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Joseph K. Caldwell papers

Identifier: MSS 0330

Scope and Contents

The Joseph K. Caldwell Papers, spanning the dates 1938 to 2002, consist of 13.5 linear feet of correspondence, drafts (preliminary versions), photographs, notes, notebooks, galley proofs, playbills, reviews, clippings, and a diary.

The drafts of novels, plays, television play scripts, stories, and essays found in Series I comprise over seventy percent of the collection. Beginning with notes of early ideas for scenes or novel plots, continuing through the drafts of preliminary dialogue for plays or story lines for novels, and finding completion in final versions or galley proofs, the material clearly illustrates Caldwell's writing style and his formation of ideas.

Reviews, clippings, and playbills document the production of several of Caldwell's plays, as well as record the critical reactions to these plays and to his published novels.

The remainder of the papers are collected in Series II and consist of Caldwell's personal papers and correspondence. Letters from family members and friends, notebooks and term papers from his course work at Columbia and Yale Universities, his military service records, a contract and clipping related to his acting career, and his diary of caring for an AIDS patient document elements of Caldwell's personal life.

Caldwell's family and the family's Catholic faith play significant roles in his life, which becomes obvious in reading the letters from his mother and siblings, several of whom have taken religious orders. These influences are reflected in his stories, plays, and novels. Notebooks and term papers, completed by Caldwell while a student at Columbia and Yale, provide a record of two other persons who influenced his writing. The encouragement of John Gassner at Yale and Babette Deutsch at Columbia is apparent from Gassner's notes on Caldwell's plays and Deutsch's comments on his term papers, as well as in letters Caldwell received from them.

The letters from friends in the correspondence section offer the reader a very personal view of Joseph Caldwell. In many cases, the correspondents are artists or writers who keep in touch with Caldwell after their initial contact at Yaddo. From poets, composers, playwrights, painters, novelists, and sculptors, the letters share common themes: they all reflect a fondness for Caldwell, a respect for his literary skill, and an appreciation for the time and thought he offers in critiquing their writing. Former Yaddo residents frequently write to update Caldwell on their writing or art projects, occasionally enclosing a poem or story for Caldwell's comments. Photographs, many of which include Caldwell and are taken at Yaddo, are also inserted in a few letters. Among the Yaddo-related letters (F432), are drafts of letters written by Caldwell seeking financial support for the Yaddo Corporation.

Other letters allude to Caldwell's volunteer ministry to AIDS patients through St. Vincent's Supportive Care Program in New York or acknowledge the wide range of friendships he has established in New York City and around the United States. Caldwell's letters from friends in the gay community, particularly in New York City, contribute valuable information about gay culture and the struggles of that community.

Fiction workshops, taught annually by Caldwell at the 92nd Street Y, and the challenges in getting novels published or plays produced are also mentioned in the letters. For example, letters from Caldwell's literary agent, The Wendy Weil Agency, reveal their in attempting to place Caldwell's novel, "Mystery of the Body, " with a publisher.

As a whole the correspondence reveals Caldwell to be a man with strong family ties, friends who deem him a gifted writer and teacher, and with the compassion of deep religious convictions and social conscience.

Finally, other aspects of Caldwell's life are documented in his military service records; in the clippings and a contract, which note two of his acting jobs; several appointment books; and Caldwell's diary of the final three months in the life of an AIDS patient, whom he assisted.

Clearly the Joseph K. Caldwell Papers offer insight into the life and writing process of this distinguished American novelist and playwright.


  • Creation: 1938–2000


Language of Materials

Materials [entirely] in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Access to unprocessed supplement is limited pending completion of processing. Please contact Manuscripts Librarian through Special Collections for assistance.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical / Historical

Novelist and playwright Joseph K. Caldwell was born on October 2, 1928, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His education included studies at Marquette University, Columbia University, and three years in the graduate program of the School of Drama at Yale University.

Caldwell's talent and promise as a playwright were recognized early in his career: he received two "John Golden Fellowships in Play writing" at Yale University (1956-1957) and an American Broadcasting Company Fellowship in Playwriting, also at Yale.

Joseph Caldwell's plays have been produced off-Broadway, as well as being transformed into television scripts. New York productions of his plays include Cockeyed Kite at the Actors' Playhouse, The Downtown Holy Lady at the Greenwich Mews Theatre, and Jack Fallon, Fare Thee Well by the Joseph Jefferson Theatre Company. The School of Drama at Yale University produced two of his plays, namely, The Bridge and Clay for the Statues of Saints.

Caldwell has written several playscripts for television. The National Broadcasting Corporation has broadcast his Giant Killer, Trajan, The Bridge, and Down on the Farm. Educational Television has featured Caldwell's The Storm Born and The Old Man.

Joseph Caldwell may be more widely known for his four novels, published between 1978 and 1992. In Such Dark Places (1978), for which Caldwell was awarded an American Academy in Rome Fellowship in Creative Writing in 1979, was his first novel. Following In Such Dark Places, Caldwell wrote Deer at the River (1984), Under the Dog Star (1987), and The Uncle From Rome (1992). Caldwell's most recent novel, Bread for the Baker's Child, was published by Sarabande Books in 2002.

Joseph Caldwell's writing career has been supplemented by occasional acting roles in television programs or plays and by serving as a reader for several publishing agencies. He has also taught fiction writing at Columbia University, New York University, Hofstra University, and the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, as well as playwriting at the State University of New York and The New School.

For more than fifteen years Joseph Caldwell has been associated with the artists' colony of Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York; first as a guest and later an assistant to the President. As a letter nominating Caldwell to the Corporation of Yaddo suggests, his work as an assistant "is vital to maintaining the comfort and tranquillity of Yaddo's guests." In 1993 Caldwell was elected to membership in the Corporation of Yaddo. Yaddo has played a more significant role in Caldwell's life in recent years, as the frequency and length of his residency at the artists' colony has increased. Likewise, his influence on young writers and artists has grown. In his role as assistant at Yaddo, he has inspired and encouraged a number of writers and artists criticism and advice. Many of the letters in the correspondence section convey the gratitude of these artists as well as their respect for Caldwell.


13.5 linear foot (11 boxes)


Novelist and playwright Joseph K. Caldwell papers, spanning the dates 1938 to 2002, consist of 13.5 linear feet of correspondence, drafts (preliminary versions), photographs, notes, notebooks, galley proofs, playbills, reviews, clippings, and a diary.

Processing Information

Finding aid encoded by Lauren Connolly, January 2016.

Finding aid for Joseph K. Caldwell papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA