Rare Book & Manuscript Library

John Howard Griffin papers, 1920-2004

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"In my teens, when I was a student at the Lycéee Descartes, in Tours, France," wrote Griffin in the unpublished preface to his Journal, "a man I greatly admired suggested that I begin keeping a journal of my life.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.

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Box 33 Folder 823 Volume I, Mansfield, TX, 1950/51, 1-242 pages

Box 33 Folder 824 Volume II, Mansfield, TX, 1952/53, 243-381 pages

Box 33 Folder 825 Volume III, Mansfield, TX, 1954, 382-637 pages

Box 33 Folder 826 Volume IV, Mansfield, TX, 1955, 638-758 pages

Box 33 Folder 827 Volume V, Mansfield, TX, 1956/57, 759-924 pages

Box 33 Folder 828 Volume VI, Mansfield, TX, 1958/59, 925-1001 pages

Box 33 Folder 829 Volume VII, Mansfield, TX, 1960, 1002-1065 pages

Box 33 Folder 830 Volume VIII, Mansfield, TX, 1961, 1066-1157 pages

Box 33 Folder 831 Volume IX, Mansfield, TX, 1962, 1158-1268 pages

Box 33 Folder 832 Volume X, Mansfield, TX, 1963, 1268-1337 pages

Box 34 Folder 833 Volume XI, Mansfield, TX, 1964, 1338-1374 pages

Box 34 Folder 834 Volume XII, Mansfield, TX, 1965, 1375-1490 pages

Box 34 Folder 835 & 836 Volume XIII, Mansfield, TX, 1966, 1491-1625 pages

Box 34 Folder 837 Volume XIV, Mansfield, TX, 1967, 1740-1902 pages

Box 34 Folder 838 Volume XV, Mansfield, TX, 1968, 1093-2052 pages

Box 34 Folder 839 Volume XVI, Mansfield, TX, 1969, 2053-2623 pages

Box 34 Folder 840 Volume XVII, Mansfield, TX, 1970, 2116-2132 pages

Box 34 Folder 841 Volume XVIII, Mansfield, TX, 1971/72, 2133-2210 pages

Box 34 Folder 842 Volume XIX, Mansfield, TX, 1973, 2211-2273 pages

Box 35 Folder 843 Volume XX, Fort Worth, TX, 1974, 2274-2338 pages

Box 35 Folder 844 & 845 Volume XXI, Fort Worth, TX, 1975, 2339-2542 pages

Box 35 Folder 846 Volume XXII, Fort Worth, TX, 1976, 2543-2609 pages

Box 35 Folder 847 Volume XXIII, Fort Worth, TX, 1977, 2610-2682 pages

Box 35 Folder 848 Volume XXIV, Fort Worth, TX, 1978/79, 2683-2749 pages

Box 35 Folder 849 Volume XXV, Fort Worth, TX, 1980, 2750-2762 pages

Box 35 Folder 850 Preface to the Journals, Fort Worth, TX, 1980, 3 page t.ms.

Box 35 Folder 851 Notebook #1, 1962-1963

[Records Griffin's first face to face visit with his mentor, Jacques Maritain, then at Princeton University (October 1962). An augmented discussion of this visit appears inHomage in Words and Pictures. A visit made in March of 1962 to Assumption Univesity in Windsor, Ontario follows; there he had dialogue with Father Stanley Murphy, founder of the Christian Culture Series, and Eugene McNamara, the Canadian literary critic who had written enthusiastically about Griffin's two novels. The third excerpt is about Griffin's first face to face meeting with Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani. There is much more about this and other meetings with Merton inA Hidden WholenessandFollow the Ecstasy. [These handwritten first impressions of two of the thinkers he most admired--Maritain and Merton--give this notebook its rare quality.]

Box 35 Folder 852 Notebook #2, 1966

[Records Griffin's photographic experience of the ritual passion performed by the Tarascan culture in the state of Michoacan, Mexico; these are early notes for his published article, "Passion at Tzintzuntzan" (The Griffin Reader). A second section records several pages of notes about Martin Luther King that are the genesis for his piece "Martin Luther King's Moment" (first published inSignmagazine, then anthologized). The third section is a sketch of Gregory Griffin, the author's son, who, at age four began doing photography under his father's tutelage. Gregory published many of his black and white pictures of animals in major photographic journals, beginning at age five up into his teens; he was the youngest member of ASMP (American Society of Magazine Photographers) in the history of that organization--although ASMP did not know the boy was only five at the time, and Griffin kept his age secret for many years after.

Box 35 Folder 853 Lectures #3, 1966, 1 notebook

[A Calendar of Lectures for 1966, running, through May of that year. It provides one a taste of the range of places and settings (as well as fees) Griffin encountered. And there are also notations for some New York visits he had scheduled--with the legendary blues musician Josh White for a photographic session and with his close friend the literary critic Maxwell Geismar.

