New Collection | Morningside resident’s papers document her fight against CU’s 1960s gentrification

Rachel Klepper, a summer intern with RBML’s archives, shares what she’s found through processing the Marie Runyon collection.

In the early 1960s, Marie Runyon received notice that she and her young daughter would have to leave their Morningside Drive apartment building just a few years after moving to the neighborhood. Columbia College of Pharmacy, the owner of the building until it was later sold to Columbia University, planned to move its campus from Lincoln Center to Morningside Heights and would be evicting the tenants.  Runyon quickly began what would become an intense, decades-long legal battle to keep her apartment and those of her neighbors, which would bring her to the forefront of conflict over real estate and gentrification in Morningside Heights.

A collection of Marie Runyon’s papers, newly available in the Columbia University Archives, documents her life and her fight against Columbia through court records and through letters, articles, and flyers documenting the work of neighborhood and student activists. These papers reflect Runyon’s outspokenness and the tenacity she brought to her personal life and her organizing work. They also demonstrate her commitment to highlighting critical questions about the impact of Columbia University’s expansion in Morningside Heights and Harlem on individual residents and on the racial and economic makeup of the neighborhood. Continue reading

RBML Acquires Underground Comix Artist S. Clay Wilson’s Archives

Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) has acquired the papers of artist S. Clay Wilson, a transgressive pioneer of underground comix, whose mark on creative movements extended from the Beats to punk.

Born and raised in Nebraska, Wilson lived briefly in New York in 1965, where he worked for the East Village Other. Fellow artist Robert Gustafson convinced him to head to San Francisco in 1968, where he drew for a number of underground publications before becoming known for his posters and comics. He would go on to become an icon of the counterculture, and a profound influence on his fellow underground artists, with R. Crumb going so far as to describe Wilson as the strongest and most original artist of their generation.

Continue reading

New Publication | Researching and Writing about Police Abuse

Ronald Kitchen was walking to buy cookies for his young son on a summer evening in 1988 when Chicago detectives picked him up for questioning. As the officers’ car headed toward the precinct, the twenty-two-year-old called out the window to his family, “I’ll be back in forty-five minutes.”

It took him twenty-one years to make it home.

Kitchen was beaten and tortured by notorious police commander Jon Burge and his cronies until finally confessing to a gruesome quintuple homicide he did not commit. Convicted of murder and sentenced to die, he spent the next two decades in prison—including a dozen years on death row—before at last winning his release and exoneration.

My Midnight Years: Surviving Jon Burge’s Police Torture Ring and Death Row was published last week. In this Q&A co-author Thai Jones, Herbert H. Lehman Curator for American History at the RBML, talks about some of the opportunities and research challenges involved in working on this project.


RBML: What types of sources did you use to help write this book?
Ronald Kitchen has an extremely impressive memory and was able to recall so many poignant and telling stories and moments from even his earliest years, so all of the narrative material originated with him, through conversations, writings, and interviews. We were also able to use historical newspapers to trace key moments in his life, including newspaper reports about his arrest, and some of his own published pieces from his days on Death Row, when he was an activist against capital punishment. Kitchen’s defense attorneys provided us with trial transcripts, appeals filings, medical reports, and other legal documentation that were crucial to our efforts to reconstruct the details of his long battle with the criminal-justice system. Continue reading

Comic featuring Curator Karen Green wins Eisner Award at Comic Con

Cartoonist Nick Sousanis ’14TC recently received the Eisner Award for Best Short Story for his comic, A Life In Comics: The Graphic Adventures of Karen Green. The comic details how the RBML came to have a curator for comics and cartoons by taking the reader through Karen’s evolving affinity for comic books.

Columbia University graphic novel librarian Karen Green, alongside cartoonist Nick Sousanis, holding the Eisner Award he received for Best Short Story for ‘A Life In Comics: The Graphic Adventures of Karen Green.’

The Eisners are given for creative achievement in American comic books and are presented at the annual San Diego Comic Con convention.

You can read the full comic in Columbia Magazine.

New Collection | Black Journalists Oral History Project

Oral History master’s student and RBML graduate student worker, Kyna Patel, was part of the team that organized and processed a collection that documents important moments in black journalism in America.

