Commencement Forum | Ordinary Circumstances, Extraordinary Conflict

Join the Brown University Library for “Ordinary Circumstances, Extraordinary Conflict,” a Commencement Forum on Saturday, May 27 from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. in the Willis Reading Room at the John Hay Library.

Free and open to the public. In-person only.

The curatorial team and experts will explore Ordinary Circumstances, Extraordinary Conflict, the current Library exhibition created in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade (1973) through materials held in the Hay Library special collections. Acknowledging the critical shift in American law and the diverse emotions powerfully associated with the sudden change, the panel discussion, like the display, intends to provoke thought and inquiry rather than present definitive truths.

More information about the exhibit

Reduced Access at John Hay Library, Summer 2023

North side, accessible entrance at the John Hay Library

This summer, the windows at the John Hay Library will be replaced, and there will also be smaller projects to update spaces above the first floor. As a result of this facilities work, there will be changes to the Hay’s hours and access. Please refer to the John Hay Library website for any changes to our hours and our holiday schedule.

Building-wide

May 31 – September 5

  • The Hay will be open Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Only the first floor will be open to patrons.

July 24 – September 1

  • The front doors will be inaccessible (emergency exit only).
  • Patrons will need to use the north side, accessible entrance.

Gildor Family Special Collections Reading Room

May 29 – June 4

The special collections reading room will be closed.

June 5 – September 5

The special collections reading room will be open on this schedule by reservation only. Please see Visiting the Brown University Special Collections for information about scheduling a reading room appointment.

  • Monday, Tuesday, Friday: 1 – 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Thursday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Willis Reading Room

The Willis Reading Room will remain open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Bopp, Bruhn, Lownes Rooms

The Bopp Room (3rd floor), Lownes Room (2nd floor), and Bruhn Room (2nd floor) will be unavailable from May 29 – September 5.

Classroom Requests

Please place requests for classes through the Brown University Library Instruction Request Form.  Some class sessions may be held in the Special Collections Reading Room, depending on the room schedule, size of the class, and staff availability.

Third Floor

The third floor of the John Hay Library will be closed from May 29 – September 5, including the Anne S. K. Brown Military Gallery.

Zhuqing Li Appointed Head of Library Exploration and Research for East Asia

Dr. Zhuqing Li

The Library is thrilled to announce the appointment of Zhuqing Li as the Head of Library Exploration and Research for East Asia in the Center for Library Exploration and Research (CLEAR). She reports to the Director of Library Exploration and Research.

Zhuqing previously served as the Library’s Faculty Curator for East Asian Collections on a part-time basis along with her appointment as Visiting Associate Professor of East Asian Studies. As Faculty Curator, she established a stellar record of achievement in teaching and scholarly project development, bringing students and collections together to develop new and exciting scholarly projects that combine traditional and digital methods. Zhuqing led a collaborative, global team of scholars and Brown undergraduates to create Depicting Glory: Rare Objects from the Late Qing to the Republic of China, a digital project that presents a group of rare Chinese objects drawn from across the Brown University Library. 

In her new role, Zhuqing will expand CLEAR’s footprint to include student research-driven experiences rooted in the Library’s East Asian collections and increase scholarly and public engagement centered on East Asian materials.  In addition, she will continue to teach as Visiting Associate Professor of East Asian Studies.

Zhuqing Li

A linguist specializing in Chinese historical linguistics and dialectology, Zhuqing received her Ph.D. in East Asian Language and Literature from the University of Washington and taught at Boston College for 13 years before coming to Brown. Her research has focused on the study of the Chinese language, the historical experiences of Chinese returnees, and the linguistic aspects of Chinese-English translation.

Zhuqing is the author of five books, most recently including Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War (W. W. Norton & Company, 2022), the remarkable true story of two sisters (Zhuqing’s aunts) who were inseparable as children and whose lives are irrevocably disrupted when the “bamboo curtain” drops overnight between Communist mainland China and Nationalist Taiwan. Her other books are Reinventing China: Experience of Contemporary Returnees from the West (Bridge 21, 2016), Minnan-English Dictionary (Dunwoody Press, 2008), The Structure of Fuzhou Dialect (Dunwoody Press, 2002), and Fuzhou-English Dictionary (Dunwoody Press, 1998), as well as numerous academic articles.

