American Collections blog

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24 June 2020

Remembering Dr King: US Black activism in the UK and beyond

This is the second of two blog posts responding to the murder of George Floyd, and the international Black Lives Matter protests.  Click to read the first post, “Hell You Talmbout”.

Following the assassination of Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. on the night of April 4th, 1968, the United States experienced rioting in over 100 cities.

While many who read the term ‘race riot’ think about African Americans rioting in their own communities, mass racial violence has a very long history in the United States as this comprehensive timeline on Wikipedia attests.Instances include attacks on Indigenous peoples, recent and established immigrant groups, and African Americans. This includes mass violence perpetrated by white Americans towards African Americans such as occurred during the Red Summer of 1919. The Red Summer witnessed one of the most deadly riots in US history, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of African Americans in Elaine, Arkansas.[1]  Similarly, in Tulsa in 1921, white Americans lynched the large and prosperous black community, burning down swathes of the city and killing hundreds.

 

Image of front cover. "The Arkansas Race Riot", by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, 1920.
Cover of Ida B. Wells’ journalistic account, The Arkansas Race Riots. This is available to read in full at the Internet Archive.

 

Nonetheless, instances of rioting in the twentieth century remained largely isolated until the 1960s which witnessed several waves of riots.  The ‘long hot summer of 1967’ was especially tumultuous, with 159 race riots including the Newark riot, the Watts riot, and the Detroit riot proving particularly destructive to life and property. Due to the continued unrest, President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders which delivered its infamous “Kerner Report” the following year.  The findings were stark: “This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal…To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” [2]

 

Image of front cover of the bestselling Kerner Report
Front cover of the bestselling Kerner Report

 

The commission’s stark warning identified racist policing practices as the primary factor that caused deep resentment amongst inner city African American.  However, they clarified:

The police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.

The commission identified that anger about the flawed criminal justice system was representative of much wider social divisions that were visible in all aspects of African American life.  Unemployment, inadequate housing, inadequate education, white racism, discrimination in consumer and credit practices, and ineffectiveness of political structures were just some of the grievances identified.  The commission’s finding was unequivocal: white racism in all forms of African American life was the direct cause of the riots.  It was an instant best-seller, demand outstripped supply.  This was exactly the point that Dr King had been trying to make in the final years of his life:

The only thing that can be done is to aggressively get rid of the intolerable conditions that bring riots into being… the culprit in this situation is not merely the one with a Molotov cocktail but the culprit is a Congress, is the recalcitrance of white society, the vacillation and ambivalence of white America on the question of genuine equality for the Black man. https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/190101

Within weeks of the publication of the Kerner report, Dr King had been murdered.  Both the assassination and the rioting that followed received widespread international coverage.  Scenes from his funeral were widely televised, and many acts of solidarity took place around the world.  Authors, artists, and dramatists were inspired to commemorate him in verse, picture, and on stage, many examples of which can be seen throughout our collections.  These give an insight into Dr King’s position as an international speaker on matters of justice and race, and how the US was regarded from an outside perspective.  They are also indicative of conversations about race that were taking place locally, or in some instances, conversations that appeared to be about race but had other underlying purposes.

 

Cover of Benjamin Bharati’s play Murder of a Prophet: a moving and absorbing drama on the victorious life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Bombay, 1969)
Cover of Benjamin Bharati’s play Murder of a Prophet: a moving and absorbing drama on the victorious life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Bombay, 1969). Shelfmark: X.989/20837.

 

The above play, published in India, pays homage to Dr King's dedication to non-violence and the inspiration of Gandhi's advocacy of non-violence in campaigning against British colonialism.

 

Image of front cover of Drum Major for a Dream. Binding in pink silk
Cover of Drum Major for a Dream. Shelfmark: YA.1989.a.3738

 

This volume of poetry, Drum Major for a Dream (shelfmark YA.1989.a.3738), wrapped in beautiful pink silk, was produced by the Calcutta Writer’s Workshop. It includes Gwendolyn Brooks’ tribute poem Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Image of front cover and illustration. Dolor por la Muerte de un Negro (Mexico, 1968), a poem by Manuel Aguilar de la Torre. Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos
Manuel Aguilar de la Torre’s poem Dolor por la Muerte de un Negro (Mexico, 1968) is powerfully illustrated by woodcuts. Shelfmark: X.908/19389.

 

This volume from Mexico carries vivid woodcut illustrations alongside a poem that reflects on Dr King’s words.  The woodcuts are by Arturo Garcia Bustos, who studied under Frida Kahlo and who was heavily influenced by Mexican muralism. Garcia Bustos also spent time studying printmaking in Korea and China. His work regularly touched on topics of political and social injustice, and revolutionary politics in Latin America.

 

Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos
Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos.

 

His treatment of Dr King’s murder takes on an agrarian imagery, similar to that of the workers and revolutionaries he depicted elsewhere. Dr King is thus depicted as a martyr for the world’s poor and oppressed.

One of the more interesting examples of international responses in our collections is this Soviet pamphlet, written the night of the assassination. Published by the Moscow based Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, a state-owned news agency, it is a treatise on racism in the United States and includes sections discussing the Watts riots, the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing, and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

 

Image of front cover of Fire Bell in the Night
Cover of Fire Bell in the Night. Shelfmark: X.808/4705.

 

The title Fire Bell in the Night references Thomas Jefferson’s comments upon Missouri’s petition to be admitted as a slave state in 1819, which demonstrates a detailed knowledge of the history of race in the US.  Often used as a shorthand for the superiority of communism, US race relations regularly featured in Soviet politics and culture. 

Indeed, throughout the twentieth century, many prominent African American and Caribbean creatives were invited to take part in projects with Soviet counterparts, which were unabashedly propagandistic in tone. Visitors to the USSR included authors Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Claude McKay, and singer Paul Robeson. Many of those who travelled recalled being met with a refreshing interest in their work and political opinions.  Hughes was particularly creatively inspired by his encounter with Soviet politics of solidarity and the promise of internationalist racial alliances, which can be seen in his selections of Soviet poetry for translation. Kate A. Baldwin writes: “As the poem "Kinship," written by Julian Anissimov and translated by Hughes, suggests, partnerships between "the Russian" and "the Negro" promised a shift from biologically determined links (that is, those fabricated through blood) to politically determined ones.”[3]

 

Front cover image of the anthology of ‘Negro poetry’ edited by Loren Miller, Africa in America (Aфрика в Америке)
The sponsored trips of Harlem Renaissance authors resulted in an anthology of ‘Negro poetry’ edited by Loren Miller, Africa in America (Aфрика в Америке). Shelfmark RB.23.a.36269. Some of the poems in the opening section of this anthology are likely to have been fabricated by the translator to make a clearer connection with Soviet politics.

 

Later, in 1976, Audre Lorde wrote about two weeks she spent in Moscow at the invitation of the Union of Soviet Writers in the collection Sister Outsider. In the essay she reflects of her experience: “I came away with revolutionary women in my head. But I feel very much now still that we, Black Americans, exist alone in the mouth of the dragon. As I’ve always suspected, outside of rhetoric and proclamations of solidarity, there is no help, except ourselves.” Her respect for Soviet culture but disillusion with the lack of pragmatic support for African American movements echoes that of the many authors and artists who preceded her, as they interrogated the motivations behind Soviet interest in US race relations. Notably, Lorde speaks of viewing positive relations between different ethnic groups on her tours of the Soviet Union, but of course she was not in a position to witness the treatment of Soviet’s own minority ethnic groups.

It is in this light, then, that we need to approach images such as the below which shows a meeting of workers at a Moscow automobile factory in memory of Dr King.  The placard reads “Shame on racist killers!”

 

Photograph from Есть у меня мечта. It shows a meeting of workers at a Moscow automobile factory in memory of Dr King
Photograph from Есть у меня мечта. Shelfmark: X.708/6833.

 

The Soviets were not the only Europeans whose interest in Black cultures and US racial politics reflected internal political dynamics.  Many have noted that their interest in such was quite late coming in comparison to say the post-WWI Negritude movement prominent in French arts and intellectual life (such as the jazz successes of James Reese Europe and the 369th Infantry, and the Pan African Congress of 1919 ). 

The first Pan African Congress, however, took place nineteen years earlier in London and was organised by a British based Trinidadian lawyer, Henry Sylvester Williams.  Notably it was attended by leading US black intellectual W.B. DuBois who would continue to organise the Congress after WWII, and later found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  Anti-colonial activism, and international reciprocity between black intellectuals has thus been a long-standing feature of the British (and European) conversation about race.

French authors also were interested in US race relations.  Romain Gary’s book Chien Blanc (1970), set in Los Angeles, is a fictionalised account of the author’s attempts to re-programme a former Alabama police dog that had been trained to attack Black people on sight.  It is a tale of morality tale that reflects on the nature of racism, the California civil rights and Black power movements, and the hypocrisy of white activists (which included his ex-wife, actress Jean Seberg).

 

Image of front cover of Romain Gary’s Chien Blanc
Cover of Romain Gary’s Chien Blanc shows a graphic of a police dog attacking a Black protestor, against the backdrop of a Metropolitcan skyline. Shelfmark: X.709/10618.

 

In the UK, King’s death and the rioting was widely commented on.  Many spoke directly of Dr King’s work and sacrifice, and of concern for the social wellbeing of the US, that historically.  However, the occasion also provided a way to reflect upon race relations at home.  This was not a passing superficial comparison.  At the time, two key acts were being discussed in Parliament: the 1968 Race Relations Act (RRA) and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 (CIA).

The 1968 RRA act sought to bring in additional provisions that were omitted from the 1965 legislation (the first of its kind in the UK). The sections that proved most controversial to a British public at the time related to legislation around discrimination in housing, employment, and the provision of goods. The updated act also enabled civil proceedings against those who broke legislation in the earlier act. While the RRA gave more powers to the Race Relations Board which was seen by many as a previously ‘toothless’ organisation, the simultaneous passing of the CIA further restricted the rights of citizens from Commonwealth countries to move to the United Kingdom (building on 1962 legislation). 

