Spelman College Acquires African Voices Archives! New York Community Trust Supports the Project!

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The Spelman Archives will be the new repository for African Voices, a literary magazine devoted to publishing emerging writers and visual artists of color from the diaspora.

Founded in 1992, African Voices Communications, Inc., a nonprofit arts institution, publishes one of the few surviving print magazines documenting Black art, literature and culture. 

Artist: Verna Hart.

Past editions of the magazine along with organizational records, videos and digitized photographs that span three decades, will be preserved by the College alongside historical documents from Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series, a Brooklyn-based festival produced by African Voices for women of color filmmakers. Reel Sisters is the first Academy qualifying film festival dedicated to providing opportunities to women of color in the film industry. The Spelman Archives will have access to an extensive list of 5,000 films produced, directed or written by women of color since 1997.

Through this partnership, which will be funded by a grant from the New York Community Trust, African Voices will be available for generations of artists, scholars and the public to enjoy, said Spelman archivist Holly A. Smith.

“I am elated for the donation of the African Voices collection to the Spelman Archives, and for the ongoing collaborative relationship. This partnership will amplify the work of the African Voices staff, board, the creative artistry of the contributors, and the depth and breadth of the black diasporic cultural experience overall,” said Smith. “The connection will also facilitate important research on the experiences of Black women and Black communities nationally and internationally. The Spelman Archives will be a wonderful and careful steward of these materials for long term access and preservation of this critically important collection.”

The African Voices archive will include magazine editions from 1993 to the present, including issues guest edited by poets Sonia Sanchez, and Quincy Troupe, and a speculative fiction issue edited by Sherée Renee Thomas, that features an interview with Tananarive Due and a short poem by Audre Lorde. Distinguished poet, professor and activist Amiri Baraka had a longstanding relationship with the magazine — several of his poems and writings are in African Voices collection. Baraka’s loving eulogy to poet Sekou Sundiata was published in African Voices’ Fall/Winter 2007 issue. African Voices was one of the first publications to print his widely acclaimed poem on 9/11, “Somebody blew up America.” The magazine has an old-fashioned typed manuscript with Baraka’s personal handwritten notes.

The collection is respected as much for the powerful visual artists whose artwork are published on the front and back covers of every issue. Past front covers and art published in the issue include rare photographs of a youthful Ntozake Shange by Puerto Rican artist Adál (Fall 2019 and Spring 2020); world-renowned graffiti artist JamesTop and graphic novelist Afua Richardson (Summer 2017); celebrated photographers Chester Higgins, Jules Allen and Jamal Shabazz; and master artists Otto Neal, Faith Ringgold, Leroy Campbell (Summer 2016), Verna Hart, Elizabeth Catlett, Danny Simmons, Justin Bua, John Biggers and Ademola Olugebefola. 

Photographer Mel Wright snapped African Voices “A Great Day in Theater,” a group photograph of independent theater legends in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. Inspired by the jazz photo A Great Day in Harlem, the theater greats in the shot include Woodie King, Jr., founder of New Federal Theatre; Amiri Barka, Douglas Turner Ward and Melvin Van Peebles. The photograph was published in a two-part edition dedicated to Black theater.

“We’re proud to have a prominent HBCU and women’s college house nearly 30 years of writings, art and digital media by artists of African descent,” said Carolyn A. Butts, executive director and founder of African Voices. “As home to the work of author-filmmaker Toni Cade Bambara and others, it is an honor to have our collection archived in such a fitting institution that is aligned with our mission to support Black artists and women.

“Our collection is a living, breathing archive that our community will be able to access and contribute to in the future. Our archive chronicles Black literature and art from the late 20th Century into the 21st Century. We hope our partnership will inspire other arts institutions to begin partnering with archivists to preserve our history so it is not lost, ” added Butts.

Art Lover enjoying African Voices 20th Anniversary exhibition at the Schomburg Center in 2021. Photo Credit: Kenya L. Smith.

About Spelman College

Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a leading liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, the College’s picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Spelman is the country’s leading producer of Black women who complete Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The College’s status is confirmed by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Spelman No. 54 among all liberal arts colleges, No. 19 for undergraduate teaching, No. 4 for social mobility among liberal arts colleges, and No. 1 for the 14th year among historically Black colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal ranked the College No. 3, nationally, in terms of student satisfaction. Recent initiatives include a designation by the Department of Defense as a Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM, a Gender and Sexuality Studies Institute, the first endowed queer studies chair at an HBCU, and a program to increase the number of Black women Ph.D.s in economics. New majors have been added, including documentary filmmaking and photography, and partnerships have been established with MIT’s Media Lab, the Broad Institute and the Army Research Lab for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Outstanding alumnae include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Rosalind Brewer, political leader Stacey Abrams, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman’s first alumna president Audrey Forbes Manley, actress and producer Latanya Richardson Jackson, global bioinformatics geneticist Janina Jeff and authors Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu.

About African Voices

African Voices Communications, Inc., a non-profit arts organization, is dedicated to fostering cultural understanding through art, literature and film. Founded in 1992, our mission is carried out through public programs, arts appreciation and the publication of African Voices magazine.  The magazine plays a pivotal role in helping writers and visual artists establish careers in art and publishing.  Our writers have published work in poetry and fiction anthologies while others have completed novels and memoirs.  The magazine reaches 33,000+ followers via our websites and social media network. African Voices has earned national respect among the literary community for publishing excellent fiction, poetry and artwork. 

African Voices has published the works of over 8,000 emerging artists of color and presents community programs to expand access to the arts. Each year, African Voices provides artistic services to 5,000 artists of color and young people throughout New York City and the tri-state area.

African Voices sponsors Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series, the first Academy qualifying film festival devoted to women of color in the film industry.

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