Brown’s East Asian Collection

The East Asian Collection, located on the third floor of the Rockefeller Library in the traditionally styled Gardner Room, holds nearly 200,000 volumes of East Asian language print books in addition to print serials, audio-video materials, and electronic resources. The collection was developed from an initial gift of approximately 30,000 volumes donated to Brown in 1961 by the noted sinologist Charles Sidney Gardner. Dr. Li Wang, Curator of the East Asian Collection, and Toshiyuki Minami, Senior Library Specialist, offer students and researchers support in their use of the collection and will continue to collaborate with Zhuqing.

Black Joy Day at the John Hay Library – Feb. 15

The John Hay Library will host its first celebration of Black Joy Day on Wednesday, February 15. The Hay invites the Brown community and members of the public to enjoy the full day of activities.

Schedule of events:

  • 9 – 10 a.m. – Guided Meditation by Jasmine Johnson (Black Zen co-founder), one of the few Black meditation experts (Lownes Room, 2nd floor)
  • 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. – Special Collections Display (Gildor Family Special Collections Reading Room, 1st floor)
  • Soulfood bites (snacks and drinks) (Lobby, 1st floor)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. – “Celebrating the Joy in Your Journey” presentation by Janelle Clarke-Holley, Strategic Coach (Lownes Room, 2nd floor)
  • 1 – 1:15 p.m. – Performance by Becky Bass, Vocalist and Steel Drummer (Willis Reading Room, 1st floor)
  • 1:15 – 3 p.m. – DJ D-Wun spinning (Willis Reading Room, 1st floor)
  • Light refreshments
  • 4 – 5 p.m. – Poetry and Entertainment: Amanda Shea, Rhode Island Black Storytellers, and others (Willis Reading Room, 1st floor)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. – Clean Comedy Showcase: Dale Cover, Hay Are Adams, Tooky Kavanagh, Jamie Aird (Willis Reading Room, 1st floor)
  • 7 – 8:15 p.m. – “The Rhythms of Black Joy” – Panel Discussion (Englander Studio, Granoff Center). Join artists and scholar-practitioners Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, Becci Davis, Kiana Murphy, and Deirdre Braz for a conversation about how they engage the spirit of Black Joy in their creative and scholarly practices. This program has been organized by the Black Music Lab at the Brown Arts Institute. (Note: This event takes place at the Granoff Center for the Arts, 154 Angell Street, not the John Hay Library.)

John Hay Library Receives Grants to Digitize Materials of Dissenting U.S. Politics

Two grants totaling $1.75M will facilitate access to astonishing materials in the Hall-Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda

Through its Divided America project, the John Hay Library will digitize and make available material representing extremes of political thought from 1946 through the 1990s in the United States. With a $250,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s Access to Historical Records: Major Initiatives program and a $1.5 million grant from the Arcadia Fund, the project will take on the digitization of about three-fourths of the holdings in the Hall-Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda. Consisting of nearly 200,000 individual items from over 5,000 organizations, the Hall-Hoag Collection is the country’s largest research collection documenting the ideas and activities of dissenting right- and left-wing U.S. groups, offering a trove of material that will help scholars and journalists further understand our current political moment. 

National Archives logo

The grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) will support the digitization efforts of material in Hall-Hoag that focuses on conservative groups based in rural, urban, and suburban areas, with an emphasis on highly localized ephemeral material. As part of the grant, the Library will fund personnel, outreach, and dissemination activities associated with scholarly study of the materials, which will be fully accessible by historians, researchers, and the general public. The Library will also partner with an interdisciplinary group of faculty to host a publicly-accessible virtual symposium that will draw connections between the newly digitized content and the divisive political landscape in the United States. This rich set of documents includes militant movements, anti-communism, Evangelical or other right-aligned religious bodies, and issue-focused mobilization around matters of public health, gun rights, immigration, and “right-to-work” claims. 

