African American Studies at Beinecke Library

Celebrating 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on December 24, 2012

Congratulations to the many scholars conducting new research in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters and the Yale Collection of American Literature in 2012. Information about some of this year’s most exciting projects can be found at the following links.

Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White by Emily Bernard

“Gertrude Gertrude Stein Stein: What are the Questions?” by Joan Retallack

All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen

“The ‘Librarian’s Dream-Prince’: Carl Van Vechten and America’s Modernist Cultural Archives Industry,” by Kirsten MacLeod

1917, Impossible Year by Wendy Moffat

On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson By William Souder

Saul Steinberg: A Biography By Deirdre Bair

The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Psychoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture, Edited by Lois Palken Rudnick

Documenting Abyssinia: Imperial Ethiopia and African-American Literature byNadia Nurhussein

“History and Ordinary Womanhood” by Teresa Barnes

Delmore Schwartz’s ‘International Consciousness’ by Alexander Runchman

“Radical Reading Practices in the Archives of H.D. and Gertrude Stein: A New Approach to Autobiography” by Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013

My Dear Governess: The Letters of Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann Edited by Irene Goldman-Price

The American H. D., by Annette Debo

“Making a Cosmiconcept: The Negotiation of Authority in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Visual Art and Writing” by Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013

A Curious Peril: H.D. and Late Modernism, by Lara Vetter

“(Re)Storing Happiness: Toward an Ecopoetic Reading of H.D.’s The Sword Went Out to Sea (Synthesis of a Dream), by Delia Alton,”  by Cynthia Hogue

Thornton Wilder: A Life By Penelope Niven

“Lost in the Zoo: The Art of Charles Sebree” by Rachel Kempf, Yale College Class of 2013

“Providing Context: Schervee & Bushong Group Portrait Photograph of Sigmund Freud and Participants in the Psychology, Pedagogy and School Hygiene Conference at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, September 1909” by Matthew Mason

“John Hersey’s Yale Education” by Zara Kessler, Yale College Class of 2012

“Quite a Story to Tell: The Laughs and Loves of Mary Welsh,” Katherine Fein, Yale College Class of 2014

“Placing Joseph Bruchac: Native Literary Networks and Cultural Transmission in the Contemporary Northeast” by Christine M. Delucia,673235.aspx

Welcome Giamatti Felllow Nadia Nurhussein

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on October 1, 2012

Welcome A. Bartlett Giamatti Fellow Nadia Nurhussein, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Fellowship project: Documenting Abyssinia: Imperial Ethiopia and African-American Literature.

Nadia Nurhussein is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she has taught since 2005. She received her PhD in English in 2004 from UC Berkeley and, from 2004 to 2005, was a Visiting Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow in the English department at Mount Holyoke College. Her research focuses on African-American literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially poetry. Her first book, Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry, is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press in 2013. As a Beinecke Fellow, she will pursue research on a second book project about the idea of Ethiopia in African-American literature.

“Beauty and Success”

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on August 2, 2012

Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) was a leading African-American businesswoman in the 1910s, and a pioneer in the beauty industry. Her products not only promised “good hair” and a “smooth, clear complexion” but also success for black women, a narrative that reflected Walker’s own ambition and remarkable rise as the first free-born American citizen in a family of slaves. In addition to running a business so successful that she was America’s wealthiest African-American women at the time of her death, Walker founded and supported beauty colleges, which offered financial independence to African-American “hair culturists.” Her activities encompassed not only the production and marketing of beauty products, but also philanthropic support of African-American civil rights causes.

The James Weldon Johnson Collection at the Beinecke Library includes printed material, ephemera, photographs, and realia relating to Madam C.J. Walker and the African-American beauty industry of the early 20th century. (LC)

Descriptive records can be found in the Uncataloged Acquisitions Database or in Orbis.

