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John Clellon Holmes letters to Richard Douglass

Identifier: MSS 0099-F0902

Scope and Content Note

American poet John Clellon Holmes wrote these letters, filled with encouragement and critique, to a young poet named Richard Douglass, who identified with the Beats.

John Clellon Holmes began this correspondence with Richard Douglass in response to a letter from Douglass regarding the renewed interest in the Beats and Holmes's book Go, which was soon to be re-issued. Holmes also offered to be of help in Douglass's pursuit. It is obvious the pursuit was writing, for in the five letters which followed, Holmes critiqued the poems and short story sent to him by Douglass.

In these letters, Holmes focused on specific poems, discussing both problems and positive points, but always encouraging Douglass to continue to write because he believed that Douglass had talent. He suggested Douglass train himself to read his own work critically, to write about what he knew, and always to "RE-WRITE." Among the critiques, the admonishments on spelling, punctuation or over-writing, were more philosophical expressions from Holmes on poetry and writing. For example, in the July 18, 1976, letter, Holmes wrote: "Poetry is not merely self-expression. It’s communication. Communication is self-expression that succeeds."

In a November 7, 1976, letter, Holmes replied to Douglass's inquiry about Holmes's relationship to the Beats and what the Beats were trying to accomplish. Holmes said: "They (we) were trying to reconnect with the oldest American literary tradition - transcendentalism, a belief that the human being is more than the sum of his social conditioning and toliet training." He continued with his thoughts on Jack Kerouac and the confusion that the media caused Kerouac. Holmes wrote that the Beats protested the "cultural sterility and conformity" of the 1950s by "acting as if we were whole human beings. This was shocking at the time. A sign of how bad it was."

Holmes directed Douglass to other resources, such as books written about the Beats to satisfy some of Douglass's curiosity on the subject. After critiquing a Douglass short story, he suggested the young writer read short story writers, such as Chekhov, Katharine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence, Maupassant, Frank O'Connor, and Isaac Babel, to learn more.

In addition to the six letters written by Holmes, the collection includes two letters written by Richard Douglass to Philip Ciapponi of Chloe's Books. In the first letter he enclosed copies of the poems he had sent to Holmes, and in the second letter he enclosed a letter from Elizabeth Van Vogt (sister to John Clellon Holmes) written to him.


  • Creation: 1976-2011
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1976-1977


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

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,

John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988)

American writer and educator John Clellon Holmes, author of novels, short stories, essays, and poems, was best known as a chronicler of the ideology and lifestyle of the "Beat generation writers."

Holmes's semi-autobiographical novel Go, published by Scribner in 1952, and later in England as The Beat Boys, is considered to be the first published novel depicting the Beat generation.

Born March 12, 1926, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Holmes died on March 30, 1988, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

"John Clellon Holmes." Contemporary Authors Online. (reproduced in Gale Biography In Context). (accessed August 2011).

Richard N. Douglass

Richard N. Douglass is a poet from Northampton, Massachusetts.

Previously Douglass has had one poem, "Charlie One Eye," published in The Brook Alumni Magazine (SUNY-Stony Brook).

On February 7, 2011, Douglass wrote in a letter to Philip Ciapponi of Chloe's Books, "I consider myself, the unknown, unpublished Beat, carrying on their tradition. I still dribble on paper and might start sending out again. At 62, I just want peace and quiet."

Information regarding Richard Douglass was derived from the letters.

Elizabeth Van Vogt

Elizabeth Van Vogt, the sister of John Clellon Holmes, has written several novels and a memoir about the Beats, Jack Kerouac at 681 Lexington Avenue, which was published by Beat Scene Press in 2007.

Elizabeth Van Vogt. Jack Kerouac at 681 Lexington Avenue. Beat Scene Press Books. (accessed August 2011).Information regarding Elizabeth Van Vogt was derived from her letter.


17 item (20 pages)


American poet John Clellon Holmes wrote these letters, filled with encouragement and critique, to a young poet named Richard Douglass, who identified with the Beats.


Arranged in chronological order.


Purchase, May 2011.

Related Materials in this Repository

This item forms part of MSS 0099 Miscellaneous Literary and Historical Manuscripts.

MSS 0099 F0864, John Clellon Holmes letter to Shirley Allen.

Shelving Summary

Box 62, F0902: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0099 manuscript boxes.


Processed and encoded by Anita Wellner, August 2011. Further encoded by George Apodaca, October 2015.

Finding aid for John Clellon Holmes letters to Richard Douglass
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2011 August 8
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Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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