Archival material from the radical right is particularly rare and vulnerable owing in part to the fact that groups and individuals from these movements often distrust universities and are reluctant to donate material. Although the political right has had a transformative effect on American social and political life since World War II, only four other universities have prominent (albeit considerably smaller) holdings in this area. These materials capture a trajectory within American politics that has largely been ignored within academia even as it has risen to the fore within popular politics and American governance over the past several decades. This lapse has contributed to the current bifurcation within American politics, insofar as it has deprived scholars of a means for studying the roots of post-WWII Conservatism in all of its dimensions in the same way that scholars have long been able to study the political Left. 

With the monies provided through the Arcadia Fund grant, the Divided America project will digitize a further significant portion of the Hall-Hoag Collection. Measuring 1,655 linear feet, the Hall-Hoag collection is the one of the largest of Brown University’s manuscript collections. It was amassed by Gordon Hall, a young veteran of the World War II Pacific Theater, who first encountered the printed propaganda issued by domestic hate-your-neighbor organizations in the late 1940’s. Grace Hoag, an alumna of Smith College, began to collaborate with Hall in the 1960’s, and assisted with the research and expanding the collection beyond its initial emphasis. 

Naoko Shibusawa, Associate Professor of History, Associate Professor of American Studies, has worked extensively with the Hall-Hoag Collection and states:

I frequently refer both graduate and undergraduate students to the Hall-Hoag Collection. Students have been drawn to studying conservative and radical right sources as much as liberal and radical left sources. The materials in the Hall-Hoag Collection have allowed them to better understand the ideologies and worldviews that continue to animate political divisions today.

She goes on to say that “the full potential of this vast and compelling collection has barely been tapped. I think others interested in more contemporary U.S. history would be thrilled to have this collection easily accessible for their students, as well as for their own scholarship.” Currently, Professor Shibusawa is working with a student whose thesis draws largely from Hall-Hoag’s materials of incarcerated, radical left Indigenous women from the 1970s.

The collection provides a deep and nuanced look at American politics and political culture from the end of World War II to the eve of the September 11 attacks. Unparalleled in breadth and depth, Hall-Hoag is unique for aggregating material from organizations with faint, if any, traces in the archival record. According to Joseph S. Meisel, Joukowsky Family University Librarian, “Making Brown’s outstanding collection of these important documentary materials more widely available through digitization will be an incredible boon for researchers and students of American politics, and shed new light on the development of important trends that have shaped our national discourse and public life.”

The Divided America project represents one facet of the John Hay Library’s deep commitment to promoting socially engaged scholarship by documenting a wide array of political, social, and religious ideologies so as to shed light on the complex ways in which ideology influences social and political power structures. Amanda E. Strauss, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Director of the John Hay Library notes:

The Library is deeply grateful to NHPRC and the Arcadia Fund for this funding, which will allow us to provide free digital access to critically important historical materials for scholars, students, and the public who are interested in studying the evolution of of political ideologies in the United States. This material allows a rare glimpse into the transmission of ideas among issues-focused conservative and liberal groups and will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of these important histories.

As one of the Library’s premier collections, the Hall-Hoag Collection forms the anchor for the strategic collecting initiative Ideology & Power, which seeks to provide coherence and promote public access to more than 200 years of original material that documents the evolution of political, social, and religious ideologies in the United States. The Hall-Hoag Collection is the country’s largest research compilation of materials produced by both right- and left-wing American extremist groups. 

At the conclusion of the three and a half year Divided America project, nearly 240,000 pages of material will be digitized and made available through the Brown Digital Repository.

Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States — New John Hay Library Collecting Direction

Papers of Mumia Abu-Jamal and and Johanna Fernández ‘93 will anchor Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States, the new collecting direction at the John Hay Library.

More Information / Media

For information in addition to what is below, please see the New York Times article, “Brown University Acquires the Papers of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by Jenny Schuessler and the News from Brown article, “To advance research on incarceration, Brown acquires personal papers of prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by Jill Kimball.

Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States

As of 2022, the United States’ vast carceral system imprisons two million people — more than any other nation and with a growth rate of 500% since 1970. Though government and institutional records on incarceration, law, and policy abound, there is a paucity of archival materials by incarcerated individuals, their families, and advocates. There are fewer than twenty archival collections in the U.S. that represent individuals who are incarcerated. Most of these are small (5 folders; a handful of diaries). Until now, none of these have been collected directly from a currently incarcerated individual.

Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States will provide essential research material to advance scholarship on the carceral state and its historical antecedents. 

Accessing the Collections 

The Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernandez ‘93 collections will be open for research in fall 2023. We are committed to making these materials available to scholars within and beyond Brown, including creating avenues for scholars from Philadelphia and New York to be able to make use of the collections. Digitization of the materials and public events, including a symposium, are on the horizon.

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Referred to by the New York Times as the most recognized death row inmate in the world, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an American political activist and journalist who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1982 for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He became widely known while on death row for continuously proclaiming his innocence and fighting his conviction and for his writings and commentary on the criminal justice system in the United States, including the 1995 memoir, Live from Death Row. After numerous appeals and public pressure from the “Free Mumia” movement, in 2011 his death penalty sentence was overturned by a federal court and reduced to a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. He entered the prison’s general population early in 2012, and has continued to write about his experiences in and from prison while maintaining his innocence. In 2015, Abu-Jamal published Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (City Lights, 2015), which was edited by Johanna Fernández.

Composed of approximately 60 boxes of papers that Abu-Jamal sent to Fernández since his imprisonment, and spanning from approximately 1981 – 2019, Abu-Jamal’s archive includes his personal experiences on death row; his ongoing 40+ year imprisonment in solitary confinement, maximum, and medium security Pennsylvania prisons; his reflections on civil rights, incarceration, and freedom; his activist life; and global reaction to his case articulated through activist work on his behalf through publications, film, and other media.

Johanna Fernández ‘93

Born and raised in the Bronx, NY as one of four siblings, Johanna Fernández ‘93 is the daughter of working-class immigrants from the Dominican Republic who fled the Trujillo dictatorship to come to the United States. The first in her family to graduate from college, Fernández received an AB in Literature and American Civilization from Brown in 1993 and later earned a PhD in History from Columbia University. While at Brown, Fernández was a member of Students for Admissions and Minority Aid and led the April 1992 student occupation of University Hall in hopes of pressuring Brown to move more rapidly towards the admission of students regardless of their ability to pay to attend.

Fernández teaches 20th century U.S. history and the history of social movements in the Department of History at Baruch College (CUNY). She is the author of the award-winning book, The Young Lords: A Radical History (UNC Press, February 2020), about the Puerto Rican counterpart to the Black Panther Party. In 2014, she sued the New York City Police Department, claiming that it had failed to produce public records of surveillance of the Young Lords in the 1960s and 1970s; police department employees found those surveillance documents, alongside NYPD dossiers and extensive surveillance of members of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, in a Queens warehouse two years later.

A close friend and advocate of Abu-Jamal, Fernández co-edited with Abu-Jamal a special issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, titled The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor (Routledge, 2014). She is the editor of Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (City Lights, 2015) and is the writer and producer of the film, Justice on Trial: the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (BigNoise Films, 2010). Fernández is also an active Brown alumna and has served on the Pembroke Center Advisory Council since 2018.

Spanning from approximately 1965-2021, this collection documents Fernández’s personal history, professional work, and activism. Composed of approximately 45+ boxes of documents, oral histories and digital records, this collection is comprehensive in its documentation of Fernández as a Dominican American community activist; her role as chief advocate on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal; her research on the history of the Young Lords Party; her legal fight to gain access to NYPD surveillance files; her work in radio and other media; and much more.

You Belong Here

The phrase “You Belong Here” is set above the front desk and in front of the exterior of the John Hay Library. According to Associate University Librarian for Special Collections Amanda Strauss:

I came to Brown to transform the John Hay Library into a boldly inclusive institution that is fully engaged with collections that illuminate the most pressing issues of our time. I am honored that Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernandez ‘93 decided to place their collections at the Hay, and we will continue to collect voices of mass incarceration in the United States so that the archival record no longer excludes the voices and stories of individuals and communities affected by the carceral state.”

The John Hay Library is home to Brown University’s remarkable collections of rare books, manuscripts, and University Archives. We are committed to being an active partner in advancing the University’s academic mission. We are here for you.

