pages as an annual average with only 1975 accumulating more than 200 pages. This drop in production was a result of the work on the biography and that includes The Hermitage Journals factored out of the equation, as well as a tremendous amounts of photographic work--choices that Griffin was pleased to make, of course. But other factors--not of his choosing--also impacted upon the Journal. There was a significant decline in his health (this is why the entries are more than three times the volume of 1970-1974; he was confined and unable to travel to Gethsemani and Europe where so much research had been accomplished); and there was also the countless intrusions of the curious making pilgrimages to his door.. The Autograph Notebooks, which Griffin considered part of his overall Journal, are from widely different time-frames. Written in spiral notebooks or bound composition books that Griffin carried on his travels when having a typewriter was impossible or inconvenient; these generally reflect a specific event or span of days that can be integrated by dated passage into the overall scheme of his personal Journal.

  • Series XX. Posthumous Papers

    John Howard Griffin left his home the afternoon of July 21, 1980. He was checked into Medical Plaza Hospital by his long-time physician, Dr. E. Ross Kyger. Griffin lived another fifty days, expiring of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 9, 1980. He was less than three months into his sixtieth year. The funeral was held on September 11, and Griffin was buried at the Mansfield Cemetery, Mansfield, Texas, next to the grave of his old friend, Clyde Parker Holland (father of Griffin's widow, Elizabeth). He was survived by his wife, four children, his mother, brother, and two sisters.. Griffin's funeral was attended by hundreds of friends, family members, and devoted acquaintances. The Mass was written by Father Tom McKillop--a moving ceremony that included many of Griffin's words read and anecdotes remembered. Friends travelled from all over the United States and Canada to attend. A fuller version of that day is detailed in Fr.McKillop's text, in many news features and obituaries

  • Series XXI. Photographs

  • Series XXII: Photographs by Others

  • Additions to the Papers, 2017, 2019, 2023

    Photograph Archive purchased from Roberto Bonnazzi on behalf of Griffin Family 5/2015 From the Estate of John Howard Griffin and Elizabeth Griffin-Bonazzi

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

Restrictions pertaining to individual items are noted in the container list.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); John Howard Griffin Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

Thomas Merton Papers.

There is a Griffin collection at the Harry Ransom Research Center. University of Texas at Austin


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase 1995.

Source of acquisition--Mrs. Thelma Anderson. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--June 2004 (with a subsequent addition in May 2005).

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Processed by the Robert Bonazzi and Patrick Lawlor, 2003. The extensive and informative notes are by Robert Bonazzi.

Papers processed Jillian Cuellar 2008.

Finding Aid written by Jillian Cuellar March 2008.

Revision Description

2009-06-26 File created.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2020-09-17 Edits to access, use, and description notes for materials in Box 14 Folder 511 and related Negatives (Photographs) created by CCR.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Articles Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Card files Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drafts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Essays Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Journals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lectures Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Manuscripts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reviews (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
American literature -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anderson, Maxwell, 1888-1959 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Anderson, Quentin, 1912-2003 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Criticism -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Education -- Study and teaching -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
James, Henry, 1843-1916 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lionel Trilling seminars Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Literature and society Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

John Howard Griffin (1920-1980) was born in Mansfield, Texas. His early training was as a musicologist in Tours, France specializing in Gregorian Chant. He studied psychology, specializing in the effects of music on the mentally disturbed. He also studied photography and became an expert portrait photography.

During WWII he help Jews in France escape the Nazis. After the fall of France, he joined the U. S. Army Air Corps and was sent to the South Pacific to work with the native islanders. Injured by a bomb blast he gradually lost his sight, becoming totally blind by 1947. During his blindness he wrote his two major novels The Devil Rides Outside and Nuni as well as numerous short stories. In 1951 he became a Roman Catholic. After recovering his sight in 1957, he wrote for Sepia magazine and in 1959 he wrote a series of articles for Sepia magazine based on his travels through the Deep South as a "black" man. This series was published as Black Like Me in 1961.

In 1969 he was appointed the Official Biographer of Thomas Merton. Throughout his life he wrote and lectured widely on race relation and social justice. He died in 1980 at the age of sixty.