Conrad Richter papers, 1860-1995, (bulk 1903-1968)

02491

Collection Overview

Title:
Conrad Richter papers
Dates (Inclusive):
1860-1995, (bulk 1903-1968)
Dates (Inclusive):
1903-1968
Creator:
Richter, Conrad
Abstract:
Conrad Richter was an American novelist from Pennsylvania known for his nostalgic portrayal of American frontier life and character. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 and the National Book Award in 1960. The bulk of this collection contains manuscript drafts, galleys, and page proofs for his writings.
Collection Number:
02491
Size:
19.5 Linear Feet
Location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the   library catalog.
Repository:
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.
Languages:
English

Biographical Note

Conrad Richter (1890-1968) was a Pennsylvanian writer best known for his mid-20th-century novels of the American past told in a simple, direct language. He also wrote many short stories. His works express a nostalgia for the past and a love for the land. Richter had a firm belief that the adversity of pioneer life made people who were better than those of more comfortable later generations. Adversities, or "obstructions" as he called them, were at the core of the themes he developed for his fiction. These adversities were also present in his own life as he struggled to develop a writing career in the Great Depression, and to combat the inner anxieties and depressions that plagued him his entire life. Like his characters, he struggled to overcome his "obstructions" and with similar hard work and perseverance achieved some measure of success. Many of Richter's works drew heavily on his knowledge of time and place, particularly on the settings and character types particular to the earlier history of his Pennsylvania home and his later New Mexico residence. Many are also quasi-autobiographical and/or draw extensively on his own family history for characters and situations. (See Gaston, 1989, pp. 4-5 and 13-16 for specific parallels.) Richter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 (for The Town), and the American Book Award in 1960 (for The Waters of Kronos), and a number of other lesser honors and awards.

Richter was born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (Schuykill County) where he spent his early years. His father, maternal grandfather, and at least two other relatives were Lutheran ministers of German stock. His mother's ancestors had been settled in the northeast since the 18th century. Young Conrad grew up hearing stories of the past. Richter attended school in Pine Grove and other Pennsylvania towns, graduating from high school in 1906. Although his parents had hoped he would attend college and prepare for the ministry, Conrad entered the workforce immediately. He tried his hand at a great variety of modest occupations, seeking to obtain the kind of business success touted by the popular press, including some of his own early publications. A number of his pre-1928 positions involved writing or publishing. Amongst his many early jobs, he was a clerk, a farm hand, a lumber wholesaler (his own business), a reporter or editor for several Pennsylvania newspapers, a private secretary for a Cleveland heiress, and a pretzel distributor (also his own business). He began trying to sell his poems and short stories in 1910, first publishing in 1913. He achieved a small measure of early success when his story, "Brothers of No Kin," was selected by a critic as the best magazine story of 1914. "Brothers of No Kin" faithfully reproduced the qualities of time, place, and character that typify Richter's mature work. Its recognition had only a modest impact on his career however, and Richter continued to write more saleable and formulaic pulp stories.

In 1915, Richter married Harvena Aschenbach (1896-1972), by whom he had one child, his daughter Harvena Richter (b. 1917). From 1915 to 1928 Richter was the president of a small book business which distributed self-improvement and inspirational tracts directed at the popular market. The Handy Book Co. was a Reading-, and later, Harrisburg-based subsidiary of a New York City publishing house. In 1925, Richter bought out the owners and renamed it the Good Books Co. Richter published all of his early books through these companies, some under the pseudonym Robert Clearing. While he managed Handy Book/Good Books, Richter continued to pursue his writing career, making sporadic story and screenplay sales through several agents. His production also included children's stories, initially for others, but then for a children's periodical, The Junior Magazine Book, that he wrote, edited, and published himself (1916-1917?). Although most of his early efforts were written for low-caliber pulp magazines, he aspired to better, more mainstream markets, such as that represented by The Saturday Evening Post, one of the most popular magazines of the time. His early anthology, Brothers of No Kin and Other Stories (1924), collected some of these early works; other than the title story, it was not well received. At the same time that he was writing short stories, Richter was developing his personal philosophies about the nature of human life and the mind. In the mid-1920s he published two books on these metaphysical and pseudo-scientific notions of human energy. Richter stated that these theories were the philosophical underpinnings for all of his literary work. His thoughts on this subject culminated in the publication many years later of his philosophical novel, The Mountain on the Desert (1955).

