by Lucy Marks, Special Collections Cataloger
The collection of African American literature created by Drew alumnus Glen Sergeon C‘72 is clearly a labor of love. Eclectic and serendipitous, it was shaped by his personal literary interests, rather than with the intention of amassing a checklist of high spots. While at Drew, Sergeon met Professor of English Joan Steiner, who had been tasked with developing curricula that focused on African American literature. As he gratefully recalled, together they became students of that field, which remained a passionate interest. Sergeon also stayed in touch with former Drew professor Calvin Skaggs, and it was in the course of their conversations that he decided to donate his collection to Drew.
Under the guidance of New York book dealer Glen Horowitz, Sergeon learned to narrow his focus and sharpen his collector’s eye. The collection’s 75 volumes include a number of works by towering figures of the Harlem Renaissance: Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay and Richard Wright. Novelists and poets James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Paule Marshall, Ishmael Reed, Sapphire, Derek Walcott and Al Young are represented, often with signed copies of their works. There are memoirs, biographies, anthologies of black writers, and studies of black culture.
The collection also includes nearly 30 works of fiction and non-fiction (with uncorrected proofs for four novels) by John Alfred Williams, who became a personal friend of Sergeon. Another friend and correspondent was the poet Lucille Clifton, whom Sergeon, as president of Drew’s black student association, invited to give a reading at Drew following the publication of her acclaimed volume, Good Times. She remained one of his favorite writers.
Three works in the collection are not by African American authors: Helen Bannerman’s children’s book, The Story of Little Black Mingo; George Bernard Shaw’s short story, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God; and Rackham Holt’s George Washington Carver: An American Biography. The first was meant to entertain, the second to persuade and provoke, and the third to instruct and inspire.
The personal interests and private experiences that led to the formation of Glen Sergeon’s collection lend an air of intimacy to the whole. His deeply felt pleasure in these books, as well as his admiration for and empathetic understanding of the authors, seem almost palpable. In the words of Langston Hughes: “Dream singers,/Story tellers,/Dancers,/Loudlaughers in the hands of Fate—/My people.”