The Beinecke Library has recently acquired a collection of fifty-three previously unpublished letters from Richard Wright to Margaret Ellen Barnes of Oberlin, Ohio. The letters date from May 1938 to March 1939, during which time Wright was living in New York and writing Native Son and Margaret Ellen Barnes, daughter of Margaret Barnes, editor of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, was an aspiring writer–Barnes later became an officer in the U.S. Army.
The correspondence begins with a reply to an unsolicited letter from the young Ms. Barnes and ends the following spring with the latest news and terms of familiarity. In between, letters document their growing friendship and reveal Wright’s warmth and generosity in a supportive role with Barnes, from sharing his own experiences to inquiring about and commenting on Barnes literary work and life, making reading and writing recommendations, and offering help. Letters detail Wright’s progress on Native Son and touch on such subjects as literature and publishing, books he is reading, his identity as a writer and African-American, Chicago and Harlem, his social life and politics, Communism, WWII, and his health and financial concerns. The letters are accompanied by clippings and Guggenheim fellowship application material, including plans for work on Native Son.
A complete record of the collection of letters is available in Orbis, the Yale Library catalog: Richard Wright Letters to Margaret Ellen Barnes. Related materials at the Beinecke Library include the Richard Wright Papers JWJ MSS 3. (MF)
Image: Photograph of Richard Wright (call number: JWJ Zan5 +2 v. 28).
The Stephen Longstreet Papers at the Beinecke Library have recently been cataloged and a new collection finding aid is now available: Stephen Longstreet Papers YCAL MSS 262.
Stephen Longstreet, a white author and artist from New Brunswick, NJ, donated the collection of his artwork to the Beinecke Library, including fifty sheets of his “Harlem sketch books.” These mostly watercolor paintings express Longstreet’s experience of the Jazz Age, with portraits of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and other works with more general titles like, “Death of a Jazz Man,” and “Lonely Blues.”
Though Longstreet called them “Harlem sketch books,” the images are non-specific as to place, although many could have been made in or of Harlem. Because his images and themes are fairly universal, Longstreet was apparently able to repurpose them with ease: the drawing “Uptown,” in the Harlem sketch book, has a label taped to the verso which indicates that it was used as an illustration in The Wilder Shore, his 1968 book about San Francisco that describes the city between the years 1849 and 1906. (JS)