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Schomburg Center in Harlem Acquires Maya Angelou Archive

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By Felicia R. Lee | New York Times | October 26, 2010

Maya Angelou’s paper trail includes a rambling, typewritten letter from James Baldwin, dated Nov. 20, 1970, addressed to “Dear, dear Sister” discussing everything from his new book to his feelings about death.

And one from Malcolm X, written on Jan. 15, 1965, assuring her, “You can communicate because you have plenty of (soul) and you always keep your feet firmly rooted on the ground.”

And a draft of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she recited at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton, showing Ms. Angelou’s changing the first line from “Rocks and Rivers and Trees” to the final, stark version: “A Rock, A River, A Tree.”

All of these things and more — a total of 343 boxes containing her personal papers and documents — have been acquired by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The trove has notes for Ms. Angelou’s autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”; a 1982 telegram from Coretta Scott King asking her to join a celebration at the King Center; fan mail; and personal and professional correspondence with Gordon Parks, Chester Himes, Abbey Lincoln and her longtime editor, Robert Loomis.

The acquisition is to be officially announced on Friday by New York Public Library officials at a news conference with Ms. Angelou, said Howard Dodson, the executive director of the Schomburg.

“It will be the largest collection of her material,” Mr. Dodson said. “This is the collection that documents her literary career. This is a major, major, major addition to that body of documentation of the individual lives of writers and the worlds in which they lived.”

Library officials declined to disclose a purchase price for the collection. The Angelou papers were paid for with private money, though it was first donated to the library and used New York Public Library funds.

The papers are “a major coup for the Schomburg, which too often loses important papers to more monied institutions,” said Pamela Newkirk, a professor of journalism at New York University. For Professor Newkirk’s 2009 book, “Letters From Black America,” an anthology of letters written by African-Americans since the 1700s, she relied on the Schomburg archives for much of her research, she said.

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