History of the Collection

<em>Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral</em>, by Phillis Wheatley. London, 1773.

As one of the internationally recognized collections dedicated to African American culture and literature, the Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature is the product of a long and fruitful partnership between the University of Minnesota and the African American community in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. With leadership from University of Minnesota professor and founding curator, Dr. John S. Wright, and Claudia Wallace Gardner, and with the critical support of the family of Archie Givens, Sr. and an 11-member Patron’s Council of leaders in the Twin Cities African American community, the collection was purchased in 1985 from Richard Lee Hoffman. In 1986, the Collection was named in honor of Archie Givens, Sr. (1919-1974), a successful Minneapolis businessman and entrepreneur who was a visionary supporter of higher education, particularly for young people of color. The Givens Foundation for African American Literature has been a trusted partner since the Collection's founding.

The Givens Collection and the University of Minnesota Libraries are grateful to The Givens Collection Patron's Council for their leadership, vision, and generosity.

The Patrons of the Collection are:

  • Steven and Sharon Belton
  • Nathaniel and Victoria Davis
  • Fred and Earline Estes
  • Richard and April Estes
  • Fred and Toni Green
  • Beckwith and Gwendolyn Horton
  • Delbert and Marjorie Johnson
  • William and Faye Johnson
  • Ezell and Kim Jones
  • Cornell and Wenda Moore
  • William and Alice Stubblefield
  • Phebe Mae Givens
  • Roxanne Givens
  • Carol Meshbesher and Archie Givens, Jr.

With critical leadership by Dr. John S. Wright and Claudia Wallace Gardner.

The Collection includes over 8,000 of rare books and literary magazines, and over 20,000 archival objects: ephemera, pamphlets, art, and photographs, plays and screenplays, as well as manuscripts and correspondence of writers active in and spanning the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement. Archival collections held within the Givens Collection include correspondence by writers Countee Cullen and E. Ethelbert Miller, the papers of journalist-novelist Penny Mickelbury, and the archives of the nationally celebrated Penumbra Theatre, one of three dedicated African American theaters in the United States, located in St. Paul, Minnesota. In order to share broadly the Givens Collection and African American history materials from archives and cultural heritage organizations across the country, the Givens Collection created Umbra Search African American History (umbrasearch.org), a free database and search tool for students, educators, scholars, and the general public.

Students, faculty, and researchers who visit the collection have access to numerous rare first editions of books including Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (on display here), the first book published by an African American author, which also features a portrait of Wheatley that is the only known surviving work by African-American slave artist Scipio Moorhead. Letters from poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, and annotated manuscripts by Langston Hughes—signed with his exceedingly elegant hand—are among the archival objects that make the Givens Collection an extraordinary resource.

History of the Collection