Donaldson, Stephen Papers

Span Dates: 1965-1996
Bulk Dates:
Volume: 11 linear feet


'The Stephen Donaldson Papers document the varied career and turbulent personal history of the writer and activist. The date span of the papers is 1965-1996. They include manuscripts, typescripts, and publication tearsheets of Donaldson's writings, editorial and administrative papers for the unpublished Concise Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, personal and professional correspondence, news clippings and printed material, visual materials, audiotapes, and a few items of clothing and ephemera. The Stephen Donaldson Papers are an important resource for the study of gay and bisexual activism, prisoners and prison life and American counter-cultural movements from the 1960s-90s. Donaldson's correspondence and writings provide a fascinating view of the 1968 student uprising at Columbia University, the origins of the gay student movement, the sexual revolution of the late-1960s and drug use within the youth subculture of that period. Also documented from a first-hand perspective is Donaldson's ground-breaking fight against his General Discharge from the United States Navy for suspected homosexual involvement. Donaldson's letters regarding the case are complemented by news clippings, press releases and copies of Navy records. The papers also contain much information on Donaldson's wide-ranging interests, including Indian religions, the history of sexuality, gay and bisexual activism, prison conditions and the sexual victimization of male prisoners, punk rock music and the punk subculture. Visual materials include photoprints, photocopies, negatives and drawings of Stephen Donaldson, scenes from his travels, his friends and colleagues and various punk rock performances. Audiotape cassettes contain interviews and lectures by Stephen Donaldson and others on the topics of male sexual victimization and prisoner rape, bisexual activism and punk rock.' [Quoted portions are copyrighted. Copyright 2000. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. All rights reserved.]

Hist/Bio Note

Writer and activist Stephen Donaldson was born Robert A. Martin, Jr. on July 27, 1946, the son of a career naval officer. Donaldson came out as gay and ran away to New York City in the summer of 1965. There, he met leaders of the Mattachine Society of New York and enrolled at Columbia University. 'As a college student, Donaldson was a founding member of the Student Homophile League (later re-named Gay People at Columbia-Barnard) and was active in the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations. He was a participant in the spring 1968 student uprising on the Columbia campus. In diary entries and letters written during these years he described his political radicalization, his experiments with marijuana and LSD and his sexual encounters with men and women. Inspired by many aspects of the sexual revolution of the late-1960s, Donaldson increasingly identified himself as bisexual. He began to publish short articles and poems in gay publications, occasionally under the pen name Stephen Donaldson. (Though he never legally changed his name, he increasingly chose to identify himself by this pseudonym, particularly during the 1980s-90s.) After his 1970 graduation from Columbia, Donaldson enlisted in the U.S. Navy. At this time he also became a practicing Buddhist and explored the religious traditions of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. In 1971 the Navy announced its intention to release him by General Discharge on grounds of suspected homosexual involvement. Donaldson mounted an unprecedented public campaign against his discharge. Though he lost this fight and was released in June 1972, he later won an upgrade to Honorable Discharge. Donaldson settled in the Washington D.C. area and worked as Pentagon correspondent for the Overseas Weekly, and became increasingly active with the Quakers--eventually leading the group's bisexual caucus. In 1973 he was arrested at a Quaker peace protest at the White House, and was subsequently raped by inmates in the Washington D.C. jail. This experience, and incidents which occurred during later stints in prison, led to his outspoken activism on the issue of sexual victimization of male prisoners, most notably with the organizations People Organized to Stop the Rape of Imprisoned Persons and Stop Prisoner Rape. From 1974-77 Donaldson did graduate work in religion at Columbia University, and served as Chairman of the Student Governing Board of the Earl Hall Center for Religion and Life. In May 1976 he was ordained as a novice monk in the orthodox (Theravada) Buddhist Order. During the late-1970s Donaldson worked intermittently as a developer of war simulation games and immersed himself in New York's punk rock subculture, centered on the CBGB nightclub in downtown Manhattan. Several personal tragedies, including the 1976 suicide of his mother, contributed to bouts of psychological depression. In March 1980, poverty-stricken and ill, Donaldson was arrested in a Bronx Veterans Administration hospital on a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. He was convicted on other felony counts and served nearly four years in federal prison. Donaldson was paroled in April 1984, and settled again in New York City. In 1987-88 he visited India and was there initiated in the Veerashaiva tradition of Shaivite Hinduism. This trip constituted a parole violation, and resulted in another term in federal prison during 1990. In 1992 Donaldson visited Europe to meet punk rock musicians and fans and to lecture on the American punk scene. Throughout this period he advanced his career as an editor and writer. His short essays on such topics as punk rock, prison conditions, Buddhism and sexuality appeared in numerous magazines and underground publications, often under the byline "Donny the Punk." Donaldson was assistant editor of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990) and co-editor, with Wayne Dynes, of the thirteen-volume Studies in Homosexuality (1994). During his last years he served as editor-in-chief of the Concise Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, a major revision of the 1990 Encyclopedia. His publisher cancelled the project just a few months after the manuscript was completed. Stephen Donaldson died of an AIDS-related illness in New York City on July 18, 1996.' [Quoted portions are copyrighted. Copyright 2000. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. All rights reserved.]

Finding Aid

The Stephen Donaldson Papers finding aid is available at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library. An excellent online finding aid is available at the following web address.


This collection is located at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.


Buddhist | Friends/Quakers | Hindu | Donaldson, Stephen | Mattachine Society | Author/editor | Bisexual activism | Gay Liberation Movement | U.S. Military | New York | New York City | Washington, D.C.