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John Nichols Papers

Identifier: MSS-820-BC

Scope and Content

John Nichols' papers document a wide range of history and culture and personal connections in New Mexico (and elsewhere) over the last 55 years. This all-inclusive collection contains almost every draft of every manuscript Nichols has written, and every piece of correspondence that he has sent and received since the late 1950s. The collection not only documents the creation and evolution of his literary works, but precisely documents the literary process. His correspondence, speeches, and artwork chronicle contemporary political and social issues and shed light not only on John Nichols, but also illuminate the perspectives of a large array of contemporary literary, political, and everyday figures and issues in New Mexico and around the globe.

Activities, 1970-2008: These files include speeches, political organizing, trips, magazine articles, and many other projects and activities undertaken by Nichols.

Articles, 1969-2007: Contain various newspaper and magazine articles about John Nichols and his books.

Artwork, 1969-2004: Sketchbooks, drawings and cartoons by John Nichols. Significant works including a complete set of pen and ink calavera drawings, artists proofs, and etchings of calaveras done to illustrate The Magic Journey; published and unpublished political cartoons, mostly done during the 1970s for Albuquerque's alternative newspaper, Seer's Catalogue, and illustrations and cartoons done for Hamilton College's track & field newsletter The Good Scout.

Book Reviews, 1965-2007: Published reviews of John Nichols' books.

Book/Film Contracts, 1964-2012: Xerox copies of some of the main contracts Nichols has signed for book publishing, film options, and screen-writing assignments. With a few magazine and journal and audio recording pufferies thrown in.

Book/Movie/Agent Correspondence, 1963-2007: This consists of files of correspondence between Nichols and agents, editors, publishers, producers, directors, production people, and others involved with his professional life of writing books and screenplays.

Correspondence 1950s-1960s, 1950-2012: This series contains letters from Nichols' teenage years, while at Hamilton College, and then living in New York City until 1969. Later correspondence is often included, the criteria being that the letter exchanges began in the 1950s or 1960s.

Envelope Diaries, 1998-2002: Envelope diaries and field observations played a huge role in creating Nichols' literature. He kept a record of hikes on the backs of envelopes and carefully typed up these transcripts afterwards. Once he began carrying a little tape recorder that was the end of the envelope diary field notes.

Eulogies, 1980-2007: Written by John Nichols for some of his departed friends.

Fan Letters, 1969-2011: Consist mainly of letters to Nichols, mostly from strangers, commenting on his books or other projects, and of carbons of some of his typed replies to these letters from strangers.

General Correspondence, 1970-2012

Jouranl/Diary Ephemera, 1955-1966: Ephemera connected to Nichols' life between age 15-26, during prep school and college and a few years after college.

Journal/Diary Files, 1956-2007: Nichols has kept journals off and on since age fifteen.

Manuscripts, 1957-2012: This series contains nearly every draft of every title that John Nichols wrote between 1957 and 2012. Notable titles include "The Sterile Cuckoo" and the New Mexico Trilogy: "The Milagro Beanfield War," "The Magic Journey," and "The Nirvana Blues."

Memorabilia, 1968-1997: Hermes Rocket typewriter used to type Milagro, and Olympia typewriter used to type manuscripts from 1974 until 1997, when Nichols finally began using the computer.

Miscellaneous Carbons, 1964-2009: These are carbon copies of business and personal letters, typed by Nichols and not matched up with correspondence files elsewhere.

Novel Notes, 1961-2006: Notes that Nichols scribbled in notebooks and on the backs of envelopes. He often wrote dozens of variations on a theme in notebooks trying to get a handle, find a starting point.

Phone Messages, 1987-2007

Photographs, 1955-2013: This is a cross-section of photographs of Nichols, his family and friends, lots of photographs related to publicity for his books, or hiking mesas and climbing mountains.

Photography Workshops in Taos, 1988-1998: Nichols' friend sponsored the Owens Valley Photography Workshops (begun in 1975) for many years. The workshops catered to serious, and usually large-format, photographers in the mold of Ansel Adams and others of his ilk. Nichols guest lectured at the workshop for 10 summers, beginning in 1988.

Pocket Notebooks, 1980-2010: Things to do, lists, notes for novels, field notes when hiking, random thoughts, and so forth.

