James Baldwin

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Acquires James Baldwin Archive

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, has acquired the personal archive of literary giant James Baldwin, a collection which spans the entirety of his career.

The announcement, which the center made at an event on Wednesday, April 12, came as a surprise, since the Baldwin estate is known for maintaining tight control over the collection’s trove of correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, audiotapes, and other materials.

For many, the acquisition is seen as a homecoming for the novelist, essayist, playwright, and social critic who was born and raised near the center’s building on Malcolm X Boulevard. “Even though it’s taken thirty years, it’s the perfect time,” Schomburg’s director Kevin Young told the New York Times. “It’s like he never left.”

“Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry, and Maya Angelou all have collections at the Schomburg Center and Baldwin was their colleague,” Steven G. Fullwood, associate curator of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division, said. “His papers not only complement theirs, but offer researchers a fascinating look at the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements, through the works of these seminal figures.”

The archive includes thirty linear feet of handwritten letters and manuscripts; handwritten and typed drafts of essays, novels, and short stories; unpublished and published creative works in their nascent and final stages; galleys and screenplays with handwritten notes and fragments; interviews, telegrams, personal photographs, correspondence, and audio recordings. A selection of his works will be featured in the exhibition “The Evidence of Things Seen: Selections from the James Baldwin Papers,” from April 13 to 17.

Among the highlights of the collection are “On Martin Luther King,” an essay in which Baldwin recalls his first and last encounters with the famous activist and friend; “Letter to My Sister, Ms. Angela Davis,” written shortly after Davis was arrested by the FBI in New York City; and notes on Beauford Delaney, the Harlem Renaissance painter who Baldwin referred to as his “spiritual father.”

The James Baldwin archive was acquired with the support of the Ford Foundation, Katharine J. Rayner, James and Morag Anderson, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and New York Life.