The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection has recently acquired a group of working manuscripts prepared by African American writers for the Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration in the mid 1930s. The typescript essay drafts that remain of the project, which may have been titled “Life Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair: An Informal History of Negros in New York,” include work by Ralph Ellison, Claude McKay, Charles Siebert, and many others. The proposed project seems never to have been completed and the majority of the work in this collection of manuscripts was never published in this form.
Among the many writers and subjects represented are the following: Ralph Ellison on the Anti-Slavery Movement in the US; Abram Hill on Negro Poets; Charles Siebert and Ted Poston on the Underground Railroad; Henry Lee Moon on Ben Fletcher and the IWW; Claude McKay on Negro Theatre; Hugo Gellert on Negro Folk Songs (a later version of this essay was published in The Masses,); Lasalle Best on Negro Musicians in New York; Roy Ottley on The Reaction of Southern Negroes in New York City.
A record for the collection can be located in the library’s Uncataloged Accessions Database: No Crystal Stair. An informal history of Negros in New York: essays by Ralph Ellison and others: typescripts, corrected.
Images: manuscript pages from “No Crystal Stair” (click on any photo to see a larger view).
Some of the creators and administrators of Beinecke Library blogs will be joining with other blogging special collections librarians and curators to present a Blog Boot Camp at the 49th Annual Rare Books and Manuscripts / American Library Association Conference at the Getty Research Center on June 26, 2008. All conference attendees are welcome and encouraged to join the conversation; for our colleagues and interested readers unable to attend the conference session, the conversation will be documented and augmented on the RBMS Blog Boot Camp Blog, which was set up in early June 2008 to support the seminar and provide a forum for continuing the conversation.
The Blog Boot Camp Blog highlights many of the various questions that panelists in the seminar will discuss and we invite readers to contribute thoughts, ideas, and additional questions. We’re especially interested in hearing from special collections staff currently utilizing blogs and other participatory web technologies. Thanks in advance for your interest and participation.
Image: Dorothy Porter Wesley, Howard University Librarian, photographed by Carl Van Vechten on May 23, 1951. Dorothy Porter Wesley was influential in developing archives and bibliographies concerning African American culture.
Photographs by Carl Van Vechten are used with permission of the Van Vechten Trust; the permission of the Trust is required to reprint or use Van Vechten photographs in any way. To contact the Trust email: Van Vechten Trust.