James Baldwin’s unpublished works and letters have been delivered to an archive in Harlem. This happens after decades of being restricted to only a trusted few.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library, has the unique honor of being that archive. The Schomburg will be the new home to work spanning most of Baldwin’s life, going back to his teenage years up to his last years in Paris.
“Even though it’s taken 30 years, it’s the perfect time,” Kevin Young, who became the director of the Schomburg in December, said in an interview. “It’s like he never left.”
Accessing the archive
The New York Times reports that all of the work won’t be available for public viewing. Baldwin’s family placed restrictions on most of it. For example, many of his letters will remain private for at least another seven years. A 20-year seal was placed on some of his most personal letters. Those include writings from close friends, his brother, David, and Lucien Happersberger. Happersberger was a Swiss painter who Baldwin claimed was “the one true love story” of his life.
However, a larger portion of the archive will be made available to researchers. This includes personal letters between Baldwin and famous contemporaries such as Nina Simone, Bobby Seale, William Styron, Lorraine Hansberry, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and more.
Some may view the restrictions as a bit much given Baldwin’s passing in 1987. Yet it’s difficult to put a time limit on a family’s duty to protect their loved ones.
“There’s always a balance in guaranteeing access for scholars, while at the same time being sensitive to the family,” said William Kelly, the New York Public Library’s director of research libraries.
Baldwin’s contributions to discussions on race, sexuality, politics and identity have long been celebrated. But, they’ve garnered a recent uptick in appreciation due to modern-day homages such as “I Am Not Your Negro”. The archive should bring an even more intimate look into his life and hopefully inspire generations to come.