African-American Beauty Industry — Collection Highlights:

Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. 1924 year book and almanac.
Call Number:  JWJ Zan W1505.923Y

Madam C. J. Walker beauty manual: a thorough treatise covering all branches of beauty culture, Indianapolis, [ca. 1925]
Call Number: JWJ Zan W1505 928M

Three printing blocks relating to the African American businesswoman, Madam C.J. Walker. [ca. 1920’s]
Call Number: JWJ Zan W1505 920M

Advertisements relating to Madam C. J. Walker’s products and beauty college
Call Numbers: BrSides 2012 77, BrSides Folio 2003 14
Uncataloged Acquisitions: 36206, 36209

By-laws of the local bodies national beauty culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents, Indianapolis, IN, 1927
Uncataloged Acquisition: 36213

National Beauty Culturists’ League (U.S.),  Ritual for the local bodies of the National Beauty Culturists’ and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents Incorporated,  [Indianapolis], [ca. 1920]
Call number: JWJ Zan W1505 +N920R

A can of Madam C. J. Walker’s wonderful hair & scalp preparation [1920s]
Uncataloged Acquisition: 43101

Panoramic photograph of the 10th annual national convention, Madam C. J. Walker agents, Aug. 9 – 10 – 11 1926. Kansas City, MO.
Uncataloged Acquisition: 2010.jwj.36127

Photographs of Madam C. J. Walker and others, 1925-1930
Uncataloged Acquisitions: 2010.ycal.36537, 2010.ycal.36538

Abstract of title prepared by Lake County Abstract Co., Baldwin, Michigan, [1936]
Uncataloged Acquisition: 35957

Madame C. J. Walker College of Beauty Culture,  Kansas City, 1946 (Published by the students of the Walker College of Beauty Culture)
Call Number: Zc26 +946ma

The Black American achievement posters: One of 20 broadside posters portraying outstanding African American persons and events, including Madam C.J. Walker.
Call Number: BrSides 2008 18

Collection of original Valmor Products Co. labels, [1920’s-1930’s]
Uncataloged Acquisition: 36222

Display placards that promote fashions and hairstyles for African American women created for the grand opening of the Negro Industrial Fair at the headquarters of the Greater New York Coordinating Committee for Employment at 132 West 125th Street, Harlem, New York, June 24, 1939, which coincided with the New York World’s Fair. The placards include hand-painted lettering and halftone photographs of African American women, as well as human hair samples that demonstrate hair coloring tints produced by the Clairol Company.
Call Number: JWJ MSS 47

Image: “Beauty and success! Both may be yours, so easily, there’s no excuse for not having them …”
[Indianapolis?], [192-].

New Research: Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on March 26, 2012

Carl Van Vechten was a white man with a passion for blackness who played a crucial role in helping the Harlem Renaissance, a black movement, come to understand itself. Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance is grounded in the dramas occasioned by the Harlem Renaissance, as it is called today, or New Negro Renaissance, as it was called in the 1920s, when it first came into being. Emily Bernard focuses on writing—the black and white of things—the articles, fiction, essays, and letters that Carl Van Vechten wrote to black people and about black culture, and the writing of the black people who wrote to and about him. Above all, she is interested in the interpersonal exchanges that inspired the writing, which are ultimately far more significant than the public records would suggest.

This book is a partial biography of a once controversial figure. It is not a comprehensive history of an entire life, but rather a chronicle of one of his lives, his black life, which began in his boyhood and thrived until his death. The narrative at the core of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance is not an attempt to answer the question of whether Van Vechten was good or bad for black people, or whether or not he hurt or helped black creative expression during the Harlem Renaissance. As Bernard writes, the book instead “enlarges that question into something much richer and more nuanced: a tale about the messy realities of race, and the complicated tangle of black and white.”

Emily Bernard is associate professor, English Department and ALANA U.S. Ethnic Studies Program, University of Vermont. Her books include Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in Burlington, VT. Bernard was the inaugural James Weldon Johnson Memorial Fellow at the Beiencke Library in 2008.

Radio interview with author Emily Bernard:


Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on July 6, 2011
Multitudes: A Celebration of the Yale Collection of American Literature, 1911–2011
July 8 through October 1, 2011

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then . . . . I contradict myself;
I am large . . . . I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, 1855

Founded in 1911 when Yale College graduate Owen Franklin Aldis donated his distinguished library of first editions of American fiction, drama, and poetry to the Yale Library, the Collection of American Literature stands as one of the most important collections of its kind. In the century following Aldis’s gift, the Collection has continued to grow, building on core areas and expanding to include complementary materials, from individual manuscripts to expansive literary archives, from little magazines and lively ephemera to high-tech artists’ books. The highlights exhibited in Multitudes: A Celebration of the Yale Collection of American Literature, 1911–2011 reveal areas of bibliographic strength and new development while demonstrating the Collection’s extraordinary richness, eclecticism, and depth. From the colonial period to the present, the Collection celebrates American Literature as a living art form with a complex history. Its evolving and vibrant traditions are a subject worthy of both rigorous scholarly attention as well as leisurely pursuit for the general reader.

