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James Baldwin early manuscripts and papers

Call Number: JWJ MSS 21

Scope and Contents

The James Baldwin Early Manuscripts and Papers contain material documenting a short period of Baldwin's young adult life between 1941-1945, when Baldwin was just beginning his literary career. The material has been organized into four series: Writings, Correspondence, Artwork, and Personal Papers.

Series I, Writings (1941-45, n.d.), consists of works by Baldwin and other writers. The various draft stages of Baldwin's "Crying Holy" include at least two distinct plotlines. The first group of drafts, focusing on the subtitle "The Prisoner", concern a plot which varies from the final version of the decade-long project which culminated in Go Tell it on the Mountain in 1953. The second group of drafts, "The Sacrifice" et seq., follows more closely with the themes and characters of the finished novel. Other works by Baldwin are a section of an untitled short story featuring the characters Julius Greenberg and Mark Hayward, notes for a play entitled "Vanguard", a folder of poetry, including a lengthy narrative poem, and an issue (missing its cover) of what is likely to be The Magpie, the literary magazine of Baldwin's alma mater, De Witt Clinton High School, featuring several items by Baldwin.

Writings of Others includes two folders of material by Werner Loeb - poems, press releases, short stories, and play scenarios, evidently written for a school class. The unidentified writings at the end of the series are in several different hands and include poetry, essays, and stories.

Series II, Correspondence (1941-45, n.d.), contains principally letters addressed to Baldwin between 1941 and 1945. Many of these are addressed to Baldwin by friends serving in the military, including Sheldon Beigel, Paul Gertz, and Arthur Moore. A series of letters from 1944 is from Tom Martin, with whom Baldwin had lived during his brief stay in New Jersey in 1942-43. There are two drafts of outgoing letters, apparently in the hand of Baldwin. One is most likely to Tom Martin, while the other is to a "Dan'l". There are also two letters signed with this name only in the "Unidentified" folder.

Among the third-party letters is one addressed to "Sister" by James's brother, David Baldwin. Remaining letters are a rejection form letter from Harper's Magazine and a letter of recommendation for Baldwin from a Clinton High School advisor.

The majority of the pieces in Series III, Artwork (1945, n.d.) are not by James Baldwin, though there are a few pencil doodles which were found with manuscripts he wrote. Identified artwork includes one folder of watercolor sketches by "Leon K." and a group of ink sketches and etching proofs by Martin Weissman, a high school friend of Baldwin's. The remaining pieces, principally academic studies and sketches are unidentified.

The varied assortment of items which make up Series IV, Personal Papers (1943-45, n.d.), provides a snapshot of Baldwin's early life in New York. Here are a bank book, military papers (some of which document Baldwin's attachment to the Office of War Information), notices from PM Magazine (another temporary assignment for Baldwin), a single photograph of what appears to be a very young James Baldwin, and tax documents from 1944. The group of printed items consists mainly of issues of small-circulation newsletters for Socialist organizations. A few of these bear a mailing label for Martin Weissman.


  • 1941 - 1945


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile in Box 6 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The James Baldwin Early Manuscripts and Papers are 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

Gift of Bart Kaplan, 1998.


2.7 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


An early group of materials by Baldwin, including manuscripts, correspondence, artworks and personal papers. Among the manuscripts are drafts of a novel, "Crying Holy", which evolved much later into Baldwin's first published novel, "Go Tell It On the Mountain." The correspondence includes letters from Baldwin's friends in the military, including Tom Martin. Some of the artwork, mostly pencil sketches, is by Baldwin while a number of other items are by a high school friend of his, Martin Weissman. Among the personal papers is one photograph of a very young Baldwin.

JAMES BALDWIN, 1924-1987

The life of James Baldwin, novelist, essayist and civil rights advocate, has been described in a number of biographies and critical works, including David Leeming's James Baldwin: A Biography [Viking Penguin, 1994] and James Campbell's Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin [Faber, 1991 and Viking, 1991]

The provenance of the papers is a matter of some intrigue. The donor, Bart Kaplan, acquired the papers through eminent domain, after his company took possession of a storage building in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sometime in the early 1960s. The space in which they were stored had apparently once belonged to a publishing company which had left behind a suitcase containing these materials from James Baldwin. The relationship between Baldwin and the publishing company, as well as how a small parcel of his earliest literary effects was left with them, is uncertain. According to several sources, the materials in this archive were known to have been created by Baldwin, but were thought discarded or simply forgotten. In his introduction to New Essays on Go Tell It on the Mountain [Cambridge UP, 1996], Trudier Harris indicates that, following Harper's rejection of a draft section of "In My Father's House" [alternately "Crying Holy"], Baldwin put the manuscript "in a 'duffel bag'" and turned his attention to another project. Other circumstantial evidence - the dating of the first draft of "Crying Holy" to November 1941, while Baldwin was still in high school, and the length of the typescript version (57 pages - a few shy of the 60-page manuscript Richard Wright urged Baldwin to submit to Harper's) - suggests that this recovered cache of material fills in the gap that bibliographers have noted.

Guide to the James Baldwin Early Manuscripts and Papers
Under Revision
by Timothy G. Young
October 1998
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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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.