Contents and Arrangement

Writings, 1940s-2011 (mostly 1986-2011)

5 boxes

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information


The collection consists of manuscripts, correspondence, family documents, and other papers of novelist Madison Smartt Bell. The earliest item in the collection is a datebook from the year 1979, the year of Bell's graduation from Princeton University. The manuscript material includes an early typescript of Bell's first novel Washington Square Ensemble (1983), as well as notebooks, drafts, galleys and proofs of Doctor Sleep (1993), All Souls' Rising (1995) and later works. Also included in the manuscript material are variants for an unpublished screenplay about an earthquake in California, entitled The Safety Net, drafts of articles and reviews, transcripts and/or cassettes of four interviews by Bell of others, and miscellaneous writings, fragments and notes, among which is a series of xeroxed images by printmaker Jean de la Fontaine with blurbs by Bell (unpublished?).

The bulk of the correspondence and of the collection is personal mail, dating from 1981 to 2011, organized chronologically and therein alphabetically, with separate folders for correspondents with the most numerous letters. Among his most frequent correspondents are his former Princeton creative writing teacher George Garrett, filmmaker Alexis Roshuk, fellow novelists Tom McGonigle, Jill McCorkle, and Elizabeth Moore, and students Amy Homes, Marcia Golub, Carolyn Chute, Ellen Geist, and Darcey Steinke. This series preserves everything from post-it notes and Christmas tags to post cards and full-length letters. There are also three boxes of business correspondence, including agent correspondence, dating from Bell's first exchanges with Jane Gelfman in 1981, and direct correspondence with editors and publishers. Ticknor and Fields is heavily represented, as the publisher that has brought out most of Bell's novels, though he later published with Harcourt Brace. The business correspondence also includes some drafts Bell kept of outgoing letters.

The family documents include an extensive family tree for the Smartt family, found loose among the correspondence, as well as Bell's birth certificate. The Papers of Other Persons series includes a typescript of fellow novelist Tom McGonigle's The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov (1986), as well as correspondence of Bell's wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires.

Additional materials received from the author following the original accession can be found in Series 7: Additional Papers, including manuscripts and correspondence related to his writings and other activities throughout the 1990s until 2021.

Collection History

Archival Appraisal Information:

No appraisal information is available.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Collection is open for research use, except for original P.E.N./Faulkner correspondence in Boxes 49 and 51. Consult staff for access.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single copies may be made for research purposes. No further duplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to Special Collections Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Writings; Madison Smartt Bell Papers, C0771, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
ReCAP (rcpxm): Box 71-75