Researching the Black Arts Movement


Research Guide

Welcome! This page highlights key resources for conducting research on the Black Arts Movement, for the Fall 2015 Africana Studies and English Course, Shange and Digital Storytelling.

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.

Personal Librarian:
Vani Natarajan
208C Lehman

Finding Books and Media

CLIO includes the online catalog of Columbia University Libraries, Barnard Library, and Union theological Seminary (Law Library and Teachers College Library have separate catalogs). To search within the CLIO catalog, select "Catalog" from the left-hand menu.   CLIO also includes records of CUL materials held offsite, which you can use CLIO to request.

Some CLIO Search Tips:

  • It can often be helpful to start with a more expansive search (i.e. fewer terms entered into the search box), and then use facets and sorting to narrow down your results.
  • Use the asterisk (*) as a wild card. Decoloniz*  searches for the words deconolonize, decolonized, deconolonization, etc. 
  • Surround words with quotes to search them together as a phrase, i.e. "Black Arts Movement."
  • If using CLIO to find primary sources, make sure to include a date limit for the time period you are studying.Also, use the Subject (Genre) facets to narrow down to the kind of source you are looking for. Some examples:
    • Correspondence
    • Diaries
    • Interviews
    • Maps 
    • Memorabilia
    • Personal Narratives
    • Photographs

Getting Materials from Off-Campus

BorrowDirect allows you to borrow books directly from the libraries of Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and Yale, in addition to select libraries of Harvard and MIT. Items requested through BorrowDirect typically deliver in 3 to 4 business days, with a 6-week loan period + one 6-week renewal.

Interlibrary Loan lets you borrow books, music scores, and selected audiovisual items (i.e. maps or films) that are not currently available at Columbia University Libraries. You can use ILL to request PDF scans of journal articles, as well. ILL has a larger scope of participating institutions than Borrow Direct.

Worldcat is a union catalog that brings together the collections of over 72,000 libraries around the world. Search here for items held in other libraries.


New York Public Libary

New York Public Library  offers a variety of ways to search and explore their collections:

  • Classic Catalog searches materials across all branches and divisions of the library.
  • Digital Collections offers access to a limited, yet extensive, selection of digitized images, text, sound, and video from the library's collections.
  • Find Archival Materials searches archival collections across the library's research divisions, in most cases offering full text access to finding aids and further directions for planning visits.

The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, collects, preserves, and provides access to materials related to Black life in Africa and the African Diaspora (including the Americas). You can use the search tools listed above to start exploring the Schomburg's holdings. Five divisions comprise the center:

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses circulating, rare, and archival collections across all areas of the performing arts. Five divisions comprise this library:

To plan a visit to the collections, use the “Email a Librarian” form (located on the homepages of the divisions listed above) to schedule a research appointment with a librarian or archivist.


Primary Sources


Amiri Baraka Papers (RBML) (link to finding aid)  includes correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, audio and video recordings, visual art, and other materials related to Baraka’s life, teaching, and activism from the 1960’s through the 2000’s, and in both New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

Note: The papers are located offsite, but they can be retrieved through a special request at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library (located on the 6th floor of the Butler Library). It’s recommended to request these materials at least two days in advance. For more information on this process, see the RBML page on use of off-site materials.

ArchiveGrid is a database that allows users to search over four million records describing archival materials, among them historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more, from over 1,000 different archival institutions. Tip: Search using the name of a specific writer or artist, or a group that you’d like to research, to uncover relevant collections.

Black Drama: 1850 to Present offers full text access to plays, some of them previously unpublished, by playwrights of the African diaspora (including North America, Africa, and the Caribbean) and written from the 1850’s to the present. Also offers access to primary sources related to production history, including photographs and images of playbills.

Black Thought and Culture offers full text access to works of non-fiction, written from colonial times to the present, by African American authors. Sources represented include books, articles essays, interviews and letters. Sources can be browsed by year of publication, historical events, author names, and more. Of note: The database includes fully scanned copies of the Black Panther Party newspaper from 1967-1980.

Black Women Writers offers a growing collection of full text works of fiction, poetry, essays, speeches, memoir, letters, and other works by Black women writers from Africa and the African diaspora. Texts can be browsed by author, publication date, and genre.

Independent Voices: An Open Access Collection of Alternative Press offers a growing collection of digitized pages from magazines, journals, and newspapers of the alternative press. Some titles relevant to researching the Black Arts Movement:

Federal Surveillance of African Americans, 1920-1984 contains reproductions of hundreds of FBI files that document the surveillance of African Americans by the U.S. government.