 Just two weeks after Dr King’s death, Enoch Powell delivered his deliberately inflammatory ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which resulted in a rise of racist incidents across the country, particularly in the West Midlands where Powell delivered his speech.  The author Hanif Kureishi who was 14 at the time recalls that “At school , Powell’s name soon become one terrifying word – Enoch. As well as an insult, it began to be used with elation. ‘Enoch will deal with you lot,’ and ‘Enoch will soon be knocking on your door, pal.’”  While Powell was summarily dismissed from the cabinet, his speech and the response to it made immigration a key Conservative issue.  The party’s win at the 1970 general election heralded policy changes in Commonwealth immigration that were a root cause of the deportations of British Caribbean citizens at the heart of the Windruh generation scandal .

It is no coincidence that just three years prior, Malcolm X had visited Smethwick.  He was invited to tour the area by the local branch of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) following an unashamedly racist election campaign by the local Conservative MP. Following successful lobbying by residents, housing segregation had become the official policy of the local Conservative council.  Malcolm X visited Marshall street where the council had agreed to buy unoccupied houses to block non-white ownership, and witnessed the colour bar in local businesses. It leads to his observing that Britain was worse than some parts of the United States where these activities were now outlawed.

 

Black and white photograph of Malcolm X taking a walk down Marshall Street in Smethwick, to inspect the housing segregation practices supported by the Conservative-led Council
Malcolm X takes a walk down Marshall Street in Smethwick, to inspect the housing segregation practices supported by the Conservative-led Council.

 

The then secretary of the Smethwick IWA, Avtar Singh Jouhl, recalls that Malcolm X said that “he was travelling to get more information and more education on the structure of how imperialism works. There was a big revolution going on inside himself.”  Part of this was looking at how this corresponded to British colonialism, and affected Asian as well as black communities.  His visit provided hope for local anti-racist activists and renewed inspiration to persist with their activities. “He reminded us that without struggle change can’t come.” 

While many white locals did not know who Malcolm X was, many were also outraged by his visit.  This included the Mayor of Smethwick who said that “it makes my blood boil that Malcolm X should be allowed into this country” and called his visit to Marshall Street “deplorable” and an incitement to increased tensions in the community. [4]

 

Photographic image of the blue plaque erected to commemorate Malcolm X’s visit to Marshall Street
The blue plaque erected to commemorate Malcolm X’s visit to Marshall Street.

 

This visit formed part of Malcolm X’s growing international itinerary in the last year of his life, which had contributed to his gradual development of an internationalist approach to race and racism.  He was killed 9 days after his visit to Smethwick. 

Like Malcolm X, Dr King’s visits to the UK also informed his understanding of the causes of racism, which was becoming increasingly global in outlook.  He visited on several occasions.  In 1961, during which time he was interviewed in depth by the BBC’s John Freeman (available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer for UK based readers).

He visited twice in 1964. During one of these visits he preached a rousing sermon at St Pauls and this speech at an event organised by Christian Action. Looking across both speeches, it becomes clear that he was interested in drawing out the connections between racism and economic justice on the global stage.  He spoke of segregation in the United States, of South African apartheid, and finally of the situation in the UK: 

“… the problem of racial injustice is not limited to any one nation. We know now that this is a problem spreading all over the globe. And right here in London and right here in England, you know so well that thousands and thousands of colored people are migrating here from many, many lands—from the West Indies, from Pakistan, from India, from Africa. And they have the just right to come to this great land, and they have the just right to expect justice and democracy in this land. And England must be eternally vigilant. For if not, the same kind of ghettos will develop that we have in the Harlems of the United States. The same problems of injustice, the same problems of inequality in jobs will develop.”

Dr King also met with the Trinidadian historian and social theorist C.L.R. James, with whom he subsequently corresponded.  Notably, James gifted him his own influential book The Black Jacobins, and George Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism?

 

Black and white portrait of C.L.R. James
C.L.R. James

 

Together they later met with British immigrant groups who explained in more detail the structural differences between British and American race relations, particularly the importance of Britain’s colonial past and its relationship to immigration. Dr King thus influenced British activism in turn: the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, an early pacifist campaigning group that coordinated activities by numerous Commonwealth migrant groups was established following this meeting.

Like Malcolm X in the West Midlands, Dr King’s visits to the UK formed one element of a larger international conversation (interestingly, the Jamaican poet and intellectual James Berry wrote to various people in the US including Dr King in the early Sixties, in an attempt to establish a Black Studies journal. These can be found in the James Berry archive). The flow of ideas and strategies was reciprocal, and was informed by a growing body of black scholarship, literature, arts and culture, as well as activism.

 

Black and white photographic image of a young man wearing a Public Enemy ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ jacket raises a Black Power fist by a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London, on 6 June 2020
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

We can see this political and cultural fusion in images of the protests that have taken place in London in the last few weeks.  In the image above, a young man wearing a Public Enemy ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ jacket raises a Black Power fist by a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.  Below, another man wears the black beret that was part of the US Black Panthers’ ‘uniform’ while similarly raising his fist.  The embroidery on his jacket is a quotation by Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

 

Black and white photographic image of a man wearing the black beret that was part of the US Black Panthers’ ‘uniform’ while raising his fist. The embroidery on his jacket is a quotation by Nelson Mandela
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

Most people remember the Black Panthers as a US movement, but like Malcolm X and Dr King, their influence spread much further afield. In the UK, the Black Panther Movement established in London in the summer of 1968, a few months after the riots that followed Dr King’s assassination. You can find two representative issues of their newsletter Freedom News at shelfmark: RH.9.x.1790, (by coincidence the George Padmore Institute and Shades of Noir have just announced a digitisation project for these).

While unaffiliated with the US party, they were heavily influenced by their namesake.  Unsurprisingly, then, their activities focussed on policing and community programmes. 

 

Cover of ‘Freedom News’, June 1973. Headline reads "Police terror must stop"
Cover of ‘Freedom News’, June 1973. The headline and photograph highlights “growing police terror in South London” which resulted in a “police riot in Brockwell Park”. Courtesy of George Padmore Institute and Shades of Noir

 

Particularly noteworthy was the influential ‘Mangrove Nine’ case. This followed the arrest of nine protestors from the Black Panthers Movement after a march against repeated police raids on the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, which served as a meeting place for activists. The defendants followed the US Black Panthers’ radical defence strategy in the court room, calling to be tried by a jury of their Black peers.  While they weren’t entirely successful, they were able to dismiss 69 jurors for being unsuitable and find two black jurors.  All nine were cleared on the charge of riot, and the closing statement made by the sitting judge was the first in the UK to mention racial prejudice on the part of police.

 

Black and white photographic image of a young woman holding a placard which reads ‘I never liked pigs they’re haram anyways’, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS. Young woman holds placard which reads ‘I never liked pigs they’re haram anyways’, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

This image is particularly interesting in how it captures the overlap of popular and protest cultures between the US and the UK. The placard is clearly tongue-in-cheek in its anti-police sentiment, highlighting the woman’s pride in her (presumably) Muslim identity, but in the wake of the George Floyd murder, it is a serious and sombre message that carries echoes in the UK and internationally (depressingly familiar parallels can be found in policing tactics in France, and Brazil, for example). It could be taken straight from a US Black Panther publication, which regularly used the term and imagery of ‘pigs’ to refer to police, national guard, military, government figures, and US imperialism more broadly.  Particularly noteworthy here is the artwork of Emory Douglas (the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party) which featured regularly in the publication (of which we hold some examples at shelfmark: LOU.A499).

 

Image from the US Black Panther newspaper, copyright Emory Douglas
Image from the US Black Panther newspaper, copyright Emory Douglas

 

It is worth remembering that the Black Panther Party in the US was a varied organisation that carried out wide ranging activities.  As well as calling for “community control of police” as per the above image, they organised community programmes such as free breakfast clubs for families living in poverty which served approximately 20,000 meals per week across nineteen communities. They also became strong advocates of health as a human right, and established free health clinics in thirteen communities and ran a national sickle cell screening programme (a genetic disease that had previously been largely ignored because it mostly affected people of African descent).  It is because of activities such as these that the party had such a stronghold in Oakland and San Francisco, and it is why when Dr King was assassinated, these cities remained unaffected by the rioting that erupted across America: they were quiet, Bobby Seale said, “because we told them to be quiet.”  

This, often overlooked, aspect of the Black Panthers has striking parallels to Dr King’s radical later work with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. While their route to this was substantially different (Karl Marx, via Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ for the Panthers), they nonetheless came to share a globally informed understanding of racism, and its relationship to economic and social injustice.

 

Image of woodcut illustration by Paul Pieter Piech, Words and Wisdoms of Martin Luther King, 1968
Woodcut by Paul Pieter Piech, Words and Wisdoms of Martin Luther King, Bushey Heath, Herts. The Taurus Press (1968). Shelfmark: Cup.510.bea.4.

 

The above work by Paul Pieter Piech was printed in the UK, in commemoration of Dr King. His woodcuts are set alongside quotations taken from his ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon', which was played at his funeral service.  It is one of many such items in the Library’s collections that recall Dr King’s civil rights work through his own words, and which treat as inseparable the issue of racial inequalities based and American nationalism.

Almost a year after Dr King’s assassination, Coretta Scott King who was an activist in her own right, followed in her husband’s footsteps and preached at St Paul’s Cathedral (the first woman to preach at a statutory service there):  "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."  Many today would question whether that new day has yet dawned.

It is interesting, then, to compare the results of polling of Americans on their views of racism following the riots of 1967 to the protests of 2020.  Following the publication of the Kerner report, “Polls showed that 53 percent of white Americans condemned the claim that racism had caused the riots, while 58 percent of black Americans agreed with the findings.”  By contrast, this poll by Monmouth University Polling Institute shows that the George Floyd murder and the current protests have led to large numbers of Americans changing their perspective on racism, policing, and the justification for protests. 

Most Americans say the anger about black deaths at the hands of police officers that led to recent protests is fully justified, even if they do not feel the same about the actual actions. A majority of the public now agrees that the police are more likely to use excessive force with a black person than a white person in similar situations. Only one-third of the country held this opinion four years ago. The [poll] also finds that the number of people who consider racial and ethnic discrimination to be a big problem has increased from about half in 2015 to nearly 3 in 4 now.