Image: Samuel Hollyer, lithograph from a daguerreotype of Walt Whitman by Gabriel Harrison, 1855. Title page, Leaves of Grass, first edition 1855. An example of the Yale Collection of American Literature’s great strength in printed, manuscript, and visual materials documenting American Poetry is its outstanding collection of materials relating to the life and writing of Walt Whitman. One of the most important works of American Literature, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is a celebration of the democratic spirit, the emotional and intellectual power of literature and art, and of the poet himself. In this work, Whitman introduced a new mode of writing and of expression. In the 150 years since it was first published, Leaves of Grass and its author have played a crucial role in shaping American literature and America’s literary imagination. The Beinecke’s Whitman holdings contain copies of all major editions of Leaves of Grass, including five copies of the extraordinarily rare first edition, published in 1855, and several copies of the 1856 second edition, featuring a quotation from a letter Whitman received from Ralph Waldo Emerson in response to the first edition: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career…” In addition to printed works, the Library’s Walt Whitman Collection contains letters, manuscripts, photographs, art, and other material dating from 1842-1949, and features the Whitmania of Yale benefactors Owen Aldis, Louis Mayer Rabinowitz, Adrian Van Sinderen and others. Outstanding manuscripts include Whitman’s early 1850s text “Pictures,” often called a prototype for poems in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass because its expansive energy predicts the experimental free verse that characterizes Whitman’s work. The Collection also includes numerous photographs of the poet. Whitman was quite conscious of his public persona and understood the powerful role that photography, still a new and developing technology, could play in helping him to reach his American audience. From the “rough” depicted in the portrait on the title page of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, to the respectable bard appearing in the edition published five years later, to the “Good Gray Poet” that emerged in the 1860s, Whitman’s photographic image evolved over the course of his career as a writer and public figure. The Whitman Collection also includes artworks and objects such as bronze medallions and Whitman’s own eyeglasses.

For more information about the Yale Collection of American Literature, contact Louise Bernard, Curator of Prose and Drama ( or Nancy Kuhl, Curator of Poetry ( Multitudes: A Celebration of the Yale Collection American Literature was organized with the assistance of Charlotte Parker, Y’2013.

Hilton Als at Beinecke

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on March 16, 2011


A Reading & Conversation with New Yorker critic Hilton Als

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Hilton Als, a staff writer and theatre critic at The New Yorker, is a recipient of a Guggenheim Award for Creative Writing, and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. He has written for The Village Voice and The Nation, and served as Editor-at-Large at Vibe magazine. He edited the catalogue for the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art” (November 1994-March 1995) and recently co-curated the exhibition “Self-Consciousness” with the artist Peter Doig at the Veneklasen Werner Gallery in Berlin (2010). His book, The Women, a meditation on gender, race, and personal identity, was published by FSG in 1996. Als has taught at Yale, Wesleyan, and Smith College. He lives in New York City.

The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Arts and Letters at the Beinecke Library was founded by Carl Van Vechten in 1941 in honor of James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), poet, novelist, lyricist, diplomat, educator, and noted civil rights leader. The Collection celebrates the accomplishments of African American writers and artists from the Harlem Renaissance to the present.

Co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and Calhoun College

Research Fellow Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on October 12, 2010

Talking Diaspora: Ophelia Settle Egypt’s Interviews with Former Slaves
and the Origins of the Social History of American Slavery

A lecture by  Clare Corbould
Beiencke Library A. Bartlett Giamatti Visiting Research Fellow

Thursday 21st at 11:45am
Yale African American Studies Department
Room 201, 81 Wall Street

Clare Corbould is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney. Her teaching includes units on African American history and culture and United States imperialism. In 2009, she published Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem,1919-1939 (Harvard UP). Professor Corbould is currently undertaking a project on interwar social science research, focusing on interviews conducted with former slaves. She is co-editing several collections on the role of the Revolution in American Life.

