Rare Book & Manuscript Library
 

Constance Webb papers, 1918-2005, bulk 1939-2002

Summary Information

Abstract

The Constance Webb Papers include correspondence, photographs, and drafts of writings by Webb, who was the author of the first biography of Richard Wright and the second wife of C. L. R. James. Webb edited two books of letters by C.L.R. James and materials related to those books can be found here. A few letters written by C.L.R. James and a smattering of material related to his work can also be found in this collection.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1478
Bib ID 8494934 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Webb, Constance
Title Constance Webb papers, 1918-2005, bulk 1939-2002
Physical Description 9.3 linear feet (14 boxes: 9 document boxes 3 record cartons 1 halfsized document box)
Language(s) Material is in English.
Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in five series: Series I: C. L. R. James, 1932-1991; Series II: Richard Wright, 1940s-2001; Series III: Correspondence, 1940s-2005; Series IV: Writings, 1940s-2002; Series V: Personal, 1918-2002.

Description

Summary

The Constance Webb Papers include correspondence, photographs, and drafts of writings by Webb. Webb edited two books of letters by C.L.R. James and materials related to those books can be found here. A few letters written by C.L.R. James and a smattering of material related to his work can also be found in this collection.

  • Series I: C.L.R. James

    The bulk of this series comprises transcriptions of letters from James to Constance Webb and to their son, C. L. R. James, Jr. and other materials related to Special Delivery: The Letters of C.L. R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948 and The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults, the two books of James' correspondence edited by Webb. Much of the other correspondence found here between Webb and James relates to their son, C. L. R. James, Jr., and many of these letters are transcriptions or photocopies. (Many of the original copies of James' letters to Webb, and to his son, are held at the Schomburg Center.) This series also includes a small amount of correspondence by James to others, a typescript draft of American Civilization along with a few other pieces by James, and writings and materials related to the Johnson-Forest Tendency.

  • Series II: Richard Wright, Circa

    Included in this series are correspondence and materials related to Webb's biography of Richard Wright and other writings of hers that concerned Wright.

  • Series III: Correspondence

    Correspondents in this series include scholars of C. L. R. James and those concerned with his care; scholars of Richard Wright; and editors, friends and family. Much of the correspondence from the late 1990s through 2005 consists of printed copies of often quite lengthy emails. Anna Grimshaw, Lesley Himes and Hazel Rowley are among those with whom Webb corresponded most frequently. Copies of Webb's letters to many of her correspondents can also be found here. The bulk of the correspondence dates from the 1980s through the early 2003.

  • Series IV: Writings, 1940s-2002, Undated

    The manuscripts and editorial materials for The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults and Special Delivery: The Letters of C.L.R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948, both edited by Webb can be found in the Series I: C. L. R. James, 1932-1991. In this series are poetry, drafts of Webb's memoir, Not Without Love: Memoirs, multiple drafts of an unpublished novel and a few clippings of articles by Webb. A few pieces written by others, including Webb's husband Edward Pearlstien are also included here.

  • Series V: Personal, 1918-2002, Undated

    This series contains an eclectic mix: address books, notebooks, sketches and artwork; employment and personal documents; subject files, materials from two lawsuits; and a Selective Service Appeal regarding C. L. R. James, Jr. Included in the Selective Service Appeal material is correspondence with Conrad Lynn, the New York City civil-rights attorney who represented C.L.R. James, Jr. Also in this series are photographs of Webb, C.L.R. James, and friends and family.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

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); Constance Webb Papers; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Material at Columbia

C.L.R. James Papers Rare Book & Manuscript Library

C.L.R. James Institute Records, 1938-2002, 1939-2004 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Anna Grimshaw Papers Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Darcus Howe Papers Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Martin and Jessie Glaberman Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.

C.L.R. James Letters, Schomburg Center, New York Public Library, New York, New York

Richard Wright Collection, Schomburg Center, New York Public Library, New York, New York

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Alix Ross; Anne Diebel, GSAS 2012; and Casiana Ionita, GSAS, 2013 2010.

Finding aid written Alix Ross 11/--/2010.