It is deeply troubling to reflect that this shift was precipitated by a viral video of a murder.  Let us hope that no more such deaths or videos are now necessary to bring about the necessary urgent action to accompany these changes in perspective that are being demanded in the US, the UK, France, and beyond.

It feels fitting to end here with one of the poems in Drum Major for a Dream.  ‘After the Killing of Martin Luther King’, written by Lou Lipsitz.  It speaks of ways of finding consolation and strength when faced with intolerable injustice.  Like many African Americans before and after, Lipsitz finds strength and historical resilience in the blues and jazz traditions.

I listened to old music

all day

trying to console myself

- the New Orleans jazzmen,

Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie

McGhee -things

like

The Southbound Train

My Bucket’s Got

a Hole in It and Twelve Gates to the City

music out of the chain gangs

music out of loneliness, desolation

music of the poor who would not be humiliated

that shows you how to jump

the truck

out of history

and pick yourself up in the dust

damn near whole.

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] There is no clear final count of deaths, but historians agree it was over one hundred and likely in the several hundreds. One contemporary account by Louis Sharpe Dunaway places this as high as 850. For more information on this event, see https://ualrexhibits.org/elaine/

[2] For more on the Kerner Commission, see this wonderfully illustrated article from the Smithsonian magazine which accompanied an exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. See also “Riot Report Book Big Best Seller” in The New York Times, March 14, 1968, p. 49.

[3] Kate A. Baldwin, “The Russian Connection: Interracialism as Queer Alliance in Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks”, Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 48, No. 4, Winter 2002, pp. 795-824.

[4] “Malcolm X in Smethwick” Birmingham Daily News, Saturday 13 February p. 1 and 34. You can see this article and other responses in local newspapers using the British Newspaper Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

 

Reading list

This Oxford Press bibliography has some great reading recommendations related to African Americans and communism:

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780190280024/obo-9780190280024-0023.xml

Saladin Ambar, Malcolm X at Oxford Union: rcial politics in a global era. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

R. Kelley and S. Tuck (eds.): The Other Special Relationships: Race, Rights, and Riots in Britain and the United States

Audio: Archive on 4: Malcolm X in Oxford: listen here (UK only) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04tcbd2

“Britain’s Most Racist Election: the story of Smethwick, 50 years on”, The Guardian, 15 October 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/15/britains-most-racist-election-smethwick-50-years-on

The London Black Panther Movement newsletters are digitised on the website Shades of Noir: http://www.shadesofnoir.org.uk/artefacts/black-panther-newsletters/#

The George Padmore Institute holds a rich archive of material relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/

The Black Cultural Archives has an ongoing programme of exhibitions and events related to Black British history: https://blackculturalarchives.org

 

[Blog post by Francisca Fuentes Rettig -Curator, North American Published Collections]

 

18 May 2020

¡La lotería! palabra mágica¡ ¡palabra encantadora!* The lotería! Magic word! Charming word!

Since I received greetings cards featuring the illustrations of the colourful Mexican game la lotería, I had wondered what we have in our collection at the British Library. I have soon discovered an amazing selection of books, and catalogues of linocut and woodcut prints, collected over the years.

 

Colourful image of a set of la Lotería board game cards
La Lotería board game cards. Image sourced by flickr. Uploaded by Andreanna Moya, August 2008. Some rights reserved.

 

Here began my journey into the magic of the divination game, and its representation through history. From early prints to variants of the digital age at the time of the Pandemic, this has been a multi-sensorial encounter with la lotería. An experience involving sight, imagination and spirit.

A triumph of Mexican colours and vibes, and a vibrant selection of charms, the traditional game of the lotería has its origins in 15th century Italy, a game played for noble and charitable causes, to collect money in support of the poor and commercial activities in financial crisis. It is then thought to have been adopted by Spain in the 16th century, before finally arriving in Mexico in 1769. Initially played by the colonial Mexican elite, the lotería was spontaneously embraced by all classes of society. It would become a mean for communities and families to interact, and to celebrate of traditional events, such as fairs and anniversaries [1].

¡La lotería! ¡Oh! ¡Palabra mágica¡ ¡palabra encantadora! ¡La lotería! [2].  Ignacio Cumplido, a prolific worker of arts and culture in the early 19th century Mexico, was a printer, writer and Mexican politician of liberal ideology. Alongside those pursuits, he also worked for the Museo Nacional of Mexico City, and in 1829 he became director of the press responsible for the printing of the Correo de la Federación Mexicana. He was later in charge of El Fénix de la Libertad, and El Atleta.

In 1844, while elected senator of the state of Mexico, he continued working as a printer and founded a printing school giving jobs and hope to young orphans and the marginalised. In the same year, the Cumplido’s press issued La Lotería, one of the first interesting essays on the phenomenology and psychology behind the fascination with this game of chances [3]. 

Although Cumplido’s essay refers to the origins and development of the bigger-scale lottery game, where contestants play with numbers printed on tickets previously bought, it is worth drawing attention on the similarity of both games, their origins, and their long-lasting coexistence. It argues that everyone is seduced by the lottery game, a source of illusion and hope, a sort of happiness or, at least, an apparent solace [4].

 

Black and white image of the title page of the book La Lotería printed in Mexico by Ignacio Cumplido in 1988. It depicts a man sat on the floor in the act of emptying his sacks full of coins, result of his lottery win
Screenshot. Title page of the British Library digitised La Lotería, Mexico: Impreso para Ignacio Cumplido, 1844. Shelfmark: DRT Digital Store 8226.aa.26.(3.).

 

In his series of twelve iconic linocuts for the Lotería cards and fortune poems, the artist Artemio Rodríguez combines mastery of the linocut art of print with the rich “politically-inflected imagery of José Guadalupe Posada”. Made between 1995 and 1998, the artist embodied his linocut illustrations in the traditional Mexican lotería card format.

 

Image of the front cover of the book ‘Lotería cards and fortune poems’. It shows an image of one of Rodríguez’s linocuts on a red background with watermarked illustrations
Lotería cards and fortune poems: a book of lives, linocuts by Artemio Rodríguez; poems by Juan Felipe Herrera, San Francisco, California: City Lights Books, 1999. Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.11813.

 

Huasteca is a region of the eastern part of Mexico, an area culturally and ethnographically rich in traditional arts, music and dance, with a precious heritage of indigenous civilizations. In this woodblock collection of prints, Alec Dempster  gives his personal interpretation of this beautiful land, the theatre of the Mesoamerican civilization period, organising visual messages and concepts in an oneiric resolution translated into lotería cards images.

 

Image of the front cover of the book ‘Lotería Huasteca’. It shows one of Dempster’s woodblock prints and depicts a mermaid, a mythological creature part woman and part fish.
Image of front cover. Alec Dempster, Lotería Huasteca, woodblock prints [illustrated], Erin, Ontario: The Porcupine's Quill, 2015. Shelfmark: YD.2016.a.231.

 

Google has been recently Celebrating Lotería in their Make the most of your time at home project, relaunching some of the most popular Google Doodle games from the Google Doodle Archive.

A smile instantly comes to my face every time I think of Lotería … I think of being with my extended family in Mexico for the holidays …  think of the laughter, the excitement, and how all the worries of the world melted away as this game brought us together, even if just for a few hours. It was exciting to collaborate with five Mexican and Mexican-American illustrators to reimagine many of the classic Lotería game art for the Doodle—along with some new cards for a fun sorpresa! (Perla Campos –Google Doodles, from Celebrating Lotería on the presentation of the game and on how she has been in spired by her memories of her family holidays in Mexico).

 

Screenhot from Google page ‘Popular Google Doodle games’. It shows a colourful set of 5 cards depicting La chalupa, El sol, El mundo and El CorazónScreenhot from Google page “Popular Google Doodle games”. Make the most of your time at home with popular past Google Doodle: Lotería 2019.

 

5. El Paraguas. Para el sol y para el agua. The umbrella. For the sun and for the rain.

When I received my first greeting card of the series La Lotería, it was to celebrate an important achievement. A very traditional black umbrella on a blue white-stitched sky background. Come rain or shine, come hell or high water, the umbrella, and what it symbolises, is there to protect me.

 

Photo of two lotería game cards. Card no. 21. La mano / The hand, shows a neat illustration of the hand on a blue-sky background. Card no. 5. El paraguas / The umbrella, shows an open umbrella on a blue white-stitched sky backgroundPhotographic image of greetings card featuring La mano, no. 21, and El Paraguas, no. 5. From La Lotería Notecards, by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2014. Personal collection.

 

21. La mano. The hand. La mano de un criminal. The hand of a criminal.

The second card I received, a neat illustration of the hand, was in this instance a fun representation of the need to wash our hands. The advice accompanied a basket of goodies given to me during the first days of the lockdown due to the COVID-19, when it was almost impossible to find bread and pasta on supermarket shelves.

Coincidentally, I then came across new versions of my two greeting cards, La mano and La esperanza, amongst a collection re-designed by the Mexican artist Rafael Gonzales Jr. In Pandemic Lotería, a pop-art portrayal of realism and hope, he reinterprets the traditional signs to represent life in the time of the quarantine.

 

Images of lotería game card no. 21. La mano / The hand. It shows the hand holding a pink soap, and card no. 5. La esperanza / The hope. It shows an open umbrella. The stick of the umbrella is a syringe. They represent the importance of washing hands and the hope that scientists will find the COVID-19 vaccine Pandemic Lotería: La Mano and La Esperanza. Sourced by Instagram, uploaded by Rafael Gonzales Jr. (pinche_raf_art). March 2020. ©All images Rafael Gonzales Jr.

 

¡Viva la lotería! Hooray for the lottery!

Blog post by Annalisa Ricciardi, Cataloguer, Americas and Oceania Collections post-1850.

 

Bibliography and suggested reading:

*La Lotería, Mexico: Impreso para Ignacio Cumplido, 1844. Shelfmark: DRT Digital Store 8226.aa.26.(3.), page 3.

[1] On the history of the game of la lotería, visit Teresa Villegas digital project History of La Loteria, and take the chance to explore her digital installation: Traveling exhibition "La Lotería: An Exploration of Mexico". Mexico and USA.