Box 35 Folder 854 Notebook #4, February & March 1967

[Griffin carried along this notebook on his lecture tour to California in February and on to Michigan in March of 1967. His stay in San Francisco includes some somber reflections on visiting an "adults only" bookshop. The end of his circuit in Michigan elicits great relief to be returning home to his wife and children. [A batch of pages was cut from the front of this notebook by Griffin; perhaps these had been unsatisfactory pages of writing or an early draft of a piece later developed on the typewriter.]

Box 35 Folder 855 Notebook #5, 1970

[This 1970 notebook accompanied Griffin on one of his most significant trips to Europe, researching for his biography of Thomas Merton. His seventeen year old daughter, Susan, accompanied him on the journey. The first stop was Amsterdam, on January 27, 1970, pronouncing himself "more at home here than anywhere in the states." It was a city that his close friend, pianist Robert Casadesus often performed, especially at the Concertgebow, where Griffin attended an all-Beethoven concert by pianist Annie Fischer. He took the opportunity to photograph this great musician in performance, and visited with her afterward... pronounced the recital "a real glory--one of the finest concerts I ever heard. Like Lipatti and Schnabel combined". The next morning he visited the Rijks Museum, "seeing the Rembrandts, Vermeers, etc. Tremendous. To the Van Gogh Museum this afternoon." After three days in Amsterdam, he spent three days in Brussels, staying with the psychiatrist and Merton enthusiast Dr. Vander-Elst. On February 2nd, he took the train to Strasbourg and was met by his old friends, Antoinette and Alexander Grunelius. These great friends of the Maritains drove Griffin and his daughter to their Chateau at Kolbsheim (the repository of the papers of Jacques and Raissa Maritain), where they stayed a few days.. Griffin then spent five days with Jacques Maritain in Toulouse, where the 87 year old philosopher had a tiny hermitage on the grounds where the motherhouse of the Little Brothers and Sisters Order is located. Many passaqes here about Maritain, several of the sisters who did his secretarial work (Sister Marie Pascale, in particular, who typed the philosopher's manuscripts and letters--her signature is under many of Maritain's letters on file at HRC), as well as several interesting cooking experiences with Sister Marie Emmanuel.. A week later, Griffin made several trips to Prades (Merton's birthplace), Montaubin and St. Antonin (where Merton lived as a child), and on to Paris, photographing and notetaking all the way. On February 14, he visited with the daughter of Leon Bloy, the French writer and thinker who was instrumental in converting the Maritains to Catholicism, after a search of several days. Part of this experience, though not mentioned in this notebook, laid the groundwork for his last piece of fiction--the humorous take-off upon hearing the sweet sound of a sackbutt (Pilgrimage, Latitudes Press, 1985).

Box 35 Folder 856 Notebook #6, 1974

[Lecture notes for a series on "Dominant Institutions" given during a two-week period at Loretto Heights University in Denver, Colorado. Griffin went to Loretto Heights for two weeks every year during the 1970s to lecture, teach classes and conduct seminars on various aspects of society: racism, injustice, freedom, spirituality--and how the person is thus affected by these realities. In this comfortable academic setting, he was able to develop a deeper set of ideas than one three hour lecture at a university or church could provide--especially when he was in another city by the next day. He enjoyed these times at Loretto Heights, a Catholic institution known for its progressive system which was influenced by Sister Mary Luke Tobin, a close associate of both Merton and Griffin over the years. He utilized this annual visit to Denver to develop his ongoing lectures more deeply, benefitting from the learned response of some of the faculty, as well as a pool of intelligent Catholic students, including many from foreign countries. His daughter Susan was a student at Loretto Heights and her tuition was given in exchange for Griffin's annual appearances.. The lecture notes themselves will give the scholar a clear idea of the way in which Griffin built up the background for his lectures--scholarly research to give context to speeches that were always based on personal experience and more often than not about hisBlack Like Meand subsequent civil rights work.. Here the background is separated out from the foreground; the objective set apart from the subjective while his speeches integrate both realms.

Box 35 Folder 857 Notebook #7, 1976

[Records two days of solitude at Bemidji, Minnesota on a lake surrounded by woods. He was at the time teaching writing at The Upper Midwest Writing Conference [see Series XVII for related information and correspondence]. Griffin simply records the solitary time and does not mention the conference at all. He records the birdcalls, describes the lake and woods, remarks about being awake at dawn--and then compares his sense of unity there as reminiscent of his time at Merton's hermitage four years earlier, July 1976.. The second section finds Griffin recuperating from several heart attacks after a month long tour from October 20 to November 20 (mostly in Canada). That tour ended in Rochester, New York where he was barely able to make his appearance. Returning to Fort Worth, he kept his Journal in this notebook on a bed desk his wife had purchased, because he was unable to work on his studio typewriter. Very ill, he convinced the doctor to let him remain at home instead of going to the hospital. Slowly, he begins to improve in the warm context of his family--wife and younger daughter (Amanda), as well as his mother (Lena Griffin), all helping and staying watch. Each day he received communion from his close friend, Father George Curtsinger (photographer, pianist, writer; books published by Latitudes). November 27 to December 3, 1976.

