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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Beauford Delaney-James Baldwin Correspondence in James Baldwin Archive Sealed for 20 Years

It is well known that Beauford and James Baldwin had a deep and abiding friendship. What we know of that friendship comes mainly from the publication of biographies about Baldwin, writings by Baldwin, and the single biography that exists about Beauford.

James Baldwin and Beauford at the American Cultural Center
Photo: U.S. Information Service

When I learned that the Schomburg Center has acquired the Baldwin archive, I was excited! The center already holds a collection of Beauford's papers and having both archives at the same institution will make deeper scholarly investigation of the Beauford-Baldwin relationship much easier.

Or so I thought.

As I read the New York Times article that announced the acquisition, my excitement quickly faded. In Paragraph 8, writer Jennifer Schuessler reveals that "Baldwin’s correspondence with four of his closest intimates is under 20-year seal" and ten paragraphs later, she reveals that "Correspondence with Delaney is covered by the 20-year seal."

Schuessler mentions unpublished notes by Baldwin about Beauford and this text is coupled with a photo of part of a page of handwritten notes that were published as an essay in the Studio Museum of Harlem catalog for the Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective exhibition in 1978.

Detail of a page from Baldwin's essay "Notes on Beauford Delaney"
Original photo by Emon Hassan

Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective - catalog cover
1978 Studio Museum of Harlem

It is not clear whether Schuessler knew that the essay had indeed been published.

The 20-year seal also covers correspondence between Baldwin and his brother David; his friend and lover, Lucien Happersberger, and his friend Mary Painter. Painter was also a close friend of Beauford, so it is possible that some of the letters exchanged by Painter and Baldwin discuss Beauford.

To see the Schomburg Center's Web page that details the contents of the James Baldwin archive, click HERE.

To see the Schomburg Center's Web page that details all documentation concerning Beauford, click HERE.

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