On the history and origins of the lotería game see also Cumplido’s essay, from pages 4-5  [bibliographic details on note no. 2]

[2] La Lotería, para Ignacio Cumplido, 1844. Shelfmark: DRT Digital Store 8226.aa.26.(3.), page 3.

[3] On the very charismatic Ignacio Cumplido, intensely active in the arts and culture of 19th century Mexico, see the British Library digitised: Tipo que contiene parte de los caracteres y demas útiles de la imprenta de la calle de los Rebeldes num. 2, dirigida por Ignacio Cumplido [por Ignacio Cumplido], México, [Impreso por Ignacio Cumplido], 1936. Shelfmark: DRT Digital Store RB.23.a.34189.

On Complido’s art of printing and typography see: Cumplido, I., Establecimiento tipográfico de Ignacio Cumplido: libro de muestras, México, Distrito Federal, Instituto Mora, 2001, (1871facsimile edition). Shelfmark: YA.2003.b.763.

Garone Gravier, Marina, Nineteenth-century Mexican graphic design: the case of Ignacio Cumplido, in Design Issues, Vol. 18, no. 4 (Autumn, 2002), pages 54-63. Shelfmark: 3559.976000. 

[4] La Lotería, para Ignacio Cumplido, 1844. Shelfmark: DRT Digital Store 8226.aa.26.(3.), page 4 etc.

Lotería cards and fortune poems: a book of lives, linocuts by Artemio Rodríguez; poems by Juan Felipe Herrera, San Francisco, California: City Lights Books, 1999. Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.11813.

Artemio Rodríguez, on British Library catalogue.

Juan Felipe Herrera, on British Library catalogue.

For a more accurate understanding of the linocut art of Artemio Rodríguez, check the article Ingenuity and Homage: Poetic Lotería by Artemio Rodríguez, written by Katherine Blood for On Paper: Journal of the Washington Print Club (Fall 2016 Volume 1, No. 2) and available as a reprint in the blog session of the Library of Congress website: https://bit.ly/3dq5gqG

Dempster, Alec, Lotería Huasteca, woodblock prints [illustrated], Erin, Ontario: The Porcupine's Quill, 2015. Shelfmark: YD.2016.a.231. Check the author’s website for a more detailed explanation of the book.

Beezley, William H., Mexican national identity: memory, innuendo, and popular culture, University of Arizona Press, 2008. Shelfmark: m08/.25229

Loaeza, Guadalupe, De mexicanos, como la lotería: anécdotas que marcan su lugar en la historia, México: Ediciones B Vergara, 2009. Shelfmark: YF.2010.a.25316

 

 

24 April 2020

Poems from the edge of extinction (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of our blog on poetry in endangered and lesser-known languages in collaboration with our European Studies colleaguesIn part 1 of this blog, we considered examples of poetry in Tongan and Yucatec Maya, and here in part 2 we look at examples in Patwa/Jamaican Creole and Yolngu Matha. If you've never heard of these languages, read on!

Patwa/Jamaican Creole

Front cover of book Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture by Mervyn Morris
Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture by Mervyn Morris. BL shelfmark YKL.2014.a.5466

Bun an Cheese by Louise Bennett-Coverley

Dem Bwoy dah jeer Miss Matty,
An a mock her an tease,
Dem a kill demself wid laugh mah
An a call her Bun an Cheese
 
Dem sey from Good Friday mawnin
Her jawbone no get ease
Mawnin  noon an night bedtime
She was nyamin Bun and Cheese
 
Fe breakfuss lunch an dinna
She got so-so bun and cheese
She kea it go a church an
Movin pictures if you please
 
She no count saltfish an ackee
Cut her y’eye pon rice an peas
Hear her “me put pot pon fire
When me got me Bun and Cheese!”
 
Easter time gwine come an go weh
Days an moment fly like breeze
But as long as Matty live dem bwoy
Gwine call her Bun and Cheese!

 

English translation

Those boys jeer Miss Matty
And Mock and tease her
They are killing themselves with laugh
And call her Bun and Cheese
 
They say from Good Friday morning
Her jawbone got no ease
Morning noon and nighttime
She was eating Bun and Cheese
 
For Breakfast lunch and dinner
She got only bun and cheese
She took it to church and
Moving pictures if you please
 
She does not count saltfish and ackee
Cut her eye on rice and peas
Hear her “I put my pot on the fire
When I got my Bun and Cheese!”
 
Easter time come and go away
Days and moment fly like breeze
But as long as Matty live those boys
Going to call her Bun and Cheese!

 

Coming off the heels of Easter, this is one of my favourite Louise Bennett-Coverley poems. “Miss Lou” as she was affectionately called is one of the most loved and highly respected Jamaican poets.  She uses the themes of food culture and local traditions in this timeless work. These themes highlight the love affair the protagonist “Miss Matty” has with the popular Jamaican Easter treat “bun and cheese”, closely associated with the popular English “hot cross buns”.  The use of the Jamaican dialect, Patois (Patwa) by Miss Lou makes this poem even more expressive and exciting. Regardless of the time of day, place and alternative food options Miss Matty is only interested in her tasty treat. This poem encapsulates the happy atmosphere that surrounds one of Jamaica’s most delightful Easter traditions.

Chantelle Richardson (Chevening Fellow at the British Library and Special Collections Librarian at the National Library of Jamaica)

 

Yolngu Matha  (Australia)

*Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that these pages may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.*

Illustration of four kangaroos grazing
British Library Image taken from page 360 of 'New Homes for the Old Country. A personal experience of the political and domestic life, the industries, and the natural history of Australia and New Zealand. ... With ... illustrations' (BL shelfmark HMNTS 10492.g.19.)

 When a list of 200 Aboriginal Australian words was recorded in the north of Australia during James Cook’s voyage in 1770, it was assumed that these words would be spoken by all the Indigenous people in the country. One of the words on this list was ‘kangaroo’ (kanguru or gangurru), which was provided by the Guugu Yimidhirr people in what is now known as Far North Queensland. Yet, when European settlers arrived in 1788, in what would become Sydney, and tried to make use of the list, the word 'kangaroo’ was met with confusion by the local Aboriginal people who believed this to be an English word. Only later did the Europeans realise that the First people of Australia spoke more than 250 different languages, including 800 dialectal varieties, at the time of European settlement. For a visual representation of this language distribution, see the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia which attempts to represent all the language, tribal or nation groups of the First peoples of Australia. Of the 160 varieties still spoken, only 13 are spoken by children and 90% of Indigenous Australian languages are in danger of dying out.  

One of the 13 languages still spoken by children, and in somewhat less danger, is the language group known as Yolngu Matha (or Yolŋu Matha). Yolngu Matha, has around 2,000 speakers and is a member of the Pama-Nyungan family of languages. It is spoken by the Yolngu people in the north-eastern part of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. There are a dozen dialects of Yolngu Matha, each with its own name and with significant variation between them, though there is some mutual understanding between the dialects. During the 1930s, missionaries developed various ways of writing Yolngu Matha, which are still used today, though there is no standard spelling system. This linguistic complexity of variant spellings, and clan and dialect distinctions in Yolngu Matha (as with all the Indigenous Australian languages), has now been mapped to a great extent in the AUSTLANG database. This landmark project by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) provides the means for institutions to begin the process of attributing the correct language to bibliographic records, as is being done through crowd sourcing at the National Library of Australia.

Front cover of Nganajungu yagu by Charmaine Papertalk Green
Papertalk-Green, C. (2019). Nganajungu yagu. Victoria, Australia : Cordite Books. BL shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930

When we look at the British Library records for poetry by Indigenous Australians, although we can find recent examples written in English (see Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, or Lionel Fogarty), those written in Indigenous Australian languages are far scarcer (although a welcome example is Nganajungu yagu by Charmaine Papertalk-Green which mixes Wajarri, Badimaya, and English - shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930). And while we can attribute this partly to historical collection practices which favoured non-Indigenous languages (and similar discrimination in the publishing industry), this is also due to the history in Indigenous cultures of spoken word over written language. 

Front cover of Song spirals
Gay'wu Group of Women (2019). Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. (awaiting shelfmark)

A particularly rich poetic oral tradition in Indigenous Australian culture can be seen in songlines. Also known song spirals or song cycles, these living archives of cultural knowledge and wisdom are preserved and passed on through song. Using cues from the land, sky and sea to navigate through space and time, songlines are handed down through generations. A member of the community acts as the custodian of the songline and these are rarely shared with outsiders. For this blog, I have chosen to highlight a 2019 Yolngu Matha collection, Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines  by the Gay'wu Group of Women (Allen and Unwin 2019 - awaiting cataloguing at the British Library). Here women’s roles in songlines are explored and the authors share five song spirals in Gumatj, a dialect of Dhuwal (also Dual, Duala), one of the Yolngu Matha languages.  

Below is an excerpt from Wuymirri, the Whale 
 
Nguruku miyamanarawu Dhangaḻa aaaaaaaa... 
Waṉa nyerrpu miyaman ngunha marrtji Bangupanngu. 
Miyaman marrtji Balwarri Nepaway, Maywuṉdjiwuy. 
 
Bawaywuyngu miyamara Dhuḻuḻwuynguru; 
Bawaywuyngu miyamara Rrawuḻuḻwuynguru; 
Nguruku miyaman ngarra marrtji Rrawuḻuḻwuynguru. 
 
Of that body of water I sing, I sing of the body of water. 
The arm of the paddler is knowledgeable, over there is Bangupanngu. 
I am singing about Balwarri, the whale, Nepaway, the open sea. 
Of the place between sunrise and sunset I sing, 
 
Where the whales swim with open mouths, scooping water,  
   filtering fish; 
A pod of whales, flipping and jumping, playing and roaming; 
A gathering of many people; 
For that I sing Rrawuḻuḻ, the place where the whales 
   are feeding.  
I sing for those people, the ones far away. 

