African American Literature Collection Brings New Possibilities for Student Research

First edition of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son.
First edition of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son.

In 2015, DePaul alumnus and trustee Arnold Grisham donated his collection of African American books to the DePaul University Library Special Collections and Archives. Mr. Grisham was seeking a home for his books where they would be available to students, consulted, and appreciated. The Arnold and Jane Grisham Collection boasts numerous signed and first editions by authors already familiar to many of our students as well as authors and themes that may be new and unexpected.  The scope of the collection is relevant to students throughout the University conducting research in black studies, gender studies, history, literature, and rhetoric. The collection is not only prime for cultural, historical, rhetorical, and textual analysis, but also visual analysis through the rare first edition covers and fine arts books perfect for students of art history, graphic design, graphic media, fine arts, and visual culture.

The collection displays the breadth of African American literature from the early poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar to the modern mystery novels of Walter Mosley. The Arnold and Jane Grisham Collection is a prime resource for students engaged in the critical analysis of changes to the African American literary canon or researching key literary moments such as the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances and the birth of Afrofuturism. The collection also represents the voices of many African American women and is a particularly good resource for research at the intersection of race and gender. Although the majority of the texts fall into literature and fiction, the collection has a multidisciplinary scope and also contains books on black political thought, theology, fine arts, and history.

Uncorrected galley proof of Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved
Uncorrected galley proof of Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved

Among the rarest items in the collection is a signed pre-publication galley proof (or draft copy of a book) of Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved. This galley proof was the final chance for Morrison and her editors to alter the text before publication and is an amazing resource for researchers conducting textual analysis. The collection also contains numerous Chicago classics, such as a first edition of Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1953 novel Maud Martha. Written towards the end of the Chicago Renaissance and set in the streets of Bronzeville, Maud Martha is the only novella by Brooks, a quintessential Chicago poet.

The Arnold and Jane Grisham Collection is an impressive resource for teaching primary source literacy and supporting original research in African American history and literature. With a deep representation of Chicago authors, the collection reflects black Chicago’s literary scene, a relevant touch point for courses across the university from the Chicago Quarter to graduate studies. Providing the possibility for research-intensive work across disciplines, students can engage the collection both through individual research in our reading room and during instruction sessions developed in consultation with faculty.

Special Collections and Archives is committed to providing students with the opportunity for active learning by engaging with primary sources and archival materials. Thanks to the generosity of Arnold and Jane Grisham, the DePaul community and members of the public now have access to this remarkable collection of African American print history. Books in the Arnold and Jane Grisham Collection can be found in the online catalog.

For additional information or to discuss an instruction session, contact Special Collections and Archives at 773-325-7864, or, or visit us in the John T. Richardson Library, Room 314.

Written by Aiden Bettine, a graduate student in DePaul’s Critical Ethnic Studies Program, who is completing a Public History practicum in Special Collections and Archives and co-curating a spring term exhibit on the Grisham Collection.

2 Replies to “African American Literature Collection Brings New Possibilities for Student Research”

  1. I would like to donate two writings by my great grandfather aunt Kathryn Magnolia Johnson. The first was written in 1920 and could authored with Additional Hutton, ” Two Colored Women with the American Expeditionary Forces,” and the second was a pamphlet written by Kathryn on proof that Africans were in the Americas before Columbus, “The Dark Race in The Dawn.”
    The later taken from a volume of books written by Prof. Leo Wiener.

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