The sensory experience

Sampling the Archive

When I last wrote about the Black Writers Museum, I discussed how its unique mission was embroidered in every aspect of its physicality. When I returned to delve into the archive itself and bring forward some of its collection, I realized the best way to describe it was to offer it up in its collaged, multivalent reality. It’s a lot like being in a poem — an intense, challenging poem. There’s a sense of the disjointed collecting itself into something more powerful than its constituent words, lines, or images. Like poetry, the museum evokes a strong emotional response along with, or sometimes in conflict with, the intellectual response it simultaneously offers. Here is a small experience of wandering its shelves, a sample track lifted from the archive’s poems, newspaper headlines, magazines, pamphlets, books, vinyl records, and ephemera. Here, its hum, its dance, its moan. 


Tracy K. Smith, from “My God, It’s Full of Stars”

We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies.





“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”― James Baldwin, Early Essays

US White Liberation: 1776 
US Black liberation: 1976 

Black American: a nation within a nation. Keep on pushin’!
— Muhammed Ahmed,  also known as Max Stanford. Pamphlet from the Chairman of the African People’s Party of the USA

Ntozake Shange — from “My Father is a Retired Magician”

all things are possible

but aint no colored magician in her right mind

gonna make you     white

        i mean

                       this is blk magic

you lookin at

                         & i’m fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored

& you gonna be colored all yr life

& you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it

love it/ bein colored/

Spell #7 from Upnorth-Outwest Geechee Jibara Quik Magic Trance Manual for Technologically Stressed Third World People


“The time had come, however, when blacks could no longer be the therapy for white society. White liberals had had a cause, something that could put meaning into their lives, something that their country and society had not given them. They had it in the Negro.” From Look out Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama!Julius Lester, Grove Press, May 1969.

Thursday, New Year’s Day 1863

“It all seemed, and seems still, like a brilliant dream … The meeting was held in a beautiful grove, a live-oak grove, adjoining the camp … As I sat on the ground and looked around on the various groups I thought I had never seen a sight so beautiful. There were the black soldiers in their blue coats and scarlet pants. The officers of this and other regiments in their handsome uniforms and crowds of lookers-on, men and women and children grouped in various attitudes under the trees. The faces of all wore a happy, eager, expectant look.”

From The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten: A Young Black Woman’s Reactions to the White World of the Civil War Era. Ray Allen Billington, ed. WW Norton & Co, NY. May 1981

Nikki Giovanni, from “Straight Talk”

I’m giving up
on language
my next book will be blank
pages of various textures and hues
I have touched in
certain spots and patterns
the woven gather