Revision Description

2011-02-26 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

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

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.

Genre/Form

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Grimshaw, Anna Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Himes, Lesley Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
James, C. L. R (Cyril Lionel Robert), 1901-1989 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pearlstien, Edward W., 1928- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Rowley, Hazel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Webb, Constance Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Wright, Richard, 1908-1960 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Writer, actress, and model Constance Webb (1918-2005) was the second wife of C. L. R. James (1901-1989).

Webb, the fifth of six children, was born and raised in Fresno, California. Her parents, Minerva Susan Reynolds Webb, and, George Detwyler Webb, were originally from Atlanta, Georgia. Webb joined the Socialist Party as a teenager; married and divorced two men, Norman Henderson, Jr. and Edward Keller, by the time she was twenty-five; and made her living initially as a model and an actress. She attended Fresno State College briefly, but never graduated from college.

Webb met C. L. R. James in 1939 after he spoke at an event in Los Angeles and shortly thereafter they began corresponding. Webb's side of the correspondence has not survived, but many of James' letters have. The bulk of those surviving letters are at the Schomburg Center in New York.

In the mid-1940s, after her second divorce, Webb left California for New York City. She took a room in the Barbizon Hotel for Women, began modeling for the Harry Conover Agency, continued an affair with Jack Gilford that had begun in California, and contacted James. James introduced Webb to Richard Wright and his wife, Ellen, Chester Himes and Ralph Ellison. Webb accompanied James when he attended the meetings of various Socialist organizations including the Johnson-Forest Tendency or Johnsonites, a small group for which James wrote under the byline "J. R. Johnson" and Raya Dunayevskaya, as "Freddie Forest". Webb began writing, too, a vocation that would outlast her acting and modeling careers. Her article"What Next for Richard Wright?" was published in Phylon in 1949. In 1946 she printed privately, and distributed"A hitherto unpublished manuscript by Richard Wright being a continuation of Black Boy." Webb and James married in 1946.

Webb and James' marriage lasted in fits and starts for nearly seven years. In 1949 C. L. R. James, Jr."Nobbie", their only child was born. They were separated forcibly in 1952, by James' arrest and detention on Ellis Island. In 1953, facing deportation, C. L. R. James left the United States, his home for 15 years, for England; Webb remained in New York with Nobbie. Through their parenting of Nobbie--Robert as an adult--Webb and James renewed their correspondence.

From the early 1950s through the early 1970s, Webb worked as an executive secretary or administrative assistant in a variety of businesses, first in New York and then in Los Angeles where she moved in 1970. During the 1950s Webb wrote for Correspondence, the Johnsonite newspaper, and accepted free lance projects. After a brief sabbatical from secretarial work, Webb's first book, Richard Wright: A Biography, was published in 1968.

By the end of the nineteen-fifties Webb was married to Edward W. Pearlstien (1928-2001), her fourth and last husband. Edward, a writer and a teacher, taught history at the Fieldston School, New York University and Hunter College. They remained married for over thirty years, a union that ended only with his death. Webb and Pearlstien worked together in their later years at Editorial Consultants, Inc., which they had founded along with Annette Welles in 1971. Editorial Consultants produced, primarily, reports, manuals and brochures for professional organizations. From 1973 until her retirement in 1987 Webb also worked as a technical writer for the Bechtel Power Corporation in San Francisco, California.

In 1985 Webb, concerned about James' deteriorating health, wrote to his assistant, Anna Grimshaw, an anthropologist and recent graduate of Cambridge University, with advice on his care. This letter was the beginning of a two-decades-long relationship sustained through correspondence and their collaboration on several C. L. R. James-related projects. Webb also kept in contact with a variety of other C. L. R. James scholars and Richard Wright scholars.

In retirement Webb took on a series of writing projects. She transcribed and edited, with Anna Grimshaw, two collections of C. L. R. James letters: Special Delivery: The Letters of C.L.R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948 (1996) and The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults, which was published posthumously (2006). She published a memoir of the first half of her life, Not Without Love: Memoirs (2003) and wrote several extensive drafts of a novel. The novel was left unfinished when Webb died in 2005.