Williams Libraries has received collections of books, manuscripts and record albums documenting the life and work of one of America’ most influential poets and scholars: Sterling Allen Brown, a Class of 1922 graduate of Williams College.
Brown’s family made the donation to the Williams College Archives, where the materials will be preserved, cataloged and made accessible to researchers in Special Collections. The gift includes Brown’s personal library, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings, providing deeper insight into his legacy, especially his devotion to the development of a literature about authentic Black folklife.
“The Sterling A. Brown archive will be the cornerstone of our 20th-century American literary collections,” said Lisa Conathan, head of Special Collections. “With this generous gift, Williams Libraries has acquired an extraordinary resource for the study and teaching of African American poetry.”
“The acquisition of the Sterling Allen Brown collections is serendipitous, momentous, and timely,” said Rhon S. Manigault-Bryant, associate professor of Africana studies. “Brown was and continues to be an influential figure in African American literature and education. That his family has seen it fit for Williams Special Collections to steward his important body of work is an honor, and we anticipate that faculty, students, alumni, and researchers alike will engage his materials and learn a great deal about black culture, poetry, and the instrumental legacies of black educators, as well as the deep impact of a Williams education. It gives me and my colleagues in Africana Studies no greater joy than to celebrate this important homecoming.”
Funding to process and make this material accessible to researchers is supported by gifts raised in a campaign led by members of the Williams Black Alumni Network. In 1990, WBAN established the Sterling Brown Fund, which continues to support visiting professorships at the college named in Brown’s honor. Each year, a Sterling Brown visiting professor is invited to campus for a semester to teach an undergraduate course, to deliver a series of lectures that is open to the public, to work with students individually, and to contribute to the awareness and growth of the Williams community.
“Black alumni at Williams have a very long history of supporting the college and motivating important institutional changes,” said Sharifa T. Wright ’03, director for alumni diversity and inclusion. “The Sterling Brown Fund is a true testament to the importance of this community for the success and ongoing evolution of Williams. In 1973, Brown returned to campus after 50 years and spoke to the things he learned at Williams: ‘how to read, how to teach, how to think’; he also spoke of the things he could not learn at a then-segregated Williams: ‘the strength, fortitude, humour and tragedy of my people.’
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