 

In Indigenous Australian culture, languages with few or no speakers are described as ‘sleeping’, and there are some welcome initiatives to re-awaken these sleeping languages. These include the formation of the AIATSIS foundation to record languages and songlines and publish 15 dictionaries of languages a year over the next decade. An exciting effort to re-awaken language through poetry has been developed through the Poetry in First Languages project, devised by Gunai poet, Kirli Saunders. In this program, Indigenous poets, Elders and Language Custodians work directly with Indigenous students to write poetry in their cultural language. 


To hear Yolngu Matha in a musical context, take a listen to the award-winning Yolngu rapper Baker Boy who seamlessly mixes this language with English in his performances such as 'Marryuna' (Let's Dance) below.

 

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections post-1850

 

Further reading:

General

Chris McCabe (ed.), Poems from the Edge of Extinction (London, 2019), [BL shelfmark: ELD.DS.463137] 

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project

Patwa/Jamaican creole

Morris, M. (2014). Miss Lou : Louise Bennett and Jamaican Culture. BL shelfmark YKL.2014.a.5466

Bennett, L., & Morris, M. (2003). Auntie Roachy seh. Kingston: Sangster's Book Stores. BL shelfmark YD.2005.a.1825

Bennett, L (1983) Selected Poems. Kingston, Jm. : Sangster's Book Stores. BL shelfmark X.958/29332

Bennett, L (1949) Jamaican dialect poems. Kingston , Jm : printed by the Gleaner Co. BL shelfmark X.909/29896

Yolngu Matha  

Dyungayan, G., & Cooke, S. (2014). George Dyungayan's Bulu Line : A West Kimberley song cycle. Glebe, NSW: Puncher & Wattmann. BL shelfmark YD.2017.a.916 


Gay'wu Group of Women (2019). Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. (awaiting shelfmark) 


Papertalk-Green, C. (2019). Nganajungu yagu. Victoria, Australia : Cordite Books. BL shelfmark YD.2019.a.5930 

 

23 April 2020

Poems from the edge of extinction (part 1)

For this blog, and in collaboration with our European Studies colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year’s timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction, edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published in 2019 (also the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It’s got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in the Americas and Oceania collections. In part 1 of this blog, we consider examples of poetry in Tongan and Yucatec Maya, while part 2 (to follow) will look at examples in Patwa/Jamaican creole and Yolngu Matha. If you've never heard of these languages, read on!


Tongan (Polynesia)

Tongan (Lea Faka-Tonga) is the national language of the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian nation of 169 islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, and the only monarchy in the Pacific. Tongan is a Polynesian language of the Austronesian family and is most closely related to the Samoan language of the same family. There are around 190,000 Tongan speakers with nearly half of these living overseas in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia or the United States. Though not on the endangered language list, Tongan, like many Pacific languages, is in danger of an eventual language shift to English. As outlined above, the migration of many native Tongan speakers is a predictor for this, as well as the predominance of English in online environments, and with English being increasingly associated with greater educational and employment opportunities.  In an effort to counter this and preserve Tongan as the native language among young people in the country, the Minister of Education introduced a new language policy in 2012. Children are now taught solely in Tongan upon starting school, with English only gradually introduced at later stages. The policy aims for students to be fluent in both languages by completion of their education. Other efforts to preserve the language and culture among Tongans, includes the annual Tongan Language Week for Tongans living overseas in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Traditionally a spoken language, the first written examples of Tongan were made by missionaries using the Latin script in the 19th century, with the current spellings decided by the Privy Council of Tonga in 1943. The Tongan script uses three different diacritic marks to guide pronunciation and meaning: the glottal stop, the macron, and the stress mark, which often requires careful proofreading in text. The language is notable for having multiple speech registers based on status and formality, including one specifically for use when speaking to or about the reigning monarch or deities. With its strong oral over written tradition, Tongan language poetry is not abundant in our print collections. However, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a translated collection of the poetry of Tonga’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Sālote Tupou III, Tonga's poet on the throne from 1918 to her death in 1965. Songs & poems of Queen Sālote (2004) features 114 works by the monarch in Tongan with translations into English by the Pacific languages academic, Dr. Melenaite Taumoefolau.

Front cover of Songs & poems of Queen Sālote
Songs & poems of Queen Sālote / translated by Melenaite Taumoefolau ; edited by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem. Nukuʻalofa : Vavaʻu Press, 2004. YD.2009.b.1963.

Some of you may already be familiar with Queen Sālote as the head of state who received uproarious applause on Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Day in 1953, when she refused to lower the hood of her carriage in the driving rain, and instead laughed and waved joyfully at the crowds lining the procession route. Her spirit and warmth on the day prompted newspaper editor, Jack Fishman, to write a song aptly titled The Queen of Tonga (Music Collections VOC/1953/FISHMAN) which was then made popular by Edmundo Ros and his orchestra (Sound Collections 1CD0189529). 

Cover of the music score The Queen Of Tonga by Jack Fishman
The Queen of Tonga’ by Jack Fishman 1953 (Music Collections VOC/1953/FISHMAN)

However, you may not know that she is also celebrated as poet and song writer whose work, comprising of over 100 compositions, has played a major role in the preservation of the Tongan language and Tonga’s rich cultural heritage. Historian and biographer of Queen Sālote, Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, wrote in Songs & poems of Queen Sālote that: 

The Queen was… acclaimed as an extremely gifted poet. Queen Sālote spent many hours perfecting the words of her poems, and she invited groups of musicians to come to the Palace in the evenings to work with her. They often stayed until the early hours of the morning. Poetry that was set to music consisted of love songs (both happy and sad), laments for deaths of chiefs and those close to her, lullabies for her grandchildren, and songs written especially for the accompaniment of dance, such as lakalaka and mā‘ulu‘ulu. Love songs (hiva kakala) were often used as accompaniment to the solo dance for a woman, the tau‘olunga. (pp.279-281) 

Tongan language poetry makes great use of heliaki (metaphoric language) to make culture specific references to the knowledge shared by Tongan speakers. This can make literal translations difficult without using annotations, as the meanings and connotations of kinship connections in the heliaki often require explanation to non-Tongan speakers. We can see an example of this in Queen Sālote’s poem, The Queen’s Tears at the Passing of Tangata o’ Ha’amea, which employs the technique to bemoan that Ha’amea (a prominent Tongan chief) left no heir: 


Dear home of Niukasa 
Standing at the base of Sia 
With the stream called Fotu ‘afinema 
Once trickling but now empty 
Not a drop is left 

Diplomatic use of heliaki can be seen in her poem, ‘Uno 'o Sangone. Composed during World War 2, the poem is ostensibly about the Polynesian myth of the turtle Sangone, but draws heavily on the shared knowledge of the long history and connections between Tonga and its neighbour, Samoa. Through this use of heliaki, the Queen aimed to reassure Tongans and remind them of the importance of allies and unity during wartime:  

Ne‘ine‘i hako mei he tonga 
Tapa ē‘uhila mei lulunga 
He na‘e mana ē Feingakotone 
Fakahake ē‘uno ‘o Sangone. 
 
No wonder the gales blew from the south 
Lightening flashed from the west. 
The Feingakotone* thundered 
For Sangone’s shell was brought forth. 

Black and white photo of Queen Sālote with her husband Viliami Tungī Mailefihi
Salote Tupou III, Queen of Tonga and her consort Prince Uiliami Tungi. Ref: 1/2-005251-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22839741

However, to really appreciate the Tongan language and Queen Sālote’s work, you should enjoy it in the manner through which it was intended, such as this contemporary performance of Loka Siliva (Silver Lock or Locket), a love song (hiva kakala) she wrote for her husband, sung by the Tonga Creative Collective, and with translations from Tongan to English. 

For examples of more recent poetry from the Kingdom of Tonga in the British Library collections, see also Hingano : selected poems, 1966-1986 / by Konai Helu Thaman (BL shelfmark YA.1996.a.3558), and Mauri ola : contemporary Polynesian poems in English / edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri & Robert Sullivan (BL shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.322430).

*Feingakotone is a place in the Kingdom of Tonga 

Lucy Rowland (Curator, Oceania Published Collections post-1850)

 

Yucatec Maya (Mexico) 

 

Image of the poet Briceida Cuevas Cob speaking at a book event in 2018
Mexican poet, Briceida Cuevas Cob. Photograph by Benjamín Anaya / Secretaría de Cultura CDMX. 2018. Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Briceida Cuevas Cob is a well-published poet and cultural promoter in her native Yucatan, South-Mexico. The poem below is from the verse collection U yok’ol auat pek’ ti kuxtal pek’ / El quejido del perro en su existencia [The growl of the dog in its existence]. In her collection, she captures the violence and harshness of Mayan existence through the violence suffered by these abandoned stray dogs.  
 
Four poems from this collection were published in Latin American Literature Today, May 2018: Translated by Arthur Dixon. Here is one of them: 
 

VI 

¿Máax ku tich’ik chuchul uaj yétel u xdzik k’ab, 
u dzókole, 
ku jósik u xnoj k’ab u tial u jadz? 

Pek ta p’atik a yúmil, 
Pek ta chíik a yúmil, 
Pek’ a yama a yúmil: 
majant a uak’ti uínik, 
tiólal u choj xan u k’a u chí, 
ka u ch’ul luum, 
ka u pak’, je bix teché, u náatil kuxtal. 
Majant a uich ti uínik, 

tiólal u pákat yétel a k’om ólal. 
Majant a nej ti uínik 
tiólal u bik’ibik’tik, yétel a kímak ólal. 
kun alak ti: KS, KS, KS; 
tiólal u tákik ichil u yok yétel a sútal, 
kun alak ti: B’J, B’J, B’J. 
Majant a ti uínik, 
tiólal u yusnítik utz yan chen tu k’ab chichán pal. 
Jálibe, 
majant a dzaay uínik, 
tiólal u chíik u túkul. 

 

VI 

Who is he who holds out the stale tortilla with his left hand 
and then 
raises his right hand to strike? 

Dog, don’t you abandon your owner, 
dog, don’t you bite your lord, 
dog, you love your master: 
lend your tongue to the man, 
so the drool drips down him too, 
so it wets the earth, 
and sows, like you, the understanding of existence. 
Lend your eyes to the man, 
so he sees with your sadness. 
Lend your tail to the man, 
so he wags it with joy 
when they call him: KS, KS, KS; 
so he tucks it between his legs with your shame 
when they tell him: B’J, B’J, B’J; 
lend him your nose 
so he sniffs the goodness that only exists in the hands of a child. 
Lastly, 
lend him your teeth 
so he bites his own conscience. 

