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Conrad Richter as Author


1907 double exposure photograph taken of Richter by Richter
Double Exposure Photograph circa 1907 of Richter by Richter
Source: Johnson, David R. Conrad Richter: A Writer's Life
(University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)


The author, like an individual in many other professions, is both a public and a private person. The public image of the author is primarily shaped by his or her published writings. The private author is someone we often never see and about whom we can only speculate.

The division between public and private can be blurred when the public gains access to materials that provide insight into the private lives of public individuals. Our sense of Conrad Richter as an author is primarily shaped by his published works, because these materials are most readily available. David Johnson's recent biography, Conrad Richter: A Writer's Life, gives us a stronger sense of Richter, but it is the unpublished material--from which Johnson himself draws--that allows the most insight into Richter as an author and blurs the distinction between public and private.

Special Collections libraries that acquire and display these materials do much to contribute to each viewer's sense of an author. However, most readers do not visit Special Collections libraries, and displays are usually limited in scope and accessibility. The Web allows materials that might only be available selectively to be displayed in a safe and readily accessible environment.

Although Richter was an intensively private man whose immediate family--his wife Harvey (Harvena) and daughter Vene (also named Harvena), were closest to him--Richter hoped for and sought public recognition. Despite his dislike for public appearances, he did seek public acceptance. Early in his career, much of his work was done to provide an income for his family, so his writing had to be popular in order that new works continued to be in demand. At the time, he wrote for both the pulps and the "smooth" magazines.

If his publications were his primary method of public outreach, Richter employed several others, including correspondence with readers and, perhaps most unusually, book inscriptions. Even after he achieved a great amount of success, Richter continued to respond to the queries of readers and journalists across the country. Additionally, Richter's records of his inscriptions to family, friends, and others illustrate his conscientiousness as an author who was not content to merely provide a token signature in his books.

The dual identity of Richter as both a public and a private figure is best captured in a picture Richter took of himself when he was a teenager. He created a double exposure that shows one version of himself seated on the front stoop of his home. He appears relaxed, confident, smiling at the double to his right as though he is in on some sort of joke. The other version shows Richter hesitantly and uncomfortably standing along the stoop, with one foot on the step and an arm resting on his knee. He seems unaware of what his double finds so amusing. 1

This Web site aims to provide visitors with a sense of Conrad Richter as an author that can not merely be gleaned by reading his many published works.

Project Goals

To achieve these goals, visitors to this site can do the following:

This site has been developed to encourage viewers to think about how archives contribute to an understanding of an author. A study guide has been prepared that suggests questions that teachers, students, and everyday visitors to the site might ask while viewing the materials.

About The Conrad Richter Papers at the Special Collections Library, the Pennsylvania State University

The Conrad Richter Papers consist of materials given over a number of years by Conrad Richter, Harvena Richter, and the Goedeckes. The materials cover primarily the period of 1903-1968 and range from personal correspondence, writing notes, manuscript materials for finished and unfinished works, journals, clippings, some photographs, and other items. The materials have been primarily distributed between The Pennsylvania State University and Princeton University. Notebooks, notes, manuscripts and proofs for several novels, including The Waters of Kronos and A Simple, Honorable Man, are contained in the collection. However, the materials for other works, such as the well-known A Light in the Forest are distributed between the two institutions. A finding guide to the Conrad Richter Papers and a finding guide to the Karl Goedecke Papers (Laurel Book Service) are available.

Technical Information

Image scans were made in 24 bit color at 600 dpi (TIFF format), 200 dpi (JPEG format) and 75 dpi (JPEG format) using an Epson Expression 836XL flatbed scanner and PhotoShop6.

The Waters of Kronos | Correspondence | Inscriptions | Richter and Goedecke | Financial Records | Study Guide

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