Jack Cook Papers
Biographical Note/Scope and Content

Papers of an author, Catholic Worker, and Vietnam War draft resister, best known for his prison memoir Rags of Time: A Season in Prison, including correspondence and  writings. Correspondents include Richard Drinnon and Elizabeth McAlister; there are two letters from Dorothy Day.

Gift of Jack Cook, 2019.

Processed by David Kenney and Phil Runkel, 2021.

Biographical Note

John Augustine (Jack) Cook, author, educator, and peace activist, was born on 20 April 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. After receiving his undergraduate degree from King’s College, he taught  English at a high school and then at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where he counseled students on conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. Rather than submit to induction himself,  or accept deferment, Cook resigned in 1966 and joined the New York Catholic Worker community. There he provided hospitality to guests, engaged in anti-war protests,  and wrote for The Catholic Worker newspaper. In September 1968 Cook was arrested  for draft refusal while working in the St. Joseph House soup kitchen.  (He and his first wife, Hersha Evans, held their  marriage there several months later; Daniel Berrigan officiated.) Then he was off to prison.

Jack Cook served almost two years of a three-year sentence before being released in November 1970, when his conviction and sentence were vacated following a Supreme Court ruling that draft boards had punitively reclassified protesters. He spent much of his time over the next five years writing, supporting himself variously as a bartender and  carpenter. Cook’s memoir Rags of Time: A Season in Prison, first published in 1972 by Beacon Press, remains his best-known work. He then entered the doctoral program in American Studies at Cornell University. Cook withdrew in 1980 before completing his dissertation  and married Ellen Conti. He spent most of his remaining years in Owego, New York, working in the Conti family’s jewelry store and publishing  books of essays and poetry, including Bowery Blues: A Tribute to Dorothy Day and the complete edition of Rags of Time. He picked up his writing pace in the last decade of his life, after moving to Endwell, New York. Jack Cook died on 5 June 2020.

Scope and Content

Series 1, Private Correspondence, 1959-2020, includes letters to and from family members and friends. Notable correspondents include Richard Drinnon and Elizabeth McAlister; there are two letters from Dorothy Day.

Series 2, Writings, 1961-2012, consists of articles and essays not included in Cook’s published collections, some correspondence, largely concerning Rags of Time, and book proposals.

Series 3, Biographical Information and Subject Files, 1957-2013, contains resumes and information on Cook’s draft resistance and involvement in social issues in Owego, New York.