African American Writers’ Archives

February 19, 2013

Building upon the Harlem Renaissance strengths of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, later archives and small collections of notable authors such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, James Baldwin, and Amiri Baraka document the creative output of writers forging new artistic ventures in regard to African American life at home and abroad. While Wright and his cohort lived as expatriates largely in Paris, Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) bridged the formative moments then emerging on the American literary scene, from the Beats (of which he was a key innovator) to the Black Arts Movement. As such, these papers document a rich internationalism as they also reveal the groundwork at play in the formation of an engaged sense of community spirit in New York and other major U.S. cities. Richard Wright, a hugely influential figure in the African American canon, paved the way for future generations of black writers. He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking novel Native Son (1940) and his autobiography Black Boy (American Hunger), first published in excised form in 1945. He also produced extensive travel writings, essays about social and political issues of the day, and, toward the end of his life, an impressive body of haiku. While archives such as Wright’s are replete with a substantive and near exhaustive array of correspondence, literary manuscripts, photographs, and other ephemera, the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection also includes bibliographic strength in first editions and fine printings, as well as representative samples of work by African American writers, artists, and activists in the post-war period.

Image: Richard Wright, photographed by Carl Van Vechten

Collection Highlights Exhibited in Multitudes: A Celebration of the Yale Collection of American Literature: Materials from the Richard Wright Papers, including correspondence, drafts, and publishing ephemera. Richard Wright first editions from the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. African American Writers’ Archives – Checklist & Object Descriptions