Our Events

Online Event

Black Literature Matters: 1900-1959

Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 6:00 PM | online | open to the public | free of charge | registration required

In this original series of live online events, hear the voices of Black writers through history re-examined to inspire understanding of race in our country today.

Black Literature Matters celebrates Black writers in four extraordinary evenings. 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 (shown at 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 archival recorded samples of their own speech and dramatic readings by actors Shontelle Thrash and Geoffrey D. Williams.

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 1700s.

Farah Jasmine Griffin is Chair of African-American & African Diaspora Studies, Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Professor Griffin received her B.A. from Harvard, where she majored in American History and Literature and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. Her major fields of interest are American and African American literature, music, and history. She has published widely on issues of race and gender, feminism, jazz and cultural politics.

Carolyn Waters has been Head Librarian at the New York Society Library since 2015.

Writer, performer, and educator Shontelle Thrash has performed nationally and internationally and directed plays and other works across the US. Shontelle received her MFA in Acting from Louisiana State University and her MA in Film, Video and Digital Imaging from Georgia State University.

Geoffrey D. Williams' broad range of theater credits include Hoke Coleburn in Driving Miss Daisy, Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun (2004 Jennie Award for Best Performance of an Actor in a Lead Role), and multiple productions of The Piano Lesson. He has been seen onscreen in The Trip to Bountiful for Lifetime Television, Separate But Equal for Disney/MGM Studios, the feature film The Leisure Seeker, and television including HBO's Boycott, AMC's Lodge #49, The CW's Containment, Fox's Sleepy Hollow, and FX's Atlanta.

This event is presented with generous support from the Florence Gould Foundation.

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

The works highlighted in this program are:

  • Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods
  • Charles Waddell Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition
  • Anna Julia Cooper, “The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Woman”
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
  • James Weldon Johnson, “My City”
  • James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  • Georgia Douglas Johnson, “Motherhood”
  • Claude McKay, “If We Must Die”
  • Zora Neale Hurston, “Georgia Skin”
  • Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”
  • Zora Neale Hurston, “That Ol’ Black Gal”
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Langston Hughes, “I’ve Known Rivers”
  • Langston Hughes, “I Too”
  • Langston Hughes, “Dream Montage/Tell Me Good Morning Harlem/Same In Blues Comment on Curb”
  • Langston Hughes, The Big Sea
  • Jean Toomer, Cane
  • Dorothy West, The Living Is Easy
  • Richard Wright, Native Son
  • Richard Wright, Black Boy
  • Ann Petry, The Street
  • Ralph Waldo Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, “a song in the front yard”
  • Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones
  • Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
  • James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • LeRoi Jones, “Mise en Scene, Newark 1947”
  • LeRoi Jones, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”