Uncovered: James Baldwin's Little Man, Little Man
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Welcome to Uncovered, a column dedicated to telling the stories of unique and interesting discoveries found in the archives!
The Nomadic Archivists Project (NAP) is excited to learn about and share the experiences of scholars, researchers, artists, archivists, and memory workers who, unintentionally uncovered something marvelous while conducting research in a physical or virtual archive. These rare experiences can be life changing in profound ways. And we want to tell you about them!
In our inaugural column, we speak to Prof. Nicholas T. Boggs, who, with scholar
Jennifer Devere Brody, recently republished James Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man, which first hit shelves in 1976. The book includes a forward by photographer Tejan “TJ” Karefa-Smart, for whom the book was written, and an afterword by author Aisha Karefa-Smart, Baldwin’s nephew and niece, respectfully.
1. Tell us about how you discovered Little Man, Little Man.
I was a junior in college in search of a subject for my senior thesis when I came across Little Man, Little Man at the Beinecke. This was back in 1996. By then I'd read pretty much everything by Baldwin so I was shocked to find this book that was so unlike any other Baldwin book, or any other book I'd ever read, period. It both was and wasn't a children's book; it was written in black English; it was illustrated by an obscure French painter I'd never heard of. And yet it was also quintessential Baldwin: beautifully written, daring, and ahead of its time, tackling questions and themes that are still with us today: police brutality, the distortions of the mass media, and how, against great obstacles, black and other historically marginalized communities create sustaining and often alternative forms of kinship, survival, and joy.
2. Besides finding Little Man, Little Man, how have archives been beneficial to you and your work?
Archives are central to my writing but also my teaching. It has been thrilling to have my undergraduate students access the James Baldwin Papers at the Schomburg, for example. (Thank you (Steven) for your historic contribution of putting those papers together!). Their final essays, which were as much about the experience of going to the Schomburg as what they found in the archives, were some of the most inspired student papers I've ever read. Often the most ambitious student work is archive-based: one of my former students, Connor Spencer, won the prize for best undergraduate Honors thesis at NYU a few years ago for his brilliant research into the David Wojnarowicz papers at NYU's Fales Library. So, I see accessing archives myself and guiding students to their own discoveries as central to my overlapping work as a writer, scholar, and teacher.
Follow these links for more information about Little Man, Little Man!
The New York Times
Schomburg Center’s live stream event
If you have a story you’d like to share with us, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org