Publications, 1959-2007: Magazines and newspapers containing articles by or about Nichols. This includes prep school and college literary magazines, the Hamilton Spectator and New Mexico Review.

Request Letters, 1970-2012: Mostly letters from people asking John Nichols to "do stuff," like read their books, blurb their books, find them a publisher, come and speak to their class, do a workshop, contribute books for their benefit auction, etc.

Royalty Statements,1965-2011

Screenplays, 1965-2004: Includes screenplays, drafts, and edited drafts of screenplays written by Nichols, or written by others as adaptations of Nichols' works. Notable titles include "Missing" and "The Milagro Beanfield War."

Slides, 1960-2000: Most of the slides were taken between 1973 and 1995, primarily in and around Nichols' Taos home, in Taos proper, or around the immediate Taos valley and western mesas, or on some of the small streams southeast of Taos or in the mountains of Taos County.

Videos 1984-2013: This is a collection of videos include interviews or documentariesJohn Nichols has done I've done or documentaries I've done, or have been included in.


  • 1957-2018

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research, however, researchers must sign consent form prior to gaining access to materials. Calavera drawings, proofs, and etchings as well as "little diaries" (Boxes 14, 125, 126, 129, 142) are housed in high security and may require up to 24 hours for retrieval. Enlarged photocopies and typed transcriptions of "little diaries" in Box 142 are located in Box 184.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publications or distribution.

Biography / History

Author and activist, John Treadwell Nichols was born in Berkeley, CA on July 23, 1940. His mother, Monique Robert, was French. His great grandfather on Monique's side, Anatole Le Braz, was a noted poet and folklorist from Brittany (in the North of France) whose work is still revered and in print. His American paternal grandfather (and namesake), John T. Nichols, was a distinguished naturalist and longtime Curator of Recent Fishes at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Paternal grandmother, Cornelia Floyd Nichols, was a direct descendant of William Floyd, who signed the Declaration of Independence for New York State. The William Floyd Estate in Mastic, New York, was donated to the US Government when Cornelia Floyd died, and is now an historic museum and wildlife refuge run by the Park Service as part of Fire Island National Seashore.

John Nichols moved around a lot as a child. His mother died in 1942, so he lived for several years with an aunt and uncle while his father served in the Marines. There followed stints in Vermont, Long Island, Virginia, Washington D.C., Connecticut, and Berkeley again.

From 1954-1958 Nichols attended Loomis Prep School (Windsor, CT). There, he became involved in playing sports--hockey, tennis, football, and track. He was elected to the Student Council, and learned to play his first songs on the guitar. The summer he was 16, he traveled West, spending a week in Taos, then working at a scientific research station in Portal, AZ, and fighting forest fires in the Chiricahua Mountains. The roots of Nichols' love for the Southwest were planted on this trip.

He (barely) graduated Loomis (69th out of 72 students!), and chose to continue his education at Hamilton College near Utica, New York, from 1958-1962. While there, he played football and hockey, and ran track and cross country. He served on the Honor Court, and wrote a humor column called "Just No Stories" for Hamilton's newspaper, acted badly in several plays, played folk and blues guitar, and hung out with an eclectic array of characters--folkies, beatniks, nerds, jocks. During this time, he wrote at least a novel a year (none ever published).

Nichols received his B.A. in English (1962), and then lived for a year with his French grandmother in Barcelona, Spain, where he learned to speak French and Spanish, taught English at the Instituto Americano, and wrote the initial drafts of what would become his first published novel, The Sterile Cuckoo.

Upon his return from Spain, Nichols moved to New York's Greenwich Village (1963). He played guitar in coffeehouses, washed dishes, sold pen and ink drawings on the street, and hung out with his Argentine buddies at a MacDougal Street empanada stand. He rewrote many drafts of The Sterile Cuckoo and began what would become his second published novel, The Wizard of Loneliness. A $500 advance for The Sterile Cuckoo put Nichols on a bus headed to Guatemala City to visit a friend. This trip led to a major change in Nichols' political worldview. Back in New York he became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, adopted a Marxist outlook, and began writing political fiction.

