Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Philanthropy, Social Services, Human Rights > 84. John Howard Griffin

84.  John Howard Griffin (1920-1980).  Journal. Typescript, with interspersed photographs, 1950 - 1980. RBML, John Howard Griffin Papers

This massive Journal runs to 2,762 pages of single-spaced typed pages and covers the years 1950 - 1980. This page count does not include ten autograph notebooks kept while traveling. Griffin kept a journal from the age of sixteen until twenty-one. When France was about to fall to the Germans, he gave the journals to a schoolmate for safe-keeping. "Years later when I returned to France [in 1976], I retrieved the journal which had been buried on my friend's father's farm during the war." As he read what he had written so long ago, Griffin became saddened by the discovery that it was filled with petty reflection on music, food, and literature and practically nothing on the World War. Griffin burned this journal.

John Mason Brown, the theatre critic, encouraged Griffin to write. The result was his first novel, The Devil Rides Outside, written in 1949. Griffin began his mature Journal in December of 1950, the third year of his blindness. He would regain his sight seven years later. When he was not working on novels or short stories, he wrote his Journal, which became a seedbed for most of the work he would publish later. Its pages are full of fragments and drafts of stories and novels; essays and articles; meditations on human rights, the Civil Rights Movement, and major events such as the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 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.

Purchased with the John Howard Griffin Papers, 1995

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