Media contact: [email protected]
Collections questions

Stolen Relations Awarded NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant

Brown University researchers have been awarded a $350,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Advancement Grant to support Stolen Relations: Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in the Americas. Stolen Relations is a tribal collaborative database project that seeks to understand settler colonialism and its impact through the lens of Indigenous enslavement and unfreedom. The project is led by Associate Professor of History Linford Fisher, and is robustly supported by the Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS) at Brown University Library. CDS staff members include: Cody Carvel, Ashley Champagne, Birkin Diana, Mairelys Lemus-Rojas, and Patrick Rashleigh. The project was first conceptualized by Prof. Fisher in 2015 and has been supported by a variety of centers, departments, and initiatives at Brown, including the Population and Studies Training Center, the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, the Department of History, the Brown Library, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The award will expand the collaborative work the project team has done and launch a public portal that will allow others to learn about the impact of settler colonialism and Indigenous enslavement by accessing archival documents that would otherwise be difficult to find and read, further enhanced with supplemental aids that help to contextualize and decolonize the archival information and documents from Indigenous perspectives. The award will fund infrastructure to facilitate robust tribal community collaboration and support, including partnerships with the Tomaquag Museum, a graduate student staff person, regular meetings with community tribal members, and interns from Indigenous communities over three years. Stolen Relations is among 226 humanities projects across America totaling $31.5 million to receive funding through this NEH grant program.

For the full list of awards and offers, visit the National Endowment for the Humanities Grant website. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this press release do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Roger Shaw Williams Inaugural Head of Libraries Conservation

Roger Shaw Williams

The Brown University Library and the John Carter Brown Library are pleased to announce Roger Shaw Williams as the inaugural Head of Libraries Conservation. Roger’s first day will be September 30, 2022.

Reporting jointly to Michelle Venditelli, the Director of Collections Care for Brown University Library, and Karin Wulf, the Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library, Roger will create and oversee a collections conservation program for both libraries, including the assessment, treatment, and documentation of the libraries’ sizable distinctive special collections with a focus on the conservation of bound materials. He will also play an active role in expanding access to these collections for a global scholarly community through both campus-based and digital outreach.

The majority of Brown University Library’s special collections are located at the John Hay Library, one of seven facilities within the University Library system. The Hay’s holdings include more than three million items in several hundred named collections of books, manuscripts, and prints. Overall, the University Library’s collections include approximately seven million volumes and over 15,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives. 

The John Carter Brown Library is a world-class collection of materials focused on the early Americas. An independently administered and funded center for advanced research in history and the humanities located on the Brown campus, the JCB is home to more than 65,000 exceptional and rare books, maps, and manuscripts related to the early Americas from the 15th through the early 19th centuries. This position is the second full-time, joint position between the JCB and Brown University Library.

Michelle Venditelli noted that “We are thrilled to have Roger head this inaugural position. An active member of the professional conservation community, Roger will also bring his collaborative spirit, expressed through expanding access to the profession and mentoring postgraduate conservation fellows.”  Karin Wulf said that “having Roger join our team at the JCB, and expand our joint work with Brown University Library, is equally exciting. We’re so pleased to welcome him to Providence.”

Roger is currently the Book and Paper Conservator at Northwestern University Libraries. During his time at Northwestern, he initiated the Adaptable Conservation Book Support project, collaborating with undergraduate engineering students to create a DIY and open-design tool that has been implemented in conservation labs around the world. Previously, Roger worked at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and interned at Smithsonian Libraries. He completed his master’s degree in conservation studies at West Dean College and the University of Sussex. He is a Professional Associate member of the American Institute for Conservation and currently serves as an editor for the Book and Paper Group Annual. Recently he has been involved in writing and illustrating Conservation of Books, a comprehensive overview of the field to be published by Routledge next year.

