Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Papers of Writer Hettie Jones


NEW YORK, November 16, 2009 – The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) at Columbia University has acquired the papers of the poet and memoirist Hettie Jones. The author of twenty-three books for children and adults, as well as numerous essays, stories, and reviews, Jones has had a long career writing, teaching, and editing.

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Hettie Jones is presently on the faculties of the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center and the Graduate Writing Program at the New School. Former Chair of PEN American Center’s Prison Writing Committee, Jones currently serves on PEN’s Advisory Council. From 1989-2002 she ran a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women at Bedford Hills, and she has also lectured widely and led workshops for the New York Public Library, Poets House, and the Poetry Society of America.

Jones has been described as a “potent and fearless poet” with a “good mind and sound ideas” and the “gift to paint with vivid words and to cloak her wit with images that linger in the mind long after the reading.” Her most recent collection was praised for being the work of a poet “fully present with the world, who has really thought about life.” Of her memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, the writer Russel Banks said "Hettie Jones has written a rare and valuable book, a personal story that works equally as history. Her memoir is the memoir of an important and historic milieu; it's probably the best account yet written of what it was like to be at the center of New York Bohemianism in the 1950s and 1960s. Her honesty and forgiveness and the clarity of her writing are exemplary and moving.”

Born Hettie Cohen in Brooklyn in 1934, she received her BA from Virginia and did postgraduate work at Columbia. While working for a music magazine in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, she met and married LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). Together they became important figures in the Beat Movement and close friends with Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others. They edited and published Yugen, a literary magazine that served as a “house organ” for the Beats as well as poets of the New York school, and Totem Press books, which featured work by Ginsberg, Corso, O’Hara, Dorn, Snyder, and others. In 1990, Jones published How I Became Hettie Jones, a memoir of her years with Jones and the Beats.

Jones’ papers include her extensive correspondence with writers and artists throughout her career, manuscripts, notebooks, audio and audio/visual recordings, and photographs. The collection complements the Amiri Baraka acquisition made in 2008. When cataloged, the collection will be available for research in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children’s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb is the gateway to its services and resources.

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11/16/09 LMK