I have chosen this poem, because I remember stray dogs as a striking feature during my first visit to Mexico as an intern at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) after finishing my MA. An older Austrian colleague with a proper job adopted a stray dog, when a group of us came home from a weekend trip. Looking back, this must have seemed a foolish act to many local people. Yet, we were a group of young and idealistic Mexicans and foreigners and this act of kindness towards the stray dog is stuck in my mind. 

When I read Briceida Cuevas Cob’s dog poems, I think back to the many mangy dogs on dusty roads I saw in Mexico and our friend’s little act of defiance in taking one of them in. I like how Cueva Cob in her poem binds together mundane experiences of ubiquitous violence with deep philosophical questions about life. And I like the rhythm of the poem in the English translation by Arthur Dixon. In the Maya original, which I cannot read, I enjoy looking at the distribution of letters on the page, strange and beautiful to me, unlike the spelling of any other language I can read. There are so many ‘k’ and ‘u’. It looks mysterious to me and makes me want to hear the poem recited in Yucatec Maya. 

If you feel the same, you can hear another poem by Cuevas Cob set to music by contemporary Mexican composer Hilda Paredes, who lives in London. Our library has the music score of two pieces composed to Cuevas Cob’s work.  One is called Codex of Enigmas/ Códice de Adivinancas [Scores at BL Music Collections g.1465.v.(2.)] and is a piece for solo viola and a speaker reciting the poem written in Maya language . You can find a video of a performance in France on the composer’s webpage.

Or if you prefer a different tune, check out the video from Tihorappers Crew, from Tihosuco, Quintana Roo (also in the Yucatec peninsula). It starts in Maya language and then switches between Spanish and Maya. Even if you don’t know Spanish or Maya, I think you’ll be able to hear the difference between the two languages and can enjoy the beat.  

Iris Bachmann, Curator of Latin American Published Collections (post 1850) 

 

Further reading:

General

Chris McCabe (ed.), Poems from the Edge of Extinction (London, 2019), [BL shelfmark: ELD.DS.463137] 

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here

Tongan

Helu, 'I. F. (2006). Ko e heilala tangitangi ʿo Sālote Pilolevu : Ko e tohi vete ʿo e fatu ʿa e kau Punake Tonga ʿo tuku he tumuʿakiʹ ʿe he ngaahi maaʿimoa ʿa e Taʿahine Kuini Sālote Tupou III : ʿoku fokotuʿu mo fakatoputapuʿi atu ʿa e kiʿi tohi ni (dedicate) kia Pilinisesi Sālote. Nukualofa, Tonga: ʿAtenisi Press. Shelfmark YF.2010.a.28034 


Helu, 'I. F., P., & Janman, P. (2012). On Tongan poetry. Warkworth, Auckland, N.Z.: Atuanui Press. Shelfmark YD.2019.a.4936 


Otsuka, Y. (2007). Making a Case for Tongan as an Endangered Language. The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 19, no. 2, 2007, pp. 446–473. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23724904.  


Smith, K. and 'Otunuku, M. (2015). Heliaki: transforming literacy in Tonga through metaphor. The SoJo Journal: Educational Foundations and Social Justice Education 1 (1), pp. 99-112.Cardiff University, http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/86002  


Wood-Ellem, E. (2004). Songs & poems of Queen Sālote / translated by Melenaite Taumoefolau ; edited by Elizabeth Wood-Ellem ; with essays by HRH Princess Nanasipauʻu Tukuʻaho ... [et al.]. Nukuʻalofa: Vavaʻu Press. Shelfmark YD.2009.b.1963 

 

Yucatec Maya

Briceida Cuevas Cob, Poetry by Briceida Cuevas Cob, Poetry without Borders, 2005, Nov issue, Accessed 22 April 2020:


Briceida Cuevas Cob, ‘Two poems by Briceida Cuevas Cob’, World Literature Today., 2010, 84(1), 16-17. [BL shelfmark: 9356.558600]  


Paul Worley, ‘On translating indigenous languages’, Asymptote, June 7, 2018. Accessed on 22 April 2020:
 

21 April 2020

Bernard and Mary Berenson at Villa I Tatti

On the first days of the lockdown, while making peace with the idea of being forced home by an enemy I couldn’t even see, confined in my cosy flat, and comforted by the pleasure of reading, I started leafing through my art books. I recalled those days, whose exquisiteness I was never enough aware at the time, when I had to lock myself in my room to prepare for my art history exams, back in the good old days of literary leisure as a university student.

 

Image of the painting The Compleat Angler by Arthur Hughes (1832-1915). The painting depicts a young woman lying on a meadow on the shore of a river, and dedicated to her readings
How I reimagine myself back in the good old days of literary leisure as university student. The Compleat Angler, Arthur Hugughes (1832-1915) Photo sourced by flickr uploaded by Amber Tree ©All rights reserved.

 

Among the very strict iconographic parameters, and names, and dates, and gallery details to be remembered by heart, there were those curious anecdotes that pleasantly livened up the monotony of the study routine. Today, I have certainly lost the pedantry of remembering the details but the anecdotes, I surely remember those, and so I recalled the story of Bernard and Mary Berenson.

I remember the story of how Bernard had been inspired to read more extensively the books of his library due to the confinement of a long period of isolation in his house, Villa I Tatti in Florence, and the story of his wife Mary. Ghost writer, art historian, suffragette, feminist and poet, and member of the Bloomsbury Group, together with her daughter Karin Stephen who had married Virginia Woolf’s brother, the story of Mary Berenson, has always fascinated me.

 

Black and white photographic portrait of Bernard and Mary Berenson at Friday’s Hill, Fernhurst, England. Around 1901. The photo shows the couple leaning on a low wall while looking at each other in a contemplative attitude
Bernard and Mary Berenson at Friday’s Hill, Fernhurst, England. Unknown photographer, 1901. Courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti -The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Bernard and Mary Berenson papers, Photographs. Hollis No. olvwork178672.

 

Born Mary Withall Smith, from a couple of Quaker preachers from Pennsylvania, she was an art historian, and has been reassessed as an important author in her own right rather simply a ghost writer.

In 1885, after marrying the Scots-Irish barrister and political reformer, Frank Costelloe, Mary moved to England. Together with her parents, who had moved with her, she became very much involved in the social and intellectual life of the country, often hosting poets and philosophers such as Walt Whitman, with whom Mary was connected through mutual feelings of friendship and esteem for life1.

 

Black and white portrait of Maria wearing an elegant dress with fur trims, sitting on a chair, facing forward and holding her papers
Mary Berenson (née Smith) by unknown photographer. Albumen print on card, 1885. NPG Ax 160646. Sourced via ©National Portrait Gallery.

 

Mary had studied at the Harvard Annex, later Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts college and female counterpart to Harvard College, very well known for being the host of the late 19th century intellectual, art-inspired, and independent-minded female students2. Her personal inclination towards the arts, politics and culture were clearly stimulated in the Harvard intellectual environment. Supported by her feminist mother, Mary became involved in the women's movements in the United States and later in England, publishing articles and making speeches on feminism, suffrage and women in politics.

 

Black and white portrait of Mary on her horse Anticellere at Smith College in 1883
Mary Berenson (née Smith) on her horse Anticellere at Smith College by unknown photographer. Bromide copy print, 1883.NPG Ax160580. Sourced via ©National Portrait Gallery.

 

Not long after the marriage, probably displeased with it, and feeling constrained by the weight of the social convention, she abandoned the life of a devoted spouse and loving mother to return to her latent interests in art and design, and pursue a career in the arts. Focusing on art research, Mary rapidly became an art authority with a prolific output of journal articles, and particularly after the publication of a pamphlet, in 1894, on the history of the Italian paintings at Hampton Court, a work strongly influenced by the presence in her life of her mentor Bernard Berenson, whom she met in 18903.

The common passion for the Italian Renaissance art, and the several journeys to the continent and in particular to Italy, where Mary studied art under Bernard’s tutorage, made the couple fall in love with each other. By that time, Mary was energetically committed to work on Bernard’s projects and his public image, contributing to his essays, and writing reviews promoting his publications, and eventually moving to Florence to Bernard’s estate Villa I Tatti.

“… she played a major role in the writing of the Venetian Painters of The Renaissance, which listed Bernard as the sole author due to the social delicacy of their association … she published less as she devoted more of her energy to supporting Bernard's work (Mary Berenson)”4.

With such an established and undisputed calibre of art scholarship, it will not be difficult to imagine how the role of Mary in Bernard's works has been widely re-evaluated in the latest years. It appears now, that her hand in Bernard’s writing production and fame, is unquestionable.

***

Colour photograph of the terrace garden at Villa I Tatti, Florence, taken in 1925 by Frances Benjamin Johnson (1864-1952)
Villa I Tatti, Ponte a Mensola, Settignano, Florence. Frances Benjamin Johnson (1864-1952) photographer. Photo taken sometimes in 1925, from the album “Gardening in colour”, The Library of Congress, prints & Photographs Division. Sourced via flickr.

 

During WWII, Bernard Berenson, a Jewish American, and one of the most influential art critics of his time, was forced to live as refugee in his own house, Villa I Tatti, a beautiful countryside estate in Settignano, Florence, for around one year.

“With the war upon him, B. B. faced a terrifying future. In time of crisis some people go to church, some take to drink, others simply run away. B. B. turned to his library … His library is his fortress and is filled with the smoke of the battle raging outside"*.

In 1942, confined to an indefinite period of isolation when it was not safe to be a Jewish-American living in the Italian peninsula, protected by the American ambassador in Italy and by the people of the town, he challenged himself to a more extensive reading of his library, believing this would help him to stop from thinking too much about the war and all its consequences.

 

Screenshot image of the title page of Bernard Berenson’s book One year’s reading for fun (1942), published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf in 1960
*From the introduction to One year’s reading for fun (1942) by John Walker. (New York, Knopf, 1960), pages ix and xi. Screen shot image of title page.

