African American Studies at Beinecke Library

Student Research in Beinecke Collections

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on May 12, 2010

Taja Cheek, Yale Class of 2011
on Jean Toomer’s Cane

Taja Cheek’s essay on Jean Toomer’s Cane (written for Professor Jessica Pressman’s Spring 2010 English 127 class) focuses on the tension between black southern dialect and scholarly English in the third section of the novel. Cheek considers Toomer’s exploration of conventional and dialectic language in light of a notebook found in Toomer’s papers (JWJ MSS 1, Box 61 Folder 1481), in which the writer considers the “Terms of My Language.” The notebook includes Toomer’s drawing “My Language Tree,” in which, Cheek writes, “the organization of the branches seems to indicate a hierarchy of language. . . . Toomer’s writing foundation, his rhythm and writing structure, are connected to various other modes of language—terms from the sciences, terms from other writers, his own language, American slang, and idiomatic English—but do not stem directly from one another”(2). Applying the terms of Toomer’s “Language Tree” to the character of Kabnis: “we enter the novel through the epiphenomenal ‘top branches’ of his diction. As we delve deeper, we reach the middle branch of ‘special words from particular writers and people,’—the rung reserved for Kabnis’ polished English. Once we reach the novel’s end and Kabnis’ linguistic devolution is complete, we reach the branch closest to the roots of the language tree—idiomatic English” (6). A PDF of the complete text of Taja Cheek’s essay is available here: Taja Cheek on Cane.

Image: Jean Toomer, My Language Tree, undated (JWJ 1, Box 61 Folder 1481)

In Memoriam

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on May 10, 2010

Lena Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010), photographed by Carl Van Vechten, September 15, 1941.

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.

Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal

Yale University’s  Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Instructional Technology Group, have launched a web portal  designed to help researchers and Yale students find primary source material related to slavery and its legacies within the University’s many libraries and galleries: Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal (

Users can browse a small catalog of noteworthy collections, learn how to search for additional material, or explore a growing list of external resources. Resources from the Beiencke Library collections, including the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, can be found at at the following link:

Image: Description of a Slave Ship, London: Printed by James Phillips, George-yard, Lombard-street, 1789.

Fellow’s Lecture: Sounds in the Silences

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections, Events by beineckepoetry on May 6, 2010

Sounds in the Silences:
Jamaican Popular Music as a Response to the “Silence” of History

By Garnette Cadogan, current Beinecke Visiting Fellow
TOMORROW, May 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Room 38, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 121 Wall Street
Free and open to the public

What might slavery sound like? And, given the silence of historical sources, does it even make sense to ask that question? With an eye on the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, and with a view to exploring the legacy of slavery in popular music, we will make gestures to answering these questions and raising others that try to make sense of the “tones, loud, long and deep,” as Frederick Douglass put it, that form “a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.” We may explore the history of an instrument (the banjo), a bass line (of the chacona), a dance (the zarabanda), or a genre (reggae). Most certainly, we will listen to some music and hear how modern Jamaican musicians have tried to bear testimony to slavery through sound.

Garnette Cadogan is a Visiting Fellow at the Beinecke Library. He is at work on a biography of rock-reggae superstar Bob Marley and is co-editor, with Shirley Elizabeth Thompson, of The Oxford Handbook of the Harlem Renaissance. At the Beinecke, he is exploring the legacy of slavery in Jamaican popular music in preparation for the next David Brion Davis Lecture Series.

Image: Description of a Slave Ship, London: Printed by James Phillips, George-yard, Lombard-street, 1789.