G-85. Why Black Bibliography Matters

Jennifer Garcon Kinohi Nishikawa

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 21–26 July 2024
Format: in person, Princeton University in Princeton, NJ
Fee: $1,495

In the 1970s, librarians, cataloguers, and researchers confronted an issue that was barely conceivable to previous generations: a surplus of Black-authored books. Prior bibliographers had taken stock of a delimited set of authors from the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. The field shifted dramatically after World War II, however, when the number of authors and types of books increased to a dizzying degree. After a veritable revolution in Black print in the 1960s, bibliographers were challenged to identify every Black-authored book even in a single literary genre.

This weeklong, in-person seminar considers how the questions Black bibliography began to ask in the 1970s reverberate with contemporary literary scholarship and cultural theory. It begins with a survey of the history of Black bibliography and its practitioners, elucidating the early emphases on scarcity and recovery. The seminar then pivots to the revolution in Black print, taking up questions of access and ephemerality in literary production and bibliographical description. At this juncture, the seminar addresses how Black publications and their variants challenge traditional determinations of authority, impression, and edition. The difficulty in accounting for and describing Black-authored books coming out of the 1960s and 1970s becomes an opportunity for students to discuss why Black bibliography matters today.

The seminar is scheduled to take place in the Department of Special Collections at Princeton University Library. This location affords us access to the Library’s collection of Black-authored books, pamphlets, broadsides, and other materials. Lectures draw on these resources to illuminate Black bibliography in historical perspective and contemporary practice. Hands-on workshops allow students to engage with a variety of printed objects, from mimeographed productions to industrial books. While discussion focuses on the Black Arts movement and its legacies, the seminar attends to broader shifts in post-World War II publishing and literary culture. Between lectures, workshops, and discussions, students gain an understanding of how critical concepts such as temporality, performance, and speculation may be grounded in Black bibliographical analysis.

Outline of schedule

July 22

Focus: early Black bibliographies and their import to building collections
Objects: nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books, pamphlets, and broadsides

July 23

Focus: mid-twentieth-century literary culture and the temporality of reprints
Objects: books and reprints by Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin

July 24

Focus: the Black Arts movement and the issue of variation
Objects: materials associated with Broadside Press, Jihad Press, and Third World Press

July 25

Focus: the Black Aesthetic as a bibliographical strategy
Objects: books and reprints by Nikki Giovanni, ntozake shange, and Claudia Rankine

July 26

Focus: rethinking African American literary history through bibliography
Objects: books and reprints by Toni Morrison

Course History

Jennifer Garcon and Kinohi Nishikawa co-teach this course in person at Princeton University.
Kinohi Nishikawa teaches this course in person at Princeton University.
Kinohi Nishikawa teaches this course online (6 hours).
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  • Jennifer Garcon
  • Kinohi Nishikawa

Jennifer Garcon

Jennifer Garcon, Ph.D., is the Librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections at Princeton University, where she is responsible for the collection, curation, and care of twentieth- and twenty-first-century rare books, manuscripts, and born-digital collections. She is also a steering member of Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia, an activist-archivist group working with BIPOC communities and organizations in the Mid-Atlantic to save, document, and preserve their historical archives and records. Garcon is a Cold War historian, specializing in grassroots social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Miami. 

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Kinohi Nishikawa

Kinohi Nishikawa is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of Street Players: Black Pulp Fiction and the Making of a Literary Underground (Chicago, 2018) and of essays and book chapters on Black print culture and publishing history. Nishikawa is currently at work on a monograph titled “Black Paratext: Reading African American Literature by Design.”

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