The MIT Press and Brown University Library release A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures by Shahzad Bashir

Enter A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures by Shahzad Bashir

Discover more about the publication including an interview with Shahzad Bashir

Announcement of the publication from the MIT Press news site:

image of landing page with artifact and map

An interactive, open-access born-digital publication, this groundbreaking book’s interface encourages engagement with rich visual material and multimedia evidence

The MIT Press and Brown University Library’s Digital Publications Initiative announce the publication of A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures by Shahzad Bashir. An interactive, open-access born-digital work, this groundbreaking book decenters Islam from a geographical identification with the Middle East, an articulation through men’s authority alone, and the assumption that premodern expressions are more authentically Islamic than modern ones. Aimed at a wide international audience, the book consists of engaging stories and audiovisual materials that will enable readers at all levels to appreciate Islam as an aspect of global history for centuries. The book URL is islamic-pasts-futures.org

book cover

In A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures, Bashir discusses Islam as phenomenon and as discourse—observed in the built environment, material objects, paintings, linguistic traces, narratives, and social situations. He draws on literary genres, including epics, devotional poetry and prayers, and modern novels; art and architecture in varied forms; material culture, from luxury objects to cheap trinkets; and such forms of media as photographs, graffiti, and films. 

“Ideas pertaining to Islam and other matters of social significance are enmeshed in structures of power. Understandings of history, including our own, are changeable; they appear and dissolve in tandem with particular human circumstances,” explains Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and Professor of History and Religious Studies at Brown University. “This book urges us to see pasts and futures as fields of unlimited possibility that come alive through a combination of close observation and ethical positioning.” 

Through multimedia enhancements and an interactive navigation system, A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures allows for an exploration of and engagement with rich visual material and multimedia evidence not possible in a printed volume. The book encourages readers to enter Islam through a diverse set of doorways, each leading to different time periods across different parts of the world. 

“The MIT Press has a long and rich history of publishing books that give unique form to unique arguments,” says Amy Brand, Director and Publisher of the MIT Press. “We are thrilled to partner with Brown University Library’s Digital Publications Initiative on this book, which creates exciting new opportunities to share knowledge.” 

“With A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures, Professor Bashir not only advances new ways of conceptualizing time as a human construct, but also puts theory into action within a dynamic digital structure that breaks free of the linearity that has always seemed an inescapable given in history writing,” says Joseph Meisel, Joukowsky Family University Librarian at Brown University. “To realize this reimagining of historical analysis in four dimensions, Professor Bashir has also enlarged how we can think about the possibilities and practices of digital scholarly publication.”

The publication of A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures brings together the MIT Press’s global publishing experience and the Brown University Library’s digital publication expertise. This cross-institutional collaboration extends to the recently announced On Seeing series, an experiment in multimodal publishing that will explore how we see, comprehend, and participate in visual culture. The series will center the lived experience and knowledge of diverse authors.

The publication of A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures is supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the MIT Press, and the Brown University Library’s Digital Publications Initiative.

About the MIT Press

Established in 1962, the MIT Press is one of the largest and most distinguished university presses in the world and a leading publisher of books and journals at the intersection of science, technology, art, social science, and design. MIT Press books and journals are known for their intellectual daring, scholarly standards, interdisciplinary focus, and distinctive design. 

About the Brown University Library

The Brown University Library is central to Brown’s academic mission to support teaching and learning at the highest level, and in a spirit of free and open inquiry. The Library is home to the Center for Digital Scholarship, a hub for the creation of new scholarly forms and other innovations in scholarly communication, including the Mellon- and NEH-supported Digital Publications Initiative. An area of distinction for the Library and Brown, the Digital Publications Initiative is helping to set the standards for the future of scholarship in the digital age. 

John Hay Library Acquires José Rivera Papers

Lauded contemporary Latinx playwright’s papers will enrich the Hay’s holdings by artists of color in its distinctive Performance & Entertainment collecting area

The John Hay Library has acquired the papers of award-winning Puerto Rican-American playwright and screenwriter José Rivera. Serving as a foundational collection within the Hay’s Performance & Entertainment collecting direction, this trove of material will offer scholars and students a window into the contemporary life and work of a singularly talented writer whose work centers the lived experience of Puerto Rican-Americans. Consisting of 20 boxes, the papers include handwritten drafts, playscripts, notebooks, correspondence, promotional materials, press clippings, photographs, and juvenilia.