Box 36 Folder 858 Notebook #8, Toronto, June 11-20, 1977

[The first section includes Griffin's extensive notes on writing and art in outline form and is clearly influenced by Maritain's aesthetic works. He begins with his view of writing that "creative writing cannot be taught, but we can learn to remove many of the impediments to creativity". Discussion of various elements: characterization, writer as creative filter, challenge to express the inexpressible, universality of experience ("you have to become all men at all times: leave yourself and become the other. Gamble on truth"). How keeping a journal can aid in these ventures: "This means that sometimes, for the sake of truth, you have to write things that are personally offensive to you .... This comes most most naturally from keeping an absolutely private journal." Then there is a section entitled "Essences and Accidentals" which is a five page outline of Maritain's ideas fromCreative Intuition in Art and Poetry(Griffin's aesthetic Bible). Finally, some Griffin notes on techniques, revision, things to avoid and misplaced motivations. [included herein is a folder containing one stray sheet of notes in Griffin's hand, plus a three-page carbon typescript he made from Maritain'sCreative Intuition, ("definitions of art").]. The remainder of this notebook is as profound in the personal sense as the first portion is in the artistic sense. Griffin arrived in Toronto on June 11, 1977. He was met at the airport by Dr. Viktor Frankel, a thinker Griffin had long admired and was meeting for the first time. Frankel is best known for his first book,Man's Search for Meaning. His account of enduring a Nazi concentration camp and the existential opus that begins his psychoanalytical career as the founder of logotherapy. The next day, Griffin had a long dialogue with Frankel which he called, ..a great interview. I have never in my life met a man whose thoughts and conclusions so nearly matched my own." Griffin discusses Frankel's ideas at great length and their affinity to his own, less systematic worldview.. Also at great length, Griffin discusses his depleted physical energy due to diabetes and heart-related ailments. "My problem, my physical condition obliges me to make demands on others that go against my conscience. When others through love and perception sense the needs and volunteer the aid, then the conflict ceases and is replaced by an overwhelming gratitude. It has always been profoundly repellant to me to have to ask someone for what must be given. That is the great dissonance of my life: My needs, for example, deprive my wife, Tom [Father Tom McKillop], even my children, of the peace and rest they need...no matter how willing they are to help. Because I try to hold off asking until too late, I face them with crises and fatigue. This destroys me and worsens the condition. I hold off asking (imposing) until I then grow sick and cry out for help.". In rereading the "Scattered Shadows" chapters inThe Reader, Griffin was deeply struck by the attitude (of false heroism) he had while slowly losing his sight in France thirty years earlier, in 1946. But he recognized the falsity then and overcame his own hypocrisy. "Strange indeed--my present helplessness and confusion wiped from memory the very meaning of that earlier discovery. There I could find finally objective meaning--the fragments were finally perceived as a whole. This time [with one leg amputated, with regular heart failures, constant pain and insomnia] I have been unable to do that--so meaning is too often replaced by sadness, even despair, even blackness without light but I cannot feel it too often Too often everything, even knowledge and perception seem wiped out by the heart-organ's physical inability to function--so the symbolic and real heart get clouded, desperate, fragmented, unwhole--and I know and hate-it-and beg for help.... Dr. Frankel refreshed these dim memories that have so permeated all my work."

Box 36 Folder 859 Notebook #9, June 4-7, 1978

[This is Griffin's final travel notebook, recording a visit he made to the Toronto home of Father Tom McKillop, his closest friend and spiritual advisor in the final few years. The entries reflect the desperate state of Griffin's health. Any intention of lecturing or doing interviews was cancelled. He simply spent time with his friend, made his confession, and received communion each day as they said the Mass together. Despite all the discomfort, Griffin felt "great joy to be back in this peaceful house, in the safety and security of friendship".

Box 36 Folder 860 Notebook #10, January-24 May 1980

[This final notebook postdates the last entry in his typewritten journal, which itself runs only 13 single spaced typed pages, from January until May 24, 1980 (and ending on page 2762).. From that last typed passage until the first entry in this final autograph notebook, a full month had passed without any writing.. Then, on June 23 until July 17 of 1980, he scrawled his last fifteen pages in this notebook. In addition, there are three handwritten pages toward the back of the notebook: this is a preliminary draft for an article commissioned by Litton magazines, concerning his views on changing skin color. The draft is unquestionably the very last piece Griffin wrote other than these fifteen pages that end his overall Journal.. The piece on skin color was finished in typescript (no carbon remains and perhaps he did not make one) for a June 17 deadline which he met and for which he collected a check from Litton for what would be his last published writing to appear in his lifetime