The Black Journalists Oral History Project consists of interviews with journalists, editors, publishers, and various members of the black press about a wide range of issues. Conducted by Henry G. La Brie III in the 1970s, the interviews cover: aspects of running a newspaper (editing, printing, getting news, advertising, etc.), the Kerner Commission Report, the historical role of the black press, the white establishment press, and several other topics related to race and journalism.

yellow book cover for Perspectives of the Black Press 1974

Some of the oral history interviews in the Black Journalists Oral History Project. Mercer House Press.

In helping process this collection, I read and listened to transcripts and audio from these interviews and stumbled upon many things that were not on my radar. Accounts of the suburbanization and white flight’s effect on local black press’ circulation, how the success of Ebony paved the way for black models to be hired more for national advertising, and the obstacles and dangers encountered by journalists reporting and gathering-news-while-black were either new to me or expanded upon in a more real and accessible way than what I learned in school. Continue reading

Literary Remains

Earlier this summer some of the items from our Tennessee Williams Papers made their way back to Morningside Heights after having been borrowed for the Morgan Library & Museum’s fantastic show No Refuge but Writing.

In the final weeks of the exhibition, its curator, Carolyn Vega, gave a tour to a group of local rare book librarians. She kindly pointed out the items loaned by Columbia, and it was striking how consistently Williams name-checked the poet Hart Crane, whose papers we also hold. Continue reading

Newly available collections – July 2018

Head Archivist Kevin Schlottmann shares collections newly opened by RBML archivists.

Scuola Grande Synagogue Records
“Records of the Scuola Grande Synagogue (also known as the Norsa
Synagogue or the Scuola del Torrazzo) and the Jewish community of
Mantua, Italy, dating between 1707 and 1829.”

Marc Raeff Papers
“Correspondence, research materials, and personal papers of Marc
Isaakovich Raeff (1926-2008), a Russian history scholar and Bakhmeteff
Professor of Russian Studies at Columbia University. ”

Core Curriculum records
“The Core Curriculum records contain teaching and administrative
materials chiefly pertaining to the longstanding Columbia College
courses Contemporary Civilization and Humanities A (now called
Literature Humanities). Materials include syllabi, exams, quizzes,
teaching resources, administrative correspondence and memos, and
curricular reviews and reports. The Core Curriculum records contain
limited material pertaining to Core classes beyond Contemporary
Civilization and Literature Humanities.”

Arthur Goren papers
Goren was a historian and professor of American
Jewish history at the Hebrew University and Columbia University: Continue reading

A Companion to Rackham

illustration of a spriteOur current exhibition “Enchanted Vision” showcases some of the works from the Arthur Rackham Collection held here at the RBML. Rackham, a British illustrator, illustrated 50 major works beginning with Rip Van Winkle in 1905, Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Winnie the Pooh, and other English and American classics. As a companion to this exhibition, the University Archives has put together some materials to highlight the Collection’s origin and history at Columbia. Continue reading

Researcher Profile: Dana Williams

 We see them every day, handing them a key as they walk in each morning, and receiving it back toward the end of the day. Most often they are hunkered down over a particular archive, getting to understand a portion of one of our archives better than anybody here. We await the longer scholarly projects that they are developing from this research but in the nearer term thought it would be interesting to give a preview of their work.
In this brief interview, Curator for Literature Karla Nielsen, asked Dana Williams, Professor of African American Literature and Chair of the Department of English at Howard University in Washington D.C., about her research on Toni Morrison’s work as an acquisitions editor at Random House. Dr. Williams obtained her Ph.D. from Howard and first became interested in this topic as a graduate student. After completing several other book projects, Dr. Williams has returned to Morrison and to the Random House Archive at the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where she she has made several trips to the archive over the years to review Morrison’s editorial files.


What is your research project? 

I’m currently writing a book on Toni Morrison’s editorship at Random House Publishing Company. For now, I’m calling it “Toni at Random.” The project involves considering Morrison’s role as editor of over 50 trade books in different genres–novels, short story collections, poetry collections, autobiographies, non-literary books, and a cookbook among them.  Continue reading