John, his wife Ruth "Ruby" Harding, and young son Luke left NYC for Taos, NM in July 1969. Daughter Tania was born in 1970. Taos captured Nichols' soul. He volunteered with a muckraking journal, the New Mexico Review for a couple of years, writing investigative stories about land and water problems in northern NM. This experience gave him an intimate awareness of the culture and dynamics of the Taos Valley.

Conflict between Anglos and Chicanos, social violence, destruction of natural resources, and economic imbalances would become recurring themes in Nichols' writings. His experiences during these years led him to write The Milagro Beanfield War. That novel was published in 1974 and became an "underground classic." The Magic Journey and The Nirvana Blues completed his New Mexico Trilogy. Complementing these novels are non-fiction works such as If Mountains Die, The Last Beautiful Days of Autumn, On the Mesa, and A Fragile Beauty.

Nichols' career branched into screenplays during the 1980s, including projects such as the Costa-Gavras film "Missing," "The Milagro Beanfield War" (directed by Robert Redford), and "The Wizard of Loneliness" (which starred Lukas Haas and Lea Thompson). Though interesting and lucrative, screenplays were not his main calling. Independently writing prose was more alluring and satisfying. In the next decades, Nichols churned out hundreds of manuscripts and actually published a few of them, including A Ghost in the Music, American Blood, An Elegy for September, The Sky's the Limit, Conjugal Bliss, The Voice of the Butterfly, and The Empanada Brotherhood.

Nichols' first marriage with Ruby ended in divorce, as did two later marriages. His children have always been an important part of John's life. They are now grown with kids of their own. Asthma, heart problems, Meniere's disease, and assorted other health issues have cramped his style somewhat, but at 70 (in 2010) John Nichols persists in fly-fishing the Rio Grande Gorge, hiking the high mountains among bighorn sheep near Taos, and rocking out on guitars with friends every other week. He also continues to advocate for human and environmental justice.

Sources: John Nichols Contemporary Authors. Vol. 190, 2001. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Vol. 121, 2004. Biography from World Authors 1980-1985 (1991). H.W. Wilson Company


184 boxes (172 cu. ft.)


John Nichols' papers document a wide range of history and culture and personal connections in New Mexico (and elsewhere) over the last 55 years. The collection contains manuscripts, screenplays, correspondence, speeches, artwork, journals, photographs, slides, and videos.


27 series: The following is an alphabetical listing. Physical arrangement of series corresponds with the order materials were received.
  1. Activities Files
  2. Articles
  3. Artwork
  4. Book Reviews
  5. Book/Film Contracts
  6. Book/Movie Agent Files
  7. Correspondence 1950s-1960s
  8. Correspondence, General
  9. Envelope Diaries
  10. Eulogies
  11. Fan Letters
  12. Journal/Diary Ephemera
  13. Journal/Diary Files
  14. Manuscripts
  15. Memorabilia
  16. Miscellaneous Carbons
  17. Novel Notes
  18. Phone Messages
  19. Photographs
  20. Photography Workshops in Taos
  21. Pocket Notebooks
  22. Publications
  23. Request Letters
  24. Royalty Statements
  25. Screenplays
  26. Slides
  27. Videos

Related Material

John Nichols Calaveras Print Collection. Center for Southwest Research. University of New Mexico University Libraries.

Separated Material

First editions of all of John Nichols' publications are catalogued in the library's online catalog.. Search by title, "John Nichols Collection."

Master video files are stored on UNMUL file server, with the exception of DVDs 18-20. Archival DVDs 18-20 are stored in B3, along with DV master tapes of Nichols talking about his library (DVD 21).

Master files of photos in box 184, folder 33 are stored on the library file server.

Processing Information

Duplicate manuscripts were removed from collection by John Nichols or CSWR. An itemized list is available in the accession file.

Addition of 9 series processed in March 2012; 7 additional series added in May 2013, at which time an addition to the manuscripts series was also processed. Photographs, slides, and videos were added in April 2014.

22 unprocessed boxes from a 2019 addition are located in B3-5A. Included are "Family Letters," "Pop's Journals," "Mountain Photos." Inventories available in each box and on CSWR file server.
Finding Aid of the John Nichols Papers, 1957-2018
Edited Full Draft
B. Silbergleit
© 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131