Conrad Richter: A Simple Man?

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce that it has received the remainder of the papers of American author Conrad Richter (1890-1968) as a bequest from the estate of his daughter, Prof. Harvena Richter, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Conrad Richter Papers [46 linear feet] have now been fully arranged and described in a finding aid.

The title of Conrad Richter’s book A Simple Honorable Man (1962) may well have been fashioned after the author’s own self image. Richter, an American novelist active during the middle decades of the twentieth century, wrote books about honest, earthy people: pioneers, settlers, cowboys, and American Indians were among his favorite subjects. The author was born in Pine Grove, PA, in 1890, the eldest son of a Pennsylvania German family, the son and grandson of Lutheran ministers. He did not go to college, nor did he wish to join the ministry. Plagued with what he referred to as “bad nerves,” the young Richter tried his hand at a number of occupations. Among them was writing, which he did assiduously, intent on providing for his wife and daughter.  By 1951 Richter had won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Town (1951), the third installment in his trilogy The Awakening Land. There were film adaptations of his novels, such as The Sea of Grass (1937), starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, directed by Elia Kazan.

A 1950 letter from Julian P. Boyd, Princeton University Librarian, to Alfred Knopf, Richter’s publisher, points to the beginning of Princeton’s first interest in Richter’s papers. Though Richter offered two manuscripts to Princeton as a gift, Boyd writes in his letter to Knopf, “I intend to have [Richter’s] manuscripts handsomely done up in slip cases – something like the way in which Dreiser’s Sister Carrie is cared for by the New York Public Library” [“Letter to Alfred Knopf,” May 23, 1950, Conrad Richter Papers, Box 38, Folder 5, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library]. Over the next few months Boyd and Richter corresponded, conversing amiably about Firestone Library, which had opened in 1949. In an acknowledgement letter (July 10, 1950), Boyd thanks Richter for his gift to the library.

Over the next 60 years, Princeton continued to receive gifts from the Richter family of the author’s papers and manuscripts, which included sizeable correspondence files, photographs, and manuscripts. Among the most valuable research materials in Richter’s papers are the author’s journals and notebooks, beginning in the 1920s and kept throughout his life; and correspondence with his publisher, Alfred and Blanche Knopf; and with his literary agent, Paul Reynolds. In various places the Richter Papers reveal a slightly more nuanced individual than “a simple, honorable man” might indicate; correspondence with psychologists, psychics, and sleep specialists indicate Richter’s preoccupation, or at the very least interest, with the metaphysical, and a personal letter from J. Edgar Hoover also gives pause.  Now available, the collection gives researchers the opportunity to rediscover and learn more about this thoroughly American novelist.

Conrad Richter as a cowboy, circa 1940. Box 99, Folder 4. Not to be reproduced without permission of the Princeton University Library.


Conrad Richter: A Simple Honorable Man, circa 1962. Box 99, Folder 5. Not to be reproduced without permission of the Princeton University Library.