As the A. Bartlett Giamatti Visiting Research Fellow at the Beinecke Library, Professor Corbould is researching a new project: James Weldon Johnson: Life and Times of an American Polymath.


Lester Blackwell Granger Papers

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on September 1, 2010

The Lester Blackwell Granger Paper (JWJ MSS 58) are available for  consultation by students and scholars. A description of the collection can be found online: Lester Blackwell Granger Papers JWJ MSS 58.

Lester Blackwell Granger was an African-American civic leader and social worker. Born in 1896, he grew up in Newark, NJ, and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1918. After serving in the United States Army during the First World War, he worked briefly for the Newark chapter of the National Urban League. From 1922 to 1934, Granger was an extension worker with the New Jersey state vocational school for African-American youth in Bordentown. He served on the worker’s educational section of the National Urban League from 1934 to 1938, and led the organization’s efforts to promote trade unionism among African American workers and challenge racism by employers and labor organizations. He served as assistant executive secretary of the National Urban League from 1940 to 1941 and as executive secretary from 1941 to 1961. He was also a leading figure in social work, serving as president of the National Conference of Social Work in 1952. After retiring from the National Urban League in 1961, Granger joined the faculty of Dillard University in New Orleans, LA, and in 1972 was named Amistad Scholar in Residence there. He died in Alexandria, LA in 1976. (Biographical note drawn from The African American Registry and the National Association of Social Workers Foundation websites, accessed on 17 December 2009).

The Lester Blackwell Granger Papers consists of writings, notes, clippings, correspondence, and other papers, stemming from Granger’s work as executive secretary of the National Urban League and his involvement in social work and civil rights issues. Writings consist of annotated and corrected typescript drafts and printed copies of speeches and addresses, autobiographical works, and social commentaries by Granger, as well as some fiction. Also found are papers relating to the National Urban League, a transcript of an interview with Granger, and an oil painting of Granger by Manet Harrison Fowler.

Image: Photograph of Lester Blackwell Granger, n. d.

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.

The Van Vechten Paradox

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, Beinecke Collections, Events, Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on May 26, 2009

The Van Vechten Paradox:
The Harlem Renaissance, A White Man, and His Black Story

a lecture by James Weldon Johnson Fellow Emily Bernard
Monday, June 1, 4:00PM
on the Beinecke mezzanine, 121 Wall Street, New Haven

Please join us for a final parting lecture given by Emily Bernard, the James Weldon Johnson Senior Research Fellow at the Beinecke Library.

Carl Van Vechten was a best-selling novelist, consummate host, exhaustive archivist, prescient photographer, and negrophile bar none.  The chronicle of his catholic accomplishments is housed within the walls of the Beinecke library.  At the heart of this chronicle is a tale about blackness. Van Vechten was a promoter of black culture during the era known as the Harlem Renaissance, and beyond.  The Harlem Renaissance was a black movement, but it needed whiteness in order to thrive.  Carl Van Vechten embodied that necessary whiteness in ways that were multiple, fascinating, and contradictory.

Emily Bernard, Associate Professor of English and ALANA U. S. Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont, is the 2008-2009 James Weldon Johnson Fellow at the Beinecke Library. Professor Bernard has edited two books; Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Some of My Best Friends: Writers on Interracial Friendship (2004) was chosen by the New York Public Library for its Book for the Teen Age 2006 list. Her essays have appeared in Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and Best of Creative Non-Fiction. During the 2008-09 academic year, Professor Bernard has been conducting research at the Beinecke Library for an upcoming book tentatively entitled, The Van Vechten Paradox:  Blackness, Whiteness, and the Harlem Renaissance. The book will cast new light on the dynamic between Van Vechten, a controversial white patron of African American arts communities, and his black friends and protégés during the 1920s and beyond, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen. The Van Vechten Paradox is scheduled to be published by Yale University Press in 2009.

The annual James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies was established in 2008. This fellowship is designed to permit outstanding scholars to devote a full academic year in residence at Yale University to research and writing in connection with the James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Beinecke Library.  For more information about this fellowship and the James Weldon Johnson collection, please check out these links:

James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at Beinecke Library;
African American Studies at Yale;
Emily Bernard, UVM Faculty Page;

Image: Carl Van Vechten with magnifying glass