Our Events

Black Literature Matters

Read our June 2020 statement of Commitment to the Black Community


Black Literature Matters Exhibition

Open to the public with limited capacity in The Assunta, Ignazio, Ada and Romano Peluso Exhibition Gallery
April 28, 2021 - May 1, 2022

In a consequential moment in American history, the New York Society Library presents a not-to-be-missed exhibition of its remarkable collection of books by African American, Caribbean, and African writers. The Library showcases our remarkable holdings of books by Black writers dating from the late eighteenth century to the present day.

View the exhibition trailer

General Recommended Reading on Black History and Literature:

The Black Literature Matters Event Series

This original series of live online events brings to life the voices of Black writers through history, re-examined to inspire understanding of race in our country today, with dramatic readings, historical context, and images. As New York City's oldest cultural institution, we are honored to do our part to highlight the thousands of stories by African American writers contained within our building and acquired since the eighteenth century.


From left: Authors Olaudah Equiano, Frances E.W. Harper, Zora Neale Hurston, and Octavia Butler

Black Literature Matters: The 1700s
live event November 19, 2020

Black Literature Matters celebrates Black writers in four extraordinary evenings, beginning with works from the 1700s. The writers include Olaudah Equiano (above left), Venture Smith, and Phillis Wheatley. Head Librarian Carolyn Waters and Columbia University's Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin introduce the writers, their worlds, and the impact they had on readers of their time, with dramatic readings by actors Shontelle Thrash and Geoffrey D. Williams.

Black Literature Matters: the 1800s
live event January 28, 2021

This second event of the series features writers from the 1800s including William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, Frances E.W. Harper (above, second from left), Harriet Jacobs, David Walker, and Ida B. Wells. Head Librarian Carolyn Waters and Columbia University's Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin introduce the writers, their worlds, and the impact they had on readers of their time, with dramatic readings by actors Shontelle Thrash and Geoffrey D. Williams.


From left: presenters Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Carolyn Waters, Shontelle Thrash, Geoffrey D. Williams

Black Literature Matters: 1900-1959
live event March 25, 2021

This third event of the series features writers from 1900 through 1959 including James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston (above, third from left), LeRoi Jones, Paule Marshall, and Richard Wright. Head Librarian Carolyn Waters and Columbia University's Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin introduce the writers, their worlds, and the impact they had on readers of their time, with samples of their own speech and dramatic readings by actors Shontelle Thrash and Geoffrey D. Williams.

Black Literature Matters: 1960-Now
live event May 20, 2021

In this original series of live online events, Black writers from the 1700s to the present are re-examined to inspire understanding of race in our country today. Black Literature Matters celebrates Black writers in four extraordinary evenings. This final event of the series showcases brief excerpts from the work of writers from 1960 to the present including Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara, Octavia Butler (on right above), Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, Ernest Gaines, Alex Haley, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Haki Madhubuti, Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, Sonia Sanchez, Gil Scott-Heron, Ntozake Shange, Danez Smith, Derek Walcott, and Alice Walker.

 


These events are presented with generous support from the Florence Gould Foundation.


Frances E.W. Harper image courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. (1893).
Zora Neale Hurston portrait by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, LC-DIG-van-5a52142.
Photograph of Langston Hughes. Copyright © Van Vechten Trust; Gravure and Compilation copyright © Eakins Press Foundation.
Photo of Octavia E. Butler by Leslie Howle.