African American Studies at Beinecke Library

Claude McKay Papers

Posted in Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on November 14, 2006

Claude McKay (1890-1948), one of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote several collections of poetry, novels, short stories, non-fiction, and autobiographical books. He lived in the United States, primarily in New York, from 1913-1919, and then spent most of the next 15 years in England, Russia, France, Spain, and Morocco before returning to New York in 1934.

The McKay Collection consists of letters, manuscripts, personal papers, subject files, photographs, and memorabilia. The collection features correspondence from many writers and figures in the African-American community from the first half of the 20th century, including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Carl Van Vechten, Harold Jackman and Arna Bontemps. There are drafts of published and unpublished poetry collections, novels, autobiographical writings, and short story and essay compilations, including The Selected Poems of Claude McKay (1953), Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940), “Romance in Marseille,” an unpublished novel written in Spain in 1930, and My Green Hills of Jamaica (1979), McKay’s autobiography of his youth. McKay contributed to liberal and socialist journals, such as Sylvia Pankhurst’s Worker’s Dreadnaught and Max Eastman’s The Liberator, and there are various pieces of non-fiction, most in draft form, as well as a few polemical newspaper articles, dating from the 1930s, in which McKay responds to critics of his literary work and views on labor. McKay was well received in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s, and there are photographs of Lenin, Trotsky, and other high ranking party officials, and of McKay addressing the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in the Throne Room at the Kremlin in Moscow. (MF)

A complete description of the papers is available online: Claude McKay Papers Finding Aid

Image: Claude McKay photograph, inscribed to James Weldon Johnson



Lloyd Richards Papers

Posted in Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on November 8, 2006

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Lloyd Richards, theater pioneer and Professor Emeritus of the Yale School of Drama. Mr. Richards ranks among the most significant figures in the history of African American culture.

Lloyd Richards was born in Toronto in 1923 and subsequently relocated to Detroit. Though his family faced enormous adversity through the Depression, Richards went on to pursue post-secondary education at Wayne State University. Upon return from his tour of duty in World War II, he was active in local theater; determined to pursue his theatrical ambitions, he moved to New York City in 1947. There he became one of the principal creative agents behind the theatrical event that forever transformed the role of African Americans in the theater, both on and off stage.

In 1958 Richards was asked by friend and colleague Sidney Poitier to direct the Broadway staging of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, a production that waged a theatrical revolution on several fronts. It marked the first Broadway production of a play by an African American woman, the first Broadway production directed by an African American, and the first verisimilar portrayal on Broadway of a contemporary African American family. It launched the careers of Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands at a time when roles available to African American actors had traditionally been restricted to those of servants or comedians. The production stands as a momentous event in the history of the American stage.

Since A Raisin in the Sun, Mr. Richards’s career has been devoted to pedagogy and the fostering of new and undiscovered dramaturgical talent. He taught at New York University’s School of the Arts and Hunter College, and from 1979 to 1991 he served as Dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. It was at the Yale Repertory Theater that the collaboration between Richards and now celebrated African American playwright and activist August Wilson began, a collaboration that resulted in Pulitzer Prize and New York Theater Critics Circle Award-winning productions.

The Lloyd Richards papers now joining the Yale Collection of American Literature contain scripts, audio and video recordings of plays, photographs, programs, reviews, and correspondence pertaining to plays Richards directed, such as August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Two Trains Running, Athol Fugard’s Master Harris and the Boys, the television production of Paul Robeson with James Earl Jones, and countless other plays. Photographs and other materials document the National Playwrights Conference held annually at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, from its foundation by Richards in 1968. There are also posters of the many productions with which Richards has been associated at Yale, on Broadway, and in theaters around the world.

The materials contained in this collection will prove an essential resource to scholars pursuing research in a variety of disciplines, including studies in American theater and African American cultural history. The Beinecke Library is delighted to house the archive of this inspirational cultural pioneer and illustrious member of the Yale community. (PW)
A preliminary list of the papers is available online: Lloyd Richards Papers Preliminary List

Image: Playwright August Wilson and director Lloyd Richards (in foreground) for Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” which premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1987. Copyright, the Yale Repertory Theatre.


Recent Acquisitions: Books

Posted in Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on November 4, 2006

Search Orbis for the complete records of the following nineteenth and twentieth century titles recently added to the James Weldon Johnson Collection.

W. L. Haskell, “Onward,” [Alabama], 1903.
An inspirational broadside printed in honor of W. E. B. DuBois and featuring captioned portraits of DuBois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Black Patti, and others.

William Hayden, Narrative of William Hayden, Containing a Faithful Account of his Travels for a Number of Years, Whilst a Slave in the South. Written By Himself, Cincinnati: Privately Printed, 1846.
A rare slave narrative documenting the life of William Hayden, a slave born in 1785 in Bell-plains, Stafford County, Virginia. Hayden recounts his experiences traveling throughout the South as an enslaved man, and gives an account of his education and of the development of the skills that eventually allowed him to earn enough money to buy his freedom and that of his mother and sister.

J. Willis Menard, Lays in Summer Lands, Washington: Enterprise Publishing Company, 1879.
The first and only edition of poetry written by J. Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress in 1868. Menard’s white opponent appealed the vote and was awarded the congressional seat in spite of Menard’s clear victory in the polls. When he spoke before Congress in defense of his election, Menard became the first African American to address the U.S. Congress.

E.P. (Elymas Payson) Rogers, The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise Considered, Newark: A Stephen Holbrook, 1854.
A very rare first edition of a long poem by an African-American poet attacking the repeal of the Missouri Compromise which would allow slavery in territories where the Missouri Compromise had outlawed it.

Bethany Veney, Narrative of Bethany Veney: A Slave Woman, Worcester, Mass, 1889.
A first edition of this uncommon title, including a frontispiece portrait of the author.