Tag Archives: University of Minnesota Libraries

Celebrating African American Literature During Black History Month

In Minnesota and throughout the nation the name  Archie  Givens – Senior or Junior — is synonymous with the rich legacy of African American literature.

Archie Givens, Sr. was a noted Minnesota business leader with a passion for collecting the very best of African American literature of his era.   The Archie Givens Senior Collection of African American Literature is now housed at the University of Minnesota Libraries.  The collection includes over 8,000 volumes representative of a broad range of African American literary genre dating back to 1773..  Among the holdings are the archives of the Penumbra Theater, manuscripts, fiction, nonfiction, even letters of African American authors.

There is a beautiful documentary based on the Givens collection which was described in an earlier post on this blog.

In celebration of Black History Month, Minneapolis downtown workers and visitors will have a chance to catch a glimpse of the wonders of the collection.  Books from the Givens collection will be on display at the Hennepin Gallery at the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street through February 26.  Many of the books on exhibit are rare first editions, some of which have been out of print for decades.  Some of the books are actually signed by the author;  others include covers designed by well-known artists.

The Hennepin Gallery is free and open to the pubic Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m – 6:00 p.m.

Meanwhile, Archie Givens Jr. continues to support his father’s literary passion.  Time is short but it is not too late to attend a related African American literary event, this one sponsored in part by Archie Givens, Jr. as part of Black History Month.  Since 2004 The Givens Foundation for African American Literature and the Friends of the U of M Libraries have sponsored the NOMMO African American Authors Series.  (NOMMO is a Dogon word meaning “the magic power of the word”

This year the featured artist is poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller.  He will read from his work and discuss the state of the art of African American literature with U of M professor Alexs Pate.  The event is Wednesday, February 6, 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Center, 301 19th Avenue South on the U of M West Bank.

Tickets are $15, no charge for U of M students, members of the Givens Foundation and Friends of the U of M Libraries.  612 624 2345.

Celebrating the Givens Collection of African American Literature

As previous posts suggest, I find myself reflecting evermore on my experience as a novice librarian at District of Columbia Teachers College, a public inner city institution that has long since bit the academic dust.  What remains for me are vibrant images of a profound late 60’s learning opportunity for which I am increasingly grateful.

One poignant memory is of Walter Williams, collection development librarian extraordinaire, and the only man I’ve ever known who could speak fluently with a pencil tucked under his upper lip.

When the demise of DCTC was imminent Mr. Williams fought back by protecting his treasured collection of African American literature.  Experience taught him that these dusty – and presumably irrelevant — tomes would not survive the intrusion of the impending bureaucrats, more interested in efficiency and modernity than in preservation of the literary works of a people.   Day after day Mr. Williams would quietly comb the shelves, then stash the books in a secluded back room where they were relatively safe from the invaders.  I have often wondered if those rare treasures still grace some library’s  shelves and give life to priceless wisdom.

The images, the sounds, even the smells of those late 60’s days have filled my mind these past days since video producer Dan Bergin of TPT thoughtfully emailed me a link to his 1998 documentary on the Archie Givens Collection, a jewel in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Though I’ve known about the Givens Collection, my ongoing quest to learn more about the literary and film legacy of Oscar Micheaux Legacy has led me to more intensive research.   What I had failed to understand was the depth of the collection.   The documentary offers a beautiful depiction of the Givens Collection as an entry point to  our African American literary legacy as well as a context that places  Micheaux, the Givens Collection and Mr. Williams’ work in context.

Mesmerized by the hour-long documentary, my thought now is to share the experience with others who, like me, reach for a focus to reflect on the passion of African American writers, from Frederick Douglass to Walter Mosely who, incidentally, will  be spending time this month  in this community.

My hope is that readers will take time to engage in the documentary as background to enriching the array of opportunities that are exploding in this community.   Of special interest are the Givens Black Books series, Penumbra Theatre’s series on Reshaping the Black Image on the American Stage, the rich agenda of reading and book groups in libraries, more inclusive curricula in schools and colleges, the  Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center and the enduring strength of the Givens collection.

So much to learn, so much to celebrate.   Decades after his heroic efforts, Walter B. Williams is smiling, a feat which he alone could accomplish with a pencil securely clutched under his upper lip.  I deeply hope the treasures he secured are intact – if not physically in some digital form that would have blown his beautiful mind.

John Berryman Remembered at Book House Celebration

The Book House in Dinkytown offers an evening of poetry, reminiscence and shared experience for those who knew, who remember and who read and relish the poetry of John Berryman the Minnesota bard who taught hundreds of University of Minnesota students the lasting love of good poetry.  Berryman, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poetry, 77 Dream Songs, taught at the U of M from 1955 until his death in 1972.

 

John Berryman: Poet and Teacher, A Celebration is Thursday, February 17, 7:00 p.m. in the Red Room at the Loring Pasta Bar, 327 14th Avenue SE, in Beautiful Downtown Dinkytown.  The evening includes readings by actor and writer Ben Kreilkamp who will read from a selection of Berrryman’s writings and a rare opportunity to hear a recording of Berryman audiotapes.

 

A circle of Berryman’s friends, students and colleagues will reminiscence about his life and his work.  The circle includes Judy Koll Healey, Michael Dennis Browne, Michael Mann, Patricia Kirkpatrick, Kate Donahue, and Richard Kelly who cataloged the papers of Berryman for the University of Minnesota Libraries.

 

The Book House will also feature a display of photocopied manuscript materials from the U of M Andersen archives; the manuscripts highlight the ways in which Dream Songs evolved from scraps of paper to typescripts ready for submission to the publisher.

 

The Celebration is free and open. Contact the Book House in Dinkytown at 612 331 1043 or ourbookhouseindinkytown@gmail.com.

 

Minnesota Owns Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries are legendary.  As the world’s largest collection of material related to Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the collection and its curators have hosted scores of local, national and even international gatherings of Sherlockians.  The public will have a chance to glimpse a good share of the 50,000 items that comprise the exhibit in the weeks to come.   The Spirits of Sherlock Holmes exhibit is open in the Elmer L. Andersen Gallery through October 15.

Emphasis of the exhibit is on exploration of the “many meanings of the word ‘spirits’ and how they relate to Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian Era.  The exhibit includes a snippet of “what Sherlockians find pleasurable”, a bit of whimsy, a glimpse at the work of Conan Doyle in the cause of Spiritualism and much more.

If you haven’t spent time with “e” and his creator on the banks now’s the opportunity.  If you’re a committed Sherlockian, you can’t spend enough hours plumbing the depths of this amazing collection of Sherlockiana on the Mississippi.  Plan to spend some serious time immersing yourself in the stories, the era, and the life of the author and his times.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.