The worsening tuberculosis of his wife forced Richter to move to New Mexico in 1928. Richter sold his home and business, living off the proceeds while devoting himself full-time to his writing career. The 1929 stock market crash wiped out his considerable investments; deeply in debt, Richter struggled to support his family. The following years were precarious, and exacerbated Richter's ever-present anxieties and insecurities, which had forced him to quit many of his early positions. As he had when seeking better employment in the early 1910s, Richter sent out numerous letters seeking work, even writing to President Roosevelt. In his literary work, he began to move away from the formulaic pulp stories and developed fiction based authentic regional and historical material. For his sources, he drew on his own experiences, library research, interviews with "old-timers," and the stories he heard growing up. Richter credits these sources in detail in the acknowledgements of his books. His research and recollections went into an extensive series of notebooks maintained as least as early as his first novel (published 1937).

The turning point in Richter's career came in the mid-1930s, first with a story sale to the Saturday Evening Post (1934), to which he then became a frequent contributor, and then with the publication of his short story collection Early Americana and Other Stories by Alfred A. Knopf (1936). The content of this collection reflects the shift in the nature of Richter's work. Knopf published Richter's first novel, The Sea of Grass, in the following year and remained Richter's book publisher for the rest of his life. Although Richter continued to write occasional stories and essays for the Post and other periodicals, from this time on his literary production was focused on novels. He produced a novel on average every other year for the rest of his life. Richter always had great difficulty writing; this is the reason his novels tend to be short. At the very end of his life, he did some further work in children's literature although only one story, Over the Blue Mountain, a novelette for young adults, was completed and published (1967).

All of Richter's mature literary production (from circa 1934) shares certain common themes and characteristics. It does not fall into any easily discerned chronological phases. It can be subdivided by geographical and historical setting, although even these groupings do not have any separate chronological distribution. He went back and forth between these backdrops throughout his career. They can be divided into two major areas, which correspond to Richter's places of residence: the American southwest, and the northeast, primarily Pennsylvania and Ohio. Richter's own notebooks reflect this division: he had three dark blue notebooks of western material and three light blue notebooks of eastern material. The major eastern works are sometimes further divided into the Ohio trilogy novels (The Awakening Land), the Pennsylvania novels, the "Indian" novels set in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and his quasi-autobiographical personal trilogy (also set in Pennsylvania; the final novel unfinished at his death). Most of his essays could also be placed in one or another of these categories. Like his fiction, they often have a strong sense of time and place, and are often on historical or nostalgic themes.

After Richter's successes in the mid-thirties, his personal circumstances gradually improved, although he always lived a modest life. He received a number of awards and an honorary degree in the 1940s in response to The Sea of Grass and his first two Ohio novels. Richter remained in Albuquerque until 1950, when he moved back to Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, the town of his birth and early childhood. Except for winters spent in Florida, he remained there for the rest of his life (d. 1968). He lived a quiet and uneventful life, avoiding public appearances. Major critical recognition came in the 1950s and 1960s with the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, along with several honorary degrees (for a list of Richter's awards, see Lahood, p.136). His novels achieved a modest level of commercial success as well. Several were made into motion pictures including The Sea of Grass as a Tracy-Hepburn vehicle, and The Light in the Forest as a Disney picture. Richter corresponded heavily, keeping carbon copies of most of his letters. While some of this was rather impersonal business correspondence (as with Karl Goedecke, proprietor of Laurel Book Service, his long-time supplier of books in Hazleton, PA), he responded at length to the many readers who wrote him and maintained an ongoing correspondence with some of them. In these letters he sometimes comments on the art of writing and gives informal biographies of himself.

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Collection Overview

The greater part of this collection consists of various versions of 10 novels, 1 philosophical book, 50 or so short stories, and more than a dozen essays. Some of these works are unpublished. There are also numerous notebooks and files of notes and clippings, journals, extensive correspondence both personal and practical, a variety of miscellaneous personal papers including his Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award certificates, and materials associated with his death. The items span his entire life and career and then some, including: materials pertaining to his hometown before he was born, school papers, early short stories, his mature, award-winning novels, letters written from early adulthood to shortly before his death, items from his funeral, and memorials erected afterwards. Richter's papers were divided somewhat arbitrarily among six institutions (see related materials note); closely related documents may be scattered across several locations.

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Arrangement

Materials are arranged to the following four series: Correspondence and personal writings; Biographical materials and family papers; Notebooks, notes and clippings; Published and finished unpublished works.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Conrad Richter papers, RBM 2491, Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was donated by Harvena Richter from 1968-2001. In 2014 an additional gift was donated by David R. Johnson.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff.