A page from a 2002 typed draft of José Rivera’s magical realist work “Lucky.” Mr. Rivera writes new pieces by hand; drafts are then typed for review and revision.

Amanda E. Strauss, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, is thrilled that the Performance & Entertainment area of collecting will be bolstered in such a remarkable way: 

José Rivera is such an important creative voice, and this collection will allow students and scholars to understand his writing process and to see firsthand how he brings his vision to fruition. This material will be heavily used by an international audience, and I’m proud that Mr. Rivera chose the John Hay Library as his partner in preserving and making accessible his archival legacy. 

Born in Puerto Rico in 1955, Mr. Rivera moved to Long Island, NY with his family when he was five years old. He grew up surrounded by books. Though his grandparents could not read or write, they were gifted storytellers, and he realized he wanted to be a writer in his adolescent years. In 1989, he took part in the Sundance Institute workshop led by Nobel Prize winning writer and journalist Gabriel García Márquez, whose magical realist style has been an influence on his work. His plays have been produced internationally and include “Sueño,” which Mr. Rivera translated and adapted from the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, recently produced  this spring at Trinity Rep in Providence, RI and directed by Brown/Trinity alumna Tatyana-Marie Carlo, MFA’ 20 d. Mr. Rivera has written many plays, two of which received Obie Awards: “Marisol” (1993) and “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” (2001); other plays include “The Promise,” “Each Day Dies with Sleep,” “Cloud Tectonics,” “The Street of the Sun,” “Sonnets for an Old Century,” “School of the Americas,” “Brainpeople,” “Giants Have Us in Their Book,” and “The House of Ramon Iglesia.” 

Mr. Rivera visited Brown in April during which time he attended classes with English and Brown/Trinity MFA students, toured the construction site of the new Performing Arts Center with Brown Arts Institute leadership, and met with members of the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. Patricia Ybarra, Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, explains the significance of this acquisition:

Bringing José Rivera’s papers to Brown will allow researchers and artists to experience the thinking, aesthetics, and creative process of one of the most important and contemporary Latinx playwrights. This collection expands the Brown University Library’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the arts by expanding their collections to include the papers of contemporary artists of color as a key part of the Hay Library’s rich archive of contemporary plays and performance.

Mr. Rivera’s plays have been published by Viking Press, Mentor Books, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatics magazine, Samuel French, Broadway Play Publishing, American Theatre magazine, Theatre Communications Group and Smith & Kraus. 

In addition to playwriting, Mr. Rivera is also a gifted and accomplished screenwriter. His screenplay for the feature film “The Motorcycle Diaries” was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2005, making him the first Puerto Rican writer to be nominated for an Academy Award. Also nominated for a BAFTA and a Writers Guild Award, “The Motorcycle Diaries” won top writing awards in Spain and Argentina. His screenplay, based on Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed nationally in the winter of 2013. His film “Trade” was the first film to premiere at the United Nations, and he has many other screenplays and screenwriting credits to his name including work in television such as, “The House of Ramon Iglesia; A.K.A. Pablo” for PBS’s “American Playhouse” (Norman Lear, producer); “The Eddie Matos Story; Eerie, Indiana” (co-creator and producer); “Goosebumps; Mayhem” (Bob Cooper, producer); “The Conquest” (Ron Howard, producer); and “Latino Roots,” an untitled 10-hour limited series for HBO. Avery Willis Hoffman, Artistic Director of the Brown Arts Institute, says of Mr. Rivera’s writing:

José Rivera’s seminal works for stage and screen have tackled some of the most pressing social issues of our time — violence, racism and misogyny, mental illness, poverty, climate change; as we work towards the opening of our new Performing Arts Center in late 2023, new creative collaborations and ongoing engagements with artists such as José will define the powerful ways in which art makes space for the exploration of challenging topics.

Mr. Rivera is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Sundance Institute and has been a creative advisor for Screenwriting Labs in Utah, Jordan and India. A member of the LAByrinth Theatre Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre, he leads a weekly writing workshop in New York City, where he lives.

Cataloging of the contents of the collection is ongoing. Requests to view the collection can be made online through the John Hay Library’s website.