Human Clarity, White Light, Depth

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce the recent gift of manuscripts, correspondence, and other papers of Charles William White (b. 1906), an American author who wrote under the pseudonym Max White. Not well known today, White was active from the 1930s to 1950s. His most interesting files, dating from 1958, pertain to a proposed “real” autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1877–1967). The well-known Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) was actually the work of Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), who authored this memoir as though it had been written by Toklas. White was to have assisted Toklas in writing a new autobiography told in her own voice. The correspondence provides a glimpse of the friendship and working relationship of White and Toklas up until the dissolution of the book contract. It is interesting that Stein herself thought highly of White as an author. In an undated letter to the author about one of his manuscripts, she said, “I think it will be a successful book, of course that is another matter but I think it will, it has some of the human clarity of a writer whom I think…very great…it is clear and it is complete it has white light and it has depth, and it is darn good.…”

White was a friend of the painter Alice Neel (1900–84) and moved in the same artistic circles in Greenwich Village during the 1930s. He spent much of his later life in Europe, chiefly in Paris. Not well known today, White specialized in historical novels about artists: Anna Becker (1937); Tiger, Tiger (1940); In Blazing Light (1946), about the turbulent life of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828); The Midnight Gardener: A Novel about Baudelaire (1948), and The Man Who Carved Women from Wood (1949). Several of his books were published by Harper & Bros., New York, whose archives in the Manuscripts Division (C0103) contain author files for White. The papers also include manuscripts, typescripts, and copies of White’s The Matchless Pleasure, The Ballad of the Dead Sailor, Mr. Gaffajoli’s Looking Glass, and other unpublished novels and plays, chiefly dating from the 1950s to 1970s.

The Charles William White Papers (C1484) are the gift of Thomas Colchie, Class of 1964. He is a New York literary agent, editor, and translator, who specializes in the work of contemporary Latin American authors. For a full description of the papers, consult the finding aid

Max White by Alice Neel
Alice Neel, Oil portrait of Max White, 1935
Smithsonian American Art Museum