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Alice Browning Papers

Finding Aid: Alice Browning Papers
Repository: Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature

The Alice Browning PapersAlice Browning was a writer and publishing entrepreneur, best known as the founding editor of Negro Story magazine (1944-1946) and the founder of the annual International Black Writers Conference (1970-present). A lifelong teacher at Forrestville Elementary School in Bronzeville, Browning studied for a Master's Degree in English at Columbia University in 1940. Frustrated by the lack of venues in which to publish her own writing, Browning teamed with her friend Fern Gayden, a social worker who had been a member of Richard Wright's South Side Writer's Group in the late 1930s. With the help of Gayden and Parkway Community House director Horace Cayton, Browning secured permission to reprint Wright's short story "Almos' a Man." Borrowing $200 from her husband Charles P. Browning, an executive at the Chicago Defender, she and Gayden printed and distributed the inaugural issue of Negro Story (pictured), which appeared in May 1944.

The Alice Browning Papers at the Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature consist in manuscripts, serials, pamphlets, photographs, and ephemera from throughout Browning's life, concentrated chiefly from 1968-1985, the years when she was organizing the International Black Writers Conference. They include a complete run of Negro Story and a nearly-complete run of Browning's later publication endeavor, The Browning Letter, as well as a complete manuscript of Browning's unpublished novel Chicago Girl, which she wrote in the 1940s.

Selected Artifacts

Alice Browning in 1953. In 1946, Browning teamed up with swing legend Lionel Hampton to write Lionel Hampton's Swing Book, a comprehensive, yearbook-style who's who of musicians across popular genres including swing, jazz, and blues. The volume, pictured here, is now quite rare. In 1953, Browning launched a new publication endeavor, The Browning Letter, which for three years ran feature articles and society gossip.  Contributors included Frederick H.  Robb ("Hammurabi"), a Pan-Africanist and famed street corner speaker; actress Louise Pruitt, who wrote a theater column; and novelist Chester Himes. In May 1954, The Browning Letter began including a section called "Zip" to celebrate "Zip girls," one of whom was Browning's own daughter Barbara Cordell. In 1963, Browning repackaged Zip as its own monthly magazine. Browning wrote and published the pamphlet "It's No Fun to be Black" in 1972, with cartoon illustrations by local artists. The following year, Browning created a sequel pamphlet, "It's Fun to Be Black," which was also the theme of that year's International Black Writer's Conference. In 1970, nearing retirement from teaching, Browning met with fellow leaders in the African American community, including Judge Sidney Jones and Leo Sparks, at the Washington Park Community Fieldhouse to plan the first annual International Black Writers Conference. Over the next decade, the conference would grow into a three-day affair attended by such prominent writers as Lerone Bennett, Herman Gilbert, Lu Palmer, Oscar Brown, Jr., Henry Blakely, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sam Greenlee, Alex Haley, Vernon Jarrett, Haki Madhubuti, Dudley Randall, Margaret Walker Alexander, and John Oliver Killens. Browning organized the conference until her health began to fail in 1984. Novelist Sam Greenlee and Alice Browning at the International Black Writers Conference in 1978 (photo by Barbara Cordell). Poet and publisher Haki Madubuti speaking at the IBWC in 1976 (photo by Robert Williams). The Alice Browning Papers include over 100 rare poetry chapbooks by African American poets. Many of these, such as Melvin Marcus Glascoe's Man Born of a Dark Woman, published in 1971, include original cover art.

Images and credits.