Historical Black Newspapers allows users to search and access articles, images, and other content from six leading historical Black newspapers in the US:

  • Atlanta Daily World
  • Baltimore Afro-American
  • Chicago Defender
  • Los Angeles Sentinel
  • New York Amsterdam News (1922-1993)
  • Pittsburgh Courier (1911-2002)

Umbra is a growing, searchable digital collection of over 400,000 sources related to African American history, from US cultural heritage institutions, museums, and archives. Umbra is developed by the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota in partnership with the Penumbra Theatre Company.

The Small Press and the Black Arts Movement (Syracuse University Library) brings together a curated digital exhibit of sources from the Syracuse University Library, with a focus on small presses central to the publication of literary and visual arts work of the Black Arts Movement. The exhibit  includes full color scans of book and chapbook covers, as well as selected scanned pages.

Studio Museum of Harlem  collects and promotes the work of artists of African descent from around the world. Use the website to explore current and past exhibitions, along with works from the museum’s permanent collections. Tip: to learn more about Studio Museum exhibitions from before 2004, you may also try searching archived pages from the Studio Museum website, using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.


Articles and Reviews

Art Index Retrospective provides searchable indexing spanning 55 years of art journalism of nearly 600 noted publications around the globe, reflecting coverage provided from 1929 through 1984. 

Black Studies Center combines several databases rich in primary and secondary source materials relating to African American Studies, including Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, The HistoryMakers Videos and full transcripts for interviews with 100 contemporary African Americans, International Index to Black Periodicals (IIBP), historical black newspapers, Black Abolitionist Papers, and the Black Literature Index.

Humanities Full Text brings full text (starting 1995) plus abstracts and bibliographic indexes (starting 1984) of noted scholarly sources in the humanities, as well as lesser known specialized magazines.

International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance indexes and provides full text to articles from scholarly journals, popular magazines, and trafe publications in the fields of theatre and dance. 

Left Index indexes the diverse literature of the left, with an emphasis on political, economic, social and culturally engaged scholarship both inside and outside academia. 


  • Alt-PressWatch provides full text access to articles from over 210 alternative and independent press publications, including newspapers, magazines and journals. Subject areas covered include politics, arts and culture, environment, religion, labor, and literature. Coverage extends as far back as 1970.
  • ArtBibliographies Modern
  • Ethnic Newswatch offers access to articles from newspapers and periodicals published by the ethnic, minority and native press in the U.S. Coverage is from 1960 to date.
  • GenderWatch provides mostly full text access to articles, with some abstracts. A wide range of sources on the topics of feminism, women’s studies, gender studies, and LGBTQ Studies are represented here. 
  • International Index to the Performing Arts Full Text indexes articles from journals and newspapers covering the performing arts, across disciplines. Includes full-text access.
  • MLA International Bibliography features citations and abstracts to scholarly articles on literature, language, linguistics, and folklore from around the world, with e-links to possible full text provided. Sources include periodicals, books, essay collections, working papers, proceedings, dissertations and bibliographies. Coverage spans 1923 to the present.
  • Periodicals Archive Online archives journals in humanities and social sciences from around the world, in full text. The collection includes 99 journals in Spanish.


Selected List of Books

A Sourcebook on African-American Performance : Plays, People, Movements. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print. (link to e-book version)

Bracey, John, Sonia Sanchez, and James Smethurst, eds. SOS Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement Reader. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014. Print.

Clarke, Cheryl. “After Mecca” : Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c2005. Print.

Colbert, Soyica Diggs. The African American Theatrical Body : Reception, Performance, and the Stage. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

Collins, Lisa Gail, and Margo Natalie Crawford, eds. New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Print.

Neal, Larry. Visions of a Liberated Future : Black Arts Movement Writings. St. Paul, MN: Thunders Mouth Press, 1989. Print.

Ongiri, Amy Abugo. Spectacular Blackness : The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010. Print.

Phelps, Carmen L. Visionary Women Writers of Chicago’s Black Arts Movement. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Print.

Smethurst, James Edward. The Black Arts Movement : Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Print.


Selected List of Journals




Writing and Citing

OWL: Purdue University Online Writing Lab provides general and subject specific writing tips and techniques, along with research advice and detailed citation and formatting standards for the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles.

Zotero is a free, open source program that allows you to quickly save, organize, format, and share your bibliographic citations.