An exhibit defining the artistic works of people in the African-American culture including writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers, is on display at the Hennepin County Government Center through Tuesday, Feb. 26. The exhibit is entitled “Bibliophilia: Collecting Black Books.”
One of the exhibit’s curators, Cecily Marcus, said it is an opportunity for people to see what it means to create a collection of historical to contemporary pieces as well as the themes explored in the work of African Americans.
Marcus works for the University of Minnesota library as a curator of the Givens Collections of African American Literature. The collection was brought to the library in 1985 with 3,000 pieces and it has grown to include about 8,000 works today, she said.
The Givens Collection originated from a collector in New York City, Richard Lee Hoffman, who decided to sell the pieces, Marcus said. A professor at the University of Minnesota and the Givens family, purchased the collection. The Givens family operates the Givens Foundation for African American Literature in the Twin Cities. The foundation is dedicated to celebrating the works of African American people and the collection was named in honor of Archie Givens Sr. in 1986.
The pieces in the collection include rare, out of print books and historic works such as Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” An anonymous donor turned over 850 books in honor of Minneapolis’ Penumbra Theater founder Lou Bellamy in 2011.
There is a signed copy of “Praise Song for the Day,” by Elizabeth Alexander, which was read at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.
“The collection is meant to demonstrate the humanity of African Americans traditions of achievement,” Marcus said.
It also includes varied works such as comic books, science fiction literature and graphic novels.
The idea of the exhibit and collection is also to include works by African-American people that don’t focus on traditional themes or characters of their culture.
There are science fiction graphic novels by Samuel Delany and a William Faulkner book annotated by William Melvin Kelly, an African American who studied Faulkner’s work.
Viewers will find images of letters written by slaves during the Civil War as well as be able to take a peak at copies of sheet music by African Americans.
Marcus said all of the pieces in the exhibit and the entire Givens Collection are available at the University of Minnesota library. While the collection is kept under lock and key, people can look at the pieces by speaking with Marcus or another curator at the library.
The collection of historical to contemporary works continues to grow with the use of a small budget to purchase materials and donations, Marcus said.
Contact Katy Zillmer at [email protected]