 

In 1959, when the University of Harvard inherited the Berensons’ library, the whole nucleus consisted of more than 50,000 volumes, a collection of works mainly about Mediterranean art and culture, but including also a rich collection of works on Oriental art and archaeology, and of around 170,000 photographs. Mary and Bernard had put together this treasure in Villa I Tatti from 1907 onwards, when the estate was purchased, probably starting from combining their own private collections. In addition to a room which served as a proper library space, the collections had grown rapidly and consistently so that other eleven rooms were added to the main space in the following years.

 

Black and white portrait of Bernard Berenson in his study at Villa I Tatti surrounded by a few his books
Bernard Berenson in his study at I Tatti. Unknown photographer, winter 1948-1949. Courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Biblioteca Berenson, I Tatti -The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Bernard and Mary Berenson papers, Photographs. Hollis No. olvwork631213

 

Berenson collated the notes from his reading of his library in a work that was posthumously published in New York in 1960 by Arnold A. Kpnof, and edited by John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art and Berenson’s pupil.

And you? What about your quarantine reading? What lively quotations have you come across?

 

Bibliography and suggested reading:

Oakley, Maroussia, The book and periodical illustrations of Arthur Hughes: 'a spark of genius' 1832-1915, Pinner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, [2016] (shelfmark: YC.2018.b.2604).

1 Of Walt Whitman Mary said: “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass ... He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him”, see Reynolds, David. S., Walt Whitman: a cultural biography, New York: Knopf, 1995, page 4 (shelfmark 95/35007). Check the British Library digitised Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1867), and see also the eBLJ article on Walt Whitman by Dorian Hayes who discusses the poet’s virtues and the iconic first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass held at the British Library (shelfmark: C.58.g.4.).

2 About Radcliffe College and its role as female college see: Kendall, Elaine, Peculiar institutions: an informal history of the Seven Sister colleges, New York: Putnam, 1976 (shelfmark: X:809/28730, or 76/23169).

3 Logan, Mary, Guide to the Italian Pictures at Hampton Court: with Short Studies of the Artists (The Kyrle Pamphlets; no. 2), London, 1894 (shelfmark: 07813.aa.7.). Mary Berenson wrote the pamphlet under the pseudonym of Mary Logan.

4 In 1984, the publication of Venetian Painters of The Renaissance, established Bernard Berenson’s reputation as an art historian of undisputed international fame, a book largely written by Mary. Check the British Library copy The Venetian painters of the Renaissance, with an index to their works, New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons [third edition], (shelfmark: 7858.r.37.). On the case of Mary’s role in Bernard’s publications see: Barbara Strachey and Samuels Jayne, Mary Berenson: a self-portrait from her letters & diaries, London: Hamilton, 1985 (shelfmark: X.958/31629).

Berenson, Bernard, One year’s reading for fun (1942), London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960 (shelfmark: 11878.gg.36).

Rocke, Michael, The Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, in Art Libraries Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, 2008, 5-9 (shelfmark: 1733.461500)

Weaver, William, A legacy of excellence: the story of Villa I Tatti, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997 (shelfmark: YC.2001.b.988)

 

[Blog post by Annalisa Ricciardi, Cataloguer, American Collection. American and Australasian Studies]

07 April 2020

Online Access to United States Government Printing Office Publications

My former colleague and Head of the Eccles Centre for North American Studies, Professor Philip Davies, would always start his remarks of welcome to Eccles Centre events by saying that the North American collections and resources of the British Library were the best in the world, outside of the Americas.

Professor Davies was most likely right on that count based on the pure size of the North American collections which have been systematically developed for around two centuries.  Nevertheless, these collections housed in the Library’s cavernous basements and storage buildings are now inaccessible due to the to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for the scholar, reader, or anyone who’s interested, there is a rich collection of North American digital resources available from the British Library website which are free to access.

One of these is the collection of the United States Government Printing Office publications available through Explore the British Library. The Government Printing Office (GPO) is the printer to the US Government and since 1861 it has played a pivotal role in keeping Americans informed about the business of government. Being official publications are meant for public circulation, a portion of these works are freely available to access via the catalogue.

To access the collection simply use the search term “Government Printing Office” in the British Library catalogue. Under Access Options select “Online” where it will list in excess of 15,000 records. By selecting the “I Want This” option on any of these records it will direct the user to a view online option and from there select US Federal Government Document by clicking “Go”. This will take you directly to the digital version of the publication.

 

Screenshot of the British Library catalogue, “Explore the British Library”, showing how to access the collection of the United States Government Printing Office using the search term "Government Printing Office", and related results
Step 1. How to explore: using the search term "Government Printing Office"

 

Screenshot of the British Library catalogue, “Details” / “I want this”, showing how to select and request a digital item
Step 2. How to explore: selecting and requesting a digital item

The breadth of what is published by the GPO is quite bewildering, so where would one start? In normal circumstances a suggestion might be to visit the forthcoming British Library exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which explores the complex history and battles for women’s rights. 

At the moment, it might be appropriate to suggest a collection of 150 plus digital publications relating to Women’s Bureau between the 1918 -1963, which can be accessed via Explore the British Library. These publications include the Women’s Bureau Bulletin and their annual reports, along with a range of reports, legislation and studies on a Federal and State level proving rich research resources for range of disciplines. By way of an example:

“Women's Employment in Aircraft Assembly Plants in 194”: Women's Bureau Bulletin, No. 192-1.

Screenshot of Women’s Bureau Bulletin [Public –no. 259 – 66th Congress]. Title reading: “An act to establish in the Department of Labor a bureau to be known as the Women’s Bureau”. … Approved, June 5, 1920
Women's Bureau Bulletin

The United States Women’s Bureau was set up in 1920, as part of the Department of Labor to create parity for women in the labour force through research and policy analysis. Its role was to educate and promote policy change, and to increase public awareness. The Women’s Bureau is still in existence and is celebrating its centenary this year.

Furthermore, the collection contains a wide range of contemporary titles published by the Government Printing Office including:

A Grave Misfortune: The USS Indianapolis Tragedy / Richard A. Hulver; Peter C. Luebke, associate editor.

The Final Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

Women in Congress, 1917-2017

Keeping America informed: the U.S. Government Printing Office: 150 years of service to the nation.

All the above titles can be accessed via Explore by searching the title. Bear in mind that if you are searching for a specific document, or report, this item may be part of a larger series. 

For a more in-depth insight in to the Library’s collection, there is a downloadable guide on the US Federal Government publications collection page. 

[blog post by Jerry Jenkins. Curator, Contemporary British Publications, Emerging Media]

 

25 February 2020

From the collections: A Streetcar Named Desire

Thomas Lanier Williams III, perhaps better known by his pen name Tennessee Williams, passed away on 25 February 1983. I’ve turned to the Library’s collections to take a look at our holdings around one of Williams’s most popular and timeless works, A Streetcar Named Desire.

As some of our Readers may be well aware, due to conservation and preservation over the years, not all of the books held at the British Library still have their original dust jackets, covers or bindings. So it’s always a joy to call up an item from the basements which still retains its original frontage in full, glorious technicolour.

Front cover design of A Streetcar Named Desire by Lustig. Pink cover with black and white figures.
New Directions front cover for A Streetcar Named Desire, designed by Alvin Lustig (YA.1996.b.5800)

I discovered that we’re fortunate enough to hold a first edition of A Streetcar Named Desire (YA.1996.b.5800) published by New Directions in 1947, complete with the lavender pink cover design by Alvin Lustig. Showing three figures entwined, almost dancing, on the front, the image is a striking one among, what can be, shelves of dark spines. An imposing male stands in the centre, in a puppeteer-like poise, commanding two females either side of him: seemingly a picture of the tempestuous and forceful Stanley Kowalski, with his wife, the meek Stella, on one side, and his struggling sister-in-law, Blanche, on the other.

New Directions Books were published by American poet, James Laughlin, who started the publishing house after seeking career advice from none other than Ezra Pound. “He had been seeing my poems for months and had ruled them hopeless. He urged me to finish Harvard and then do ‘something’ useful.” Laughlin recalls. Bestsellers from New Directions, an imprint largely devoted to Modernist writers, include works by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (A Coney Island of the Mind, EMC.2011.a.174), William Carlos Williams (Selected Poems, 75/17337) and Ezra Pound himself (The Cantos, W55/3062). Of Tennessee Williams, the New Directions website states:

‘As well as being astonishingly talented and prolific, Tennessee Williams was a man of considerable personal courage, willing to be open about being a gay man at a time when few were. Tennessee Williams is a cornerstone of New Directions, as we publish everything he wrote in his storied career. He is also our single bestselling author.’

Many of the early New Directions covers feature artwork by Denver-born designer, Alvin Lustig (1915 – 1955). A rigorous graphic designer who forayed into architecture, interior and industrial design, ‘Lustig’s opportunity to use the book cover as a vehicle of bold graphic experimentation and innovation was provided by James Laughlin…a collaboration that flourished throughout the 1940s until Lustig’s early death in 1955… [they] prodded, cajoled, and quibbled their way through a virtually unprecedented partnership…’. (page 7, Purity of Aim: The Book Jacket Designs of Alvin Lustig by Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger, YC.2017.a.13503) In each other they recognised ‘a sense of uncompromising principles and a tenacious drive to make a mark on contemporary society’ (page 13, ibid).

