Working in an archive, one never knows which scrap of paper will be revealing.
What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library?
I came to RBML to examine the library school application of Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. I had been intrigued for some time by both her fiction and her career trajectory. She had successfully transitioned from nursing, to librarianship, to authorship in less than a decade, but although her novel Passing won substantial acclaim when it appeared in 1929, her story “Sanctuary” drew plagiarism charges just one year later. Larsen subsequently cut off her ties with the literary world she knew, stopped writing, and returned to nursing; she died alone and forgotten, leaving no papers. While working on an essay about the way Larsen used her reading in her writing (“Love and Theft: Plagiarism, Blackface, and Nella Larsen’s ‘Sanctuary,’” American Literature [September 2016]: 509-540) I learned from George Hutchinson’s biography that Larsen was the first African American to be accepted to [Columbia’s] library school in the United States, and that her application was housed at Columbia. I was curious to see the material artifact in its entirety. Continue reading