Louisiana State University Acquires Large Collection of African American Poetry

Louisiana State University has acquired The Wyatt Houston Day Collection of Poetry by African Americans, one of the most important private collections of Black poetry. The university’s Libraries Special Collections unit will house the over 800 items previously owned by book collector and dealer Wyatt Houston Day. This collection includes works from the 18th century, the Harlem Renaissance, and later works including up to the present.

“This collection allows for a dynamic understanding of canonical African American poets and offers numerous avenues for new research and appreciation of the poetic voice of African Americans throughout American history,” said John Miles, curator of books at LSU Libraries Special Collections. “The acquisition of these books makes LSU an important research site for anyone interested in American literature and African American culture, as well as affording students the chance to materially confront this genre’s grand sweep, political importance, and remarkable intellectual contribution to the nation and the world.”

Among the items in the collection are:

  • A first edition of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s rare second book from 1895 “Majors and Minors” once owned by Frederick Douglass’ family and inscribed to his niece;
  • A collection of books by Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks;
  • The original typed manuscript of the music cues for Langston Hughes’ 12-part poem, “Ask Your Mama,” inscribed by Hughes to poet Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones.

“More remarkable might be the many smaller, almost ephemeral, but nonetheless important chapbooks and other unheralded publications by minor and otherwise unknown authors. These rare materials add context to the more recognizable names and present a fuller sense of the scope and vibrancy of African American poetic accomplishment over 200 years. Beyond simply its literary value, this collection captures the lives and culture of a people as told in verse,” Miles said.

A video about the collection may be viewed below.

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