Black and white portrait photograph of Alvin Lustig
Black and white photographic portrait of Alvin Lustig, with one of his ‘eye’ designs used on New Directions covers (image from YC.2017.a.13503)

Laughlin’s publication choices together with Lustig’s eye for colour, graphic systems and bold juxtapositions, resulted in sure-fire ways to stop readers in their tracks in the mid-20th century, beckoning them, as the names implies, to traverse New Directions. And it worked; ‘Lustig’s jackets had a quantifiable impact on the book-buying public; they enormously increased the sales…’ (page 49, Born Modern: the Life and Work of Alvin Lustig by Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen, LC.31.b.7733). Laughlin confirmed that Lustig’s artwork and ‘beautiful designs…help[ed] to make a mass audience aware of high quality reading’ (James Laughlin, “The Book Jackets of Alvin Lustig”, Print, Oct/Nov 1956, as quoted on page 50 in Born Modern by Heller and Lustig Cohen, LC.31.b.7733). Though one should never judge a book by its cover, it’s easy to see the appeal of these designs in a shopfront even today. This is something Laughlin acknowledged also: ‘People should buy books for their literary merit. But since I have never published a book which I didn’t consider a serious literary work – and never intend to – I have had no bad conscience about using Lustig to increase sales.’ (ibid)

Examples of Lustig’s work for New Directions images from LC.31.b.7733
Examples of Lustig’s work for New Directions (images from LC.31.b.7733)

Beholding a green Library stamp, signifying a donation, my interest was also piqued at seeing two handwritten inscriptions signed ‘Sidney Lanfield’ on the inside cover of this edition. Lanfield was an American director (1898 – 1972) whose work included the 1941 film You'll Never Get Rich starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. As beautiful as this book is, the director’s signature serves as a reminder that A Streetcar Named Desire is in its most perfect form when performed on stage, as was its intention.

Signatures of Sidney Lanfield
Two for the price of one: Sidney Lanfield’s name on the inside cover (YA.1996.b.5800)

And what better illustration is there of this than the original playbill for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre where Streetcar was first performed? This programme (RB.23.b.7714) for the original Broadway production of the play is from 9 February 1948; the play premiered at the theatre just two months earlier on 3 December 1947. The Pulitzer-Prize winning drama, directed by Elia Kazan, still featured the original stars including Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Jessica Tandy. The New Directions edition of the book also lists the star-studded cast that were part of the premier run of the production. As well as giving early portfolios for the cast in lead roles, the playbill is dispersed with advertisements, including plenty for cigarettes (Camel) and alcohol (Carstairs whiskey), and is a great primary resource for researchers. Others may also interested in reading The New Yorker’s Wolcott Gibbs’s slightly scathing, and controversial, review of an early performance of this production from 6 December 1947: an article that closes with ‘I’m sorry to say there isn’t much room left for the compliments’.

Cast list and playbill for early performances of A Streetcar Named Desire
Cast list for the premier Broadway performance of Streetcar (YA.1996.b.5800) and the original playbill for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre performance of Streetcar (RB.23.b.7714)

73 years on from the New Directions publication of the play, and its premiere performance, and 37 years since Williams’s passing, it’s incredible to see A Streetcar Named Desire in its initial guises. A reminder that the British Library has endless avenues to pursue when it comes to fresh research around even the most seemingly well-established of subject matter.

[Blog by RSC]

Suggested reading

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (Mount Vernon, New York: New Directions, 1947) YA.1996.b.5800

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1949)

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flash by John Lahr (London: Bloomsbury Circus, 2014) ELD.DS.73184

Memoirs by Tennessee Williams; introduction by John Waters (New York: New Directions, 2006)

A Streetcar Named Desire: The Playbill, (New York: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1948)

The New Yorker, articles available at www.newyorker.com and BL holding Mic.B.64/1-45., P.903/858., 6089.821000

Born Modern: the Life and Work of Alvin Lustig by Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen (San Francisco: Chronicle, c2010) LC.31.b.7733

Purity of Aim: The Book Jacket Designs of Alvin Lustig by Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger (Rochester, N.Y.: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, c2010) YC.2017.a.13503

12 February 2020

Dear Diary....Mark Twain and a timeless love story

 

Black and white illustration of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden
Image taken from page 397 of 'Rome ... With ... illustrations. A new edition' British Library shelfmark HMNTS 10129.h.13.


Have you ever wondered what Adam and Eve were really thinking in the Garden of Eden?

 

Colour photo of the green front cover of the book, The Niagara Book'
The Niagara Book: A Complete Souvenir of Niagara Falls by W.D Howells, Mark Twain, Prof. Nathanial S. Shaler, and others. Buffalo, New York: Underhilll and Nichols, 1893. (10413.b.37.)

In 1893, Mark Twain contributed a short story to the Niagara Falls souvenir collection, The Niagara Book. His clever tale being something of an oddity among stolid pieces on the geology, flora and fauna, and famous visitors of the falls. His contribution, a satirical take on a biblical love story, was entitled, The Earliest Authentic Mention of Niagara Falls: Extracts from Adam's Diary. Translated from the Original Ms. Here, Twain took inspiration from the Book of Genesis to re-imagine the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. By setting his version in the more relatable 'paradise' of Niagara Falls (where Adam enjoys going over the falls in a barrel), he was able to take full advantage of wordplay opportunities on the Fall of Man doctrine from the Bible.

The tale, later published in book form in 1904 as Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS, is told from Adam's perspective and follows his grouchy musings on the sudden, and unwelcome, appearance of a troublemaker in his world: "Monday: This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way". Used to a solitary and lazy existence, Adam is initially bewildered and frustrated with the stranger's excessive industry and habit of naming everything she sees before he has the opportunity to do so himself. He is contemptuous of her existence and bemoans her notions of beauty and wonder: "Saturday: She fell in the pond yesterday when she was looking at herself, which she is always doing". However, he is begrudgingly won over by his new companion: "...for I am coming to realize that she is quite a remarkably comely creature". Twain's wit is at his best in this acerbic take on what is a widely accepted creation story, with Adam’s accounts gleefully dry at times: "I advised her to keep away from the tree. She said she wouldn't. I forsee trouble. Will emigrate". Adam’s story poignantly ends with him speaking at Eve's grave, "Wherever she was, there was Eden."

Photo of Mark Twain seated with cigar in hand
Photo of Mark Twain taken by A.F. Bradley, New York 1907. Source: http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c12065/

Though the tale follows the original story in the Book of Genesis, with Eve eating the forbidden fruit and the inevitable expulsion from paradise, it also offers a poignant reflection from Adam a decade later: would he rather have never met Eve?: "After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning, it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her". In Twain's story, we see a commentary on his own life: he famously remarked that he would never meet his match in a woman and, like Adam, seemed destined for a solitary life. But he was proved wrong in New York on New Year’s Eve in 1867 when he met Olivia Langdon (Livy): the shy and intelligent daughter of a wealthy coal merchant. They began a long courtship conducted mainly through letters, with 184 handwritten notes passing between them. This letter writing was to continue throughout their life together.

Red front cover of book 'Eve's Diary'
Eve's Diary. Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Bros, 1906. (012330.h.54.)

Livy died following a long illness in 1904, and, after locking himself away, Twain composed what many have dubbed his eulogy to her. Eve’s Diary was published in the 1905 Christmas issue of the magazine Harper's Bazaar, and then in book format in June 1906. This companion piece to Adam’s Diary follows Eve from her creation to her grave and was the only time Twain wrote from the perspective of a woman. He made great use of the opportunity to do so, and delivered a sharp-witted account of Eve’s thoughts on Adam, who she dubs “the other experiment”. She is impatient of his monosyllabic responses and laziness: “I wonder what it is for. I never see it do anything”. The story is notable in exemplifying his changed views on women’s suffrage. Twain was a staunch opponent of women’s right to vote, but after meeting Livy and having daughters, he changed his mind.

In Eve’s Diary, in contrast to Adam’s account, Eve is shown to be extremely bright and warm: expressing wonder and innate curiosity about the world around her. She is even taken with the grumpy Adam and is accepting of his faults and perceived lesser intelligence. His companionship offers a chance for conversation, something she loves (and an opportunity for a dig from Twain) : “I talk all day and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting”. Unlike Adam’s, Eve’s account glosses over the Fall: “The garden is lost, but I have found him and am content”, and she is quicker to come to this realisation than Adam. Her final entry is delivered forty years later, and expresses a wish that, if they are not able to pass from the world together, it is her who goes first: “…life without him would not be life; how could I endure it?”. When reading this alongside Adam’s Diary we know that she gets her wish: Adam’s story ends with him speaking at Eve's grave: "Wherever she was, there was Eden." Although Twain proposed to have the two stories joined together in one volume, unfortunately this never happened in his lifetime.

Photo of grey slipcase and front cover of the book 'Extract's from Eve's Diary'
Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary by Charles Hobson. San Francisco: Pacific Editions, 2003. (RF.2017.b.43)

 

The four love stories: the original tale from the Book of Genesis, Adam’s Diary, Eve’s Diary, and the story of Twain and Livy, have been themselves retold in a 2003 artists’ book from San Francisco artist, Charles Hobson. Entitled Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary, this creative interpretation interweaves excerpts from Genesis, the two diaries, and handwritten letters between Twain and Livy, with illustrations of two figures moving towards embrace. The motion of the two figures is inspired by the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge from his Human Figure in Motion study from 1901, and is enabled by the intricate design of the book. The artist has used a French door structure with cut-out pages and collaged folded sheets to involve the reader in revealing the journey of Adam and Eve toward each other, and away from ignorance.

The book is presented in a slipcase and opens in two concertinaed halves to display Eve's story on the left and Adam's on the right, allowing passages from each to be easily compared and contrasted. The copy at the British Library (shelfmark RF.2017.b.43) is the final edition in a limited run of 38 copies and includes a separate print of Adam and Eve embracing. The parallels between Twain’s Adam and Eve, and himself and Livy have been beautifully encapsulated in this artistic volume, with the design of the book is extremely effective in portraying what Twain surely felt to be a too brief but passionate time in Eden.

Photo of the book spread open to reveal the sequence of illustrations
The concertinaed halves opened up to reveal the two stories side by side

 

Photo of the book folded open to reveal the two full page illustrations of the figures
The cutout pages opened up to reveal the two figures   

 

Further reading:


The Niagara Book: A Complete Souvenir of Niagara Falls by W.D Howells, Mark Twain, Prof. Nathanial S. Shaler, and others. Buffalo, New York: Underhilll and Nichols, 1893. (10413.b.37.)


The Human Figure in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. London : Chapman & Hall, 1901. (Tab.443.b.1.)


Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York ; London : Harper & Bros, 1904. (012330.h.50.)


Eve's Diary. Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Bros, 1906. (012330.h.54.)


Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary by Charles Hobson. San Francisco: Pacific Editions, 2003. (RF.2017.b.43)

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections post-1850

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