Skip to main content

George Whitmore papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 274

Scope and Contents

The George Whitmore Papers consists of the literary papers of the poet, playwright, critic, novelist, and freelance writer George Davis Whitmore. The collection primarily contains his writings and supporting research files, although there is a small amount of professional correspondence and a few personal papers present. Whitmore's writings span his academic years through his career as a freelance journalist, but nearly half of the collection contains his creative writings, many of which were not published during his lifetime. Whitmore was a member of the Violet Quill group of gay male writers, and most of his literary works reflect his close connection with contemporary gay culture in tone and subject, particularly his AIDS-related writings.

With the exception of one letter from the author to his sister and one to his friend James Ross (Jay) Smith, the collection does not contain personal or family correspondence, health or financial files, daily planners, or any information related to Whitmore's successful human rights lawsuit against the Northern Dispensary. Therefore, the small group of journal entries in Series I are noteworthy for providing the collection's only window on Whitmore's daily activities and inner thoughts.

Among his literary contributions were extensive published interviews with authors William S. Burroughs, Martin Duberman, Tennessee Williams, and Edmund White, and the singing group Labelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash), in addition to AIDS patients and care givers. In his fiction and non-fiction work, Whitmore covered topics of relevance to the gay community, and the papers reveal his working methods and resources for his success in both genres.


  • 1959 - 1995
  • Majority of material found within 1967 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Original computer disks are restricted. Copies of electronic files are available through Access Services. Surrogates of all audio recordings are available within the collection.

Boxes 20-21: Restricted fragile material. Reference copies available. Consult access services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The George Whitmore Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Michael Canter on the Ezra Pound Archive Fund, 1996.

The Whitmore archive was stored by Canter between Whitmore’s death in 1989 and transfer of the archive to the library in 1996. According to Canter, Whitmore’s “early Kaypro” computer was discarded in 1990 or 1991.


The collection is organized into six series: I. Personal Papers (1966-1995); II. Writings: Fiction (1959-1989); III. Writings: Non-Fiction, General (before 1967-1988); IV. Writings on AIDS (1984-1989); V. Subject Files (1973-1988); VI. Electronic Files (1981-1986).


9.88 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The George Whitmore Papers consists of the literary papers of the poet, playwright, critic, novelist, and freelance writer George Davis Whitmore. The collection primarily contains his writings and supporting research files, though a small amount of professional correspondence and a few personal papers are present.

George D. Whitmore (1945-1989)

George Davis Whitmore was a poet, playwright, critic, novelist, and freelance writer, whose lifetime of publishing began with his essays appearing in school literary magazines and ended with his major volume on the AIDS epidemic. He was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 27, 1945, to Lowell and Irene Davis Whitmore. Raised in Denver, he received a BA degree in English and Theatre from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1967. Whitmore was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and pursued graduate studies in the Theatre Department at Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont. He remained at the college from 1967 to 1968, after which he moved to New York.

Once in the city, Whitmore found employment as an editorial and administrative assistant at two non-profit agencies, Planned Parenthood (1968-1972) and the Citizens Housing and Planning Council of New York (1972-1981); both positions gave him experience in writing copy, reviewing books, and turning out concise feature articles under deadline. Concurrently, Whitmore maintained a parallel career as a freelance writer, reporter, and critic for several gay periodicals including The Body Politic, Christopher Street, Gay Sunshine, and Gaysweek, as well as serving as contributing editor and literary critic at the San Francisco Advocate from 1974 to 1976. In addition, he wrote on topics of interest to the gay community for other magazines such as the Soho Weekly News, Harper's Weekly, and the Washington Post Book World. His book-length study of Henry David Thoreau was published by the Gay Academic Union in 1977-1978.

Whitmore also worked in fiction throughout his life, composing poetry and short stories that were published in both gay and straight periodicals, as well as issued under his own imprint, the Free Milk Fund Press, which was headquartered in his Upper West Side apartment. He received a New York State CAPS grant for poetry in 1976, and regularly presented his poems at public readings during the 1970s and early 1980s. Three of Whitmore's plays were produced in New York: The Caseworker (1976), Two Plays for Three Women: Flight/The Legacy (1979), and The Rights (1980), and three of his novels were also published there: The Confessions of Danny Slocum (1980), Deep Dish (serialized between 1980 and 1982), and Nebraska (1987). The latter, loosely based on Whitmore's childhood memories, was developed from an earlier unproduced play and written during his residencies at the Edward Albee Foundation (1983) and the MacDowell Colony (1985). Whitmore was a member of a literary group known as the Violet Quill, whose seven authors, as men creating literature for men, are regarded as the strongest voices of the gay male experience in the post-Stonewall era. Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Edmund White, and Whitmore met several times in 1979, 1980, and 1981, to read aloud from and discuss their works in progress, as well as those by their friends. Also on their agenda were discussions of how they could work together to promote recognition, acceptance, and publication of gay literature beyond the boundaries of their own community.

In the 1980s, Whitmore worked as a freelance reporter and features writer for popular magazines and newspapers including Travel and Leisure, House and Garden, House Beautiful, and the New York Times; his specialty was covering people, places, and events connected with art, design, and architecture. At the same time, his personal and professional communities were rapidly being overtaken by the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, as gay male friends and colleagues around him began to sicken and die. Whitmore's response was perhaps his most important contribution to non-fiction literature: three interrelated articles and one book that focused on human face of AIDS. Relying on his reporting skills and journalism contacts, he fashioned the first article for a general public already frightened by rising morbidity statistics: "Reaching Out to Someone with AIDS," a profile of the daily life of an AIDS patient and his volunteer advocate, appeared in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, May 19, 1985, some months before President Ronald Reagan publicly acknowledged the disease. A second article, "Someone Was Here," ran in GQ the next year. Whitmore reused the title for his 1988 book, Someone Was Here: Profiles in the AIDS Epidemic, which expanded on his Times article by looking at the lives of patients' families and medical professionals as well as the patients themselves, thereby emphasizing the toll of the disease on both the heterosexual and homosexual populations. The book's epilogue was published in advance in the January 31, 1988, issue of The New York Times Magazine. In that essay, "Bearing Witness," Whitmore revealed that he too was a victim of AIDS, having been diagnosed a year after the publication of his "Reaching Out" article. He was 43 years old when he died in New York on April 19, 1989, from AIDS-related complications.

Processing Information

In addition to the paper files that document Whitmore's major works in fiction and non-fiction, there are fifty-eight computer disks. In most cases, the electronic documents have corresponding paper printouts in the collection, but readers who would like to consult the electronic files may do so through the Beinecke Library's Access Services staff. The finding aid has been annotated to include these files in their appropriate places within the collection's intellectual arrangement.

The electronic files were migrated by National Data Conversion from the original word-processing software (WordStar for CP/M) to WordStar 4.0 for DOS and to ASCII to maintain readability of data. WordStar 4.0 for DOS and ASCII files were refreshed into the Yale University Library Rescue Repository. Technical specifications are filed with the media in Restricted Fragile.

In this finding aid, the term "typescript" is used to identify papers that Whitmore produced with either a typewriter or a computer and printer.

Folders 65 and 67 in box 5, folder 91 in box 7, folders 145 and 152 in box 11, and folder 234a in box 16 are unused. Original audiocassettes are now housed in box 20. Restricted fragile material.

Guide to the George Whitmore Papers
by Sandra Markham
November 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.