Cave Canem Visits Beinecke Library at Yale University

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Fall of 2014 marked a critical moment in Cave Canem’s institutional history: the organization’s archives—which contain a number of print and digital materials documenting Cave Canem’s history, growth and impact—were acquired by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. Cave Canem’s records are a significant addition to the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection (JWJ Collection), a vast and essential archive of African American history and culture. The collection is home to distinguished writers and intellectuals, such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Chester Himes and Claude McKay, among others.

In late January, as an extension of the working fellowship lunches with arts professionals, the Cave Canem team visited the Beinecke to connect with the institution where our papers are housed. The team was introduced to curators, librarians, archivists, art conservators and scientists, who offered Cave Canem’s working fellows and interns a broader understanding of the many working opportunities in the arts. Nancy Kuhl, Curator of Poetry at the Yale Collection of American Literature, and her colleagues, graciously guided the Cave Canem team through the Beinecke library, including their technical services headquarters, where collection materials are processed and cataloged.

Among the trip’s many highlights was an intimate showcase of archival materials from the JWJ Collection, presented by Melissa Barton, Curator of Drama and Prose at Beinecke’s Yale Collection of American Literature. The team had the opportunity to see (and handle!) the original handwritten manuscript of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; original photographs taken by James Van Der Zee and Carl Van Vechten; stories and letters by former Black Panther Ericka Huggins, handwritten during her time of imprisonment; a copy of Langston Hughes’ collected poems with handwritten marginalia; and, among the ephemera from a party hosted by James Weldon Johnson, a guestbook signed by a number of Harlem’s greatest, such as Billie Holiday and Paul Robeson.

Cave Canem is so grateful to the staff at the Beinecke Library, Yale Art Gallery and the Institute for Preservation! Below, enjoy a brief photo gallery documenting Cave Canem’s time at Yale.