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Helen D. Calkins

Updated on October 1, 2016

Wannabe author corresponded with C.S. 'Jack" Lewis in the 1950s

Helen Deborah Calkins (1899-1980) lived in India for the first ten years of her life. Her parents, Harvey and Ida Calkins, were missionaries in first in Bombay for three years and also in the Cawnpore District of India. The Calkins family returned to the United States of America in 1910 and lived in Evanston, Illinois, where Helen D. Calkins was enrolled in Evanston Academy in Evanston, Illinois, and later Northwestern University, her father's alma mater, in the same city. Passenger lists indicate that Helen later traveled as an adult with her parents, touring Asia and Europe. She wrote a memoir of her experiences, "India Looks," which was never published. However, the manuscript was read by C.S. Lewis, the Oxford University professor, who kindly returned it to the author along with his suggestions for its improvement.


December 31. Wednesday. Jack writes to Romolo Lodetti, Rhona Bodle, Walden Howard, Miss H.D. Calkins ...


March 29. Monday. Jack writes to Dr. Firor, Edward Allen, and Vera Mathews about more parcels. Jack writes to Helen Calkins.

S.S. Queen Mary - Helen travels from Southampton to New York, arriving March 11, 1951


March 1. Saturday. Jack writes to Helen Calkins.

To Helen D. Calkins (@): TS

Magdalen College, Oxford. 1st March 1952.

Dear Mrs. Calkins

I will read it with pleasure, but I mustn't write a foreword. I have done far too many of them. It begins to make both the authors and me ridiculous, and also I run dry. I wish the book all success.

Yours sincerely,

C.S. Lewis


March 29. Saturday. Jack meets Sheldon Vanauken at the Eastgate at noon. Jack writes to Roger Green, having just read Richard Hughes' "A High Wind in Jamaica." Jack writes to Helen Calkins, having read her "India Looks." He critiques it.

Jack's correspondence with Helen Calkins discussed

Creative Writing for People Who Can't Not Write
Creative Writing for People Who Can't Not Write

Page 255:

C.S. Lewis's Free Advice to Hopeful Writers: Simplify! Simplify!

On March 29, 1952, Lewis wrote to Miss H.D. Calkins of Los Angeles that he had read her book manuscript "India Looks" and found it as interesting as an adventure story. He would not write a preface for it because he was not qualified; for all he knew, the book could be a mass of errors (although he was sure it was not). Aside from that, Miss Calkins spoke well of Lewis in her book, and it would look like a mutual admiration society if he wrote the preface.

Lewis wrote out a list of thirteen suggestions for improving her book. Some of them were about getting quotations and facts exactly perfect and avoiding false impressions....


Born: July 9, 1899, at Athens, Ohio.

S.S. Parisian

Glasgow to Boston, arriving July 1910

Helen returned to the United States with her parents in 1910 on the S.S. Parisian. The S.S. Parisian was the first North Atlantic mail steamer built of steel and the first built with bilge keels to reduce the ship's rolling on the waves. The ship could accommodate 150 first-class passengers, 100 second-class passengers, and 1,000 third-class passengers. The S.S. Parisian was built in Glasgow and first launched in 1880. In 1902 the ship was equipped with the first Marconi wireless telegraphy. The S.S. Parisian played a role in the Titanic disaster but although did not find any survivors when searching the wreck site. The S.S. Parisian was scrapped in 1914.

Permanent address: 2016 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois.

S.S. Nile

Leaving San Francisco on October 2, 1920

The Calkins family traveled to Asia in 1920 aboard the S.S. NIle, departing from San Francisco on October 2. Built in 1893 by J&G.Thompson, Glasgow for Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, the S.S. Nile was a 5,855-ton steamship with a maximum speed of 15 knots, 435 feet long and 52 feet wide. The steamhip could accommodate 215 first-class passengers, 36 second-class passengers, and 350 third-class passengers. Originally named "Boer War Transport No. 82, the ship was launched March 21, 1893 and its maiden voyage was from Southampton to Brazil and Buenos Aires. In 1907 the steamship collided with another steamer, the S.S. Lynfield, at Santos and was later sold to the Nile Steampship Co., owned by the Southern Pacific Co. of Hong Kong, and the main mast removed. The steamer was then operated by Pacific Mail SS Co. between San Francisco and Hong Kong. In 1915 the ship was sold to China Pacific SS Co. and continued to be used for the same route. During World War I the ship was used for the transport of troops in the Mediterranean and India. The S.S. Nile was returned to its Pacific route in 1918 and continued until 1922 when the ship was idled. The S.S. Nile was scrapped at San Francisco in 1925.

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