“Revealing Her Story: Documenting African American Women Intellectuals” is a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to arrange and describe the personal papers of nine African American women writers, artists and musicians. Collections included in the project are the Pearl Cleage papers; additions to the Delilah Jackson papers; the Samella S. Lewis papers; the Almena Lomax papers; the May Miller papers; the Undine Smith Moore papers; the Geneva Southall papers; the Mildred Thompson papers; and the Sarah E. Wright papers. To read the press release announcing the project, click here.
What do the writings of other men and women in an author’s files say about her (or him)? This question kept jumping to the front of my mind as I was processing Pearl Cleage‘s “Writings by Others” collection. Of course, figuring out an answer has nothing to do with organizing the collection. But I am, after all, an academic in the Humanities, and the act of processing itself brought me face to face with the relevance of this issue.
To organize these writings, we first separated the published books, which – except for those the library already has – will join Woodruff’s regular collections. We then sorted the unpublished material according to genre: book manuscripts and theses, essays, short stories, poetry, theater and film scripts, and music.
Perhaps the writings that most obviously yield information about Cleage are the few academic essays about her work in regards to African American and female literature and feminism. However, they are far from the only ones. Pearl Cleage’s poetry collection, with its emphasis on Caribbean and African American authors, opens potential windows of inquiry for scholars looking to understand the worldview of the author, as well as her political and aesthetic positions.
Additionally, the collected scripts can inform the researcher about Cleage’s interest not only on issues of race and blackness, but also in how other authors have channeled these topics in performative ways.
The inquisitive minds curious about the personal life of the artist and its connection to her professional and intellectual work can also find value in this collection. “Writing by Others” hosts poems, short stories, book manuscripts, and scripts by Cleage’s intellectual partner and husband, writer, playwright, actor, and director, Zaron Burnett Jr.
All in all, other people’s writings that an author chooses to keep can say plenty about her (or him). Depending on which questions researchers ask, and what they want to know.