Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid to the Agnes Newton Keith Papers, 1913-1985, undated (bulk 1939-1975)
BANC MSS 86/161 z  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (173.59 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Agnes Newton Keith papers
    Date (inclusive): 1913-1985,
    Date: undated
    Date (bulk): 1939-1975
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 86/161 z
    Creator: Keith, Agnes Newton
    Extent: 17 cartons 21.25 linear feet
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The Agnes Newton Keith Papers (1913-1985, bulk 1939-1975) include drafts, diaries, correspondence, speech notes, research materials, and clippings, mostly related to Keith's literary work.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Materials in this collection may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction of some materials may be restricted by terms of University of California gift or purchase agreements, donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing and trademarks. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owner. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Agnes Newton Keith Papers, BANC MSS 86/161 z, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Alternate Forms Available

    There are no alternate forms of this collection.

    Related Material

    Pictorial material from the Agnes Newton Keith papers [graphic]. BANC PIC 1986.036

    Separated Material

    Photographs and drawings have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library.
    Printed materials have been transferred to the book collection of The Bancroft Library.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    Keith, Agnes Newton--Archives
    Keith, Agnes Newton--Correspondence
    Weeks, Edward,1898-1989--Correspondence
    Authors, American
    Prisoners of war--Borneo
    Manuscripts for publication

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Agnes Newton Keith Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Maddalena Antoniazzi in May 1986.


    No additions are expected.


    Arranged to the folder level.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Michele Morgan and Arcadia Falcone in 2010-2011.

    Biographical Information

    Agnes Jones Goodwillie Newton Keith (1901-1982) was an American author, known for her autobiographical accounts of her family's experiences in Borneo, the Philippines, and Libya. Keith was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to an American mother and a British father. The family moved to California early in Keith's childhood. Keith graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1924, and worked for the San Francisco Examiner. Her career as a journalist came to an abrupt end in 1925, when a man convinced that the newspaper was persecuting him through Krazy Kat cartoons attacked her outside the Examiner offices. Keith suffered memory and vision loss as a result of this assault, but eventually recovered. In 1934 Keith married Henry G. (Harry) Keith, an Englishman, who was a family friend and who had studied forestry at Berkeley. Keith followed her new husband to his current posting as Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture in North Borneo, where she became deeply interested in the region and its people. Keith's first book, Land Below the Wind (1939), describes her early Borneo experiences.
    On leave in Canada when war was declared in 1939, the Keiths returned to Borneo soon after, where Agnes Keith gave birth to her second child, George, in 1940. (A daughter, Jean, remained in Canada.) The Japanese invaded Sandakan in 1942, and the Keiths, along with other Allied nationals in the area, were placed under house arrest. A few months later, Keith and George were sent to a prison camp on Berhala Island, with Harry Keith imprisoned nearby. In 1943, Keith and her son were transferred to a prison camp at Kuching, under the command of Colonel Suga, with Harry later transferred to an adjoining camp. During her imprisonment, Keith kept a secret account of her experiences on scraps of paper hidden in her son's toys. This diary became Keith's second book, Three Came Home, written after her family's liberation in 1945 and published in 1947. The book was adapted into a film, with Claudette Colbert as Keith, in 1950.
    After a recuperation period in Canada, Harry Keith returned to Borneo in 1946, with Keith and George following him in 1947. Keith wrote her third book, White Man Returns (1951), about the post-war reconstruction of Borneo. In 1952, Harry Keith was posted to the Philippines with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and the Keiths moved to Manila. Keith recorded these experiences in Bare Feet in the Palace (1955). In 1955, the Keiths moved to Libya, where Harry Keith was appointed as Forestry Advisor and FAO representative. There Keith wrote Children of Allah (1966).
    In 1964, Harry Keith retired and the Keiths returned to Canada, where they lived in Oak Bay, British Columbia. During this time Keith wrote her only novel, published as Beloved Exiles in 1972. In 1973 Keith traveled to Japan to research her final book, Before the Blossoms Fall (1975), an account of contemporary Japanese life and culture. Keith died in Oak Bay in 1982.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Agnes Newton Keith Papers (1913-1985, bulk 1939-1975) include drafts, diaries, correspondence, speech notes, research materials, and clippings, mostly related to Keith's literary work. Multiple complete drafts are present for Keith's books White Man Returns (1951), Bare Feet in the Palace (1955), Children of Allah (1966), Beloved Exiles (1972), and Before the Blossoms Fall (1975), as well as incomplete draft materials for Land Below the Wind (1939) and Three Came Home (1947). Drafts and published copies are also present for many of Keith's articles. The collection includes several diaries by Keith, most notably the secret records kept during her internment as a Japanese prisoner of war. Both her original notes, which she had kept hidden in her son's toys, and her subsequent typescript transcription are present, as well as the letters her husband smuggled to her from an adjacent camp. Correspondence is predominantly professional, with Edward A. Weeks, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, a major correspondent. The collection includes printed matter, government reports, and other research materials related to Keith's books, as well as clippings about Keith's life and work. Notes for speeches given by Keith are also present.