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Related Materials

Related Material

Other related materials within Special Collections are located in the Karl Goedecke/Laurel Book Service Papers (Rare Books and Manuscripts). This collection documents the business of the Pennsylvania book dealer from whom Richter purchased many of the books for his personal library. They include two files pertaining to sales of Brothers of No Kin received on consignment from Richter, and a file of sales to Harvena Richter. Related materials at other institutions includes materials at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Library; Boston University Libraries: Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center; Princeton University Library: Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections, Manuscript Div.; University of California at Los Angeles: Dept. of Special Collections; University of Wyoming: American Heritage Center. See p. 372 of David Johnson's Conrad Richter, A Writer's Life, for additional information. Collections of Harvena Richter materials are also at the University of New Mexico General Library: Center for Southwest Research.

Separated Material

Materials received as part of this collection but cataloged separately: Copies of Richter's books received as part of the Harvena Richter gifts and gifts from Karl and Katherine Goedecke are cataloged separately and shelved in the Author Collection (Rare Books and Manuscripts). These include copies of several obscure early non-fiction works written, edited, and/or published by Richter when he was the president of the Handy Book Co./Good Books Co. (some under the pseudonym Robert Clearing), as well as translations of Richter books into other languages.

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Collection Inventory

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BoxFolder

11

12

BoxFolder

13-6

17-10

111-14

115

116

117

118-19

120

121-25

1219

139

1326

BoxFolder

126

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BoxFolder

127

128

129

130

121-8

1329

1332

BoxFolder

131

132

133-34

135
Box

11
BoxFolder

1218

BoxFolder

136

21

BoxFolder

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

210

211

212
Box

11
BoxFolder

1257

BoxFolder

213

214

215

216

217

218

219

220

221

1310

1312

1313

BoxFolder

931

932

933

934-35

936

937

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BoxFolder

222

223

224

225

226

227

228

229

31

32

33

BoxFolder

34

35

36

37

38

39

310-12

313

314

315

316

317

318
Box

11
BoxFolder

137

1327

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BoxFolder

319-20
Box

17
BoxFolder

321-22

323-29

41

42-5

46

47

48-11

412

413

414

415-16

417-18
Box

11
BoxFolder

51-2

53-6

57-8

59

510-15

516-18

519
Box

17

10

17

17
BoxFolder

520-21
Box

18

10

10

10

10

11

11
BoxFolder

131-3

614

615-17

618-19

620-21

71

72-3

74

75-7

78-12

713-16

BoxFolder

81

1325
Box

15
BoxFolder

1247

82

1231
Box

15
BoxFolder

83

84

85

1222
Box

15

16

19
BoxFolder

1252

1214

86

1238

87

1241

88
Box

14

10

17

17
BoxFolder

89

1236

810
Box

15

15
BoxFolder

811

812
Box

14

19
BoxFolder

813

1330
Box

18
BoxFolder

1250
Box

17

17

17

17

16
BoxFolder

814
Box

11
BoxFolder

815
Box

15
BoxFolder

816
Box

10

17
BoxFolder

138

817

1244

1245

1223

1328

818

819

1233

1230

820

821

1229

1246

822

1212

823

1228
Box

18
BoxFolder

824

1242

1210-11; 15-17
Box

16
BoxFolder

825

826

1237

827

828
Box

10

17
BoxFolder

829
Box

15
BoxFolder

830
Box

14
BoxFolder

831
Box

14

14
BoxFolder

832-34

129

1251

835

1225

836-37

1234

838
Box

19
BoxFolder

839
Box

16

15
BoxFolder

1213

840-41
Box

18

18
BoxFolder

842

843

844
Box

15
BoxFolder

845-48

849

850

851
Box

14
BoxFolder

852

1226

1240
Box

15

15

15
BoxFolder

1243

853

1249

91
Box

15

16
BoxFolder

1224
Box

15

19

14

19
BoxFolder

92
Box

10
BoxFolder

1235

1227

1239

1248

94
Box

18

15
BoxFolder

95

1232

138
Box

19
BoxFolder

96
Box

14
BoxFolder

97

134-6

1311, 14-21
Box

18

BoxFolder

98
Box

18

15

10
BoxFolder

99
Box

18

18

18
BoxFolder

910

911

912

61

62-6

67-12

613

914

913

915
Box

19

16

10

16
BoxFolder

916-17
Box

18
BoxFolder

918

919

1333
Box

19
BoxFolder

1323

920

921

922

1258

923
Box

15
BoxFolder

1220-21

1253-56

BoxFolder

924

925

926

927

928

929

1322

1324

BoxFolder

930
Box

10

10
BoxFolder

1331
Box

17

17

18

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