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Heritage Press Archives

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

Award-winning poet Robert Hayden, published The Night-Blooming Cereus in 1972, in honor of Heritage Press's ten-year anniversary. This was a fitting marker of the occasion, as Hayden's A Ballad of Remembrance, published in 1962, had been the press's very first release. In 1966, that book had won Hayden the Grand Prize for Poetry at the first World Festival of Negro Arts, an affirmation both of Hayden's career and of Heritage Press as one of the most important publishers of black poetry of its time.

Heritage Press was founded by Paul Breman, a Dutch antiquarian book trade specialist. Three years after a move to London in 1959, Breman's admiration for Robert Hayden's burgeoning poetry prompted him to begin publishing a series of books written by new black poets, a series that eventually ran to twenty-seven volumes over twelve years. Best known for virtually launching the careers of Robert Hayden, Audre Lorde, Ray Durem, Dolores Kendrick and Ebele Oseye (then Ellease Southerland), the press also published major works of poetry by Arna Bontemps, Waring Cuney, Owen Dodson, and Ishmael Reed. In addition, the press published many prominent members of the Black Arts Movement—including Conrad Kent Rivers, Dudley Randall, Lloyd Addison, Ronald L. Fair and Russell Atkins—as well as several poets who remain largely unknown today.

Throughout the series' thirteen-year run, Breman intended it to provide an outlet both for interesting young poets and established authors whose poetry had never appeared in book form. The press's holdings are thus generally limited to either early or retrospective moments in its authors' careers. Featured in the collection are the manuscripts and correspondence of Robert Hayden, Dolores Kendrick, Audre Lorde, Arna Bontemps, Fenton Johnson and Dudley Randall, as well as a private correspondence with W. E. B. and Shirley Du Bois. The collection also contains original manuscripts of almost all of the books published by the series. These manuscripts are often accompanied by Breman's own comments, additional poems that were cut from the published volumes, and a well-kept correspondence that documents each volume's development. The collection also includes Breman's working file on the anthology of black poetry entitled You Better Believe It, which he compiled for Penguin Books in 1973.

Selected Artifacts

Letter from Conrad Kent Rivers to Paul Breman, 30 January 1968, regarding last-minute changes and review copies for Rivers' A Still Voice of Harlem, published in 1968.  Rivers died tragically later that year, and Breman published a posthumous collection of his poetry - a series of poems written for Richard Wright - in 1972. Dudley Randall, founder of Broadside Press and author of Love You, published in 1970.  Broadside Press began publishing broadsides of single poems by black authors in 1965, and soon became the primary publisher of the Black Arts Movement.  Indeed, Broadside published four of the most important and influential voices of the movement, Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez and Etheridge Knight.  Randall worked with Paul Breman in several capacities, including as the American distributor for Heritage Press titles. Audre Lorde, author of Cables to Rage, Lorde's second ever volume of published poetry, published in 1970.  Lorde was an important gay activist and an excellent critic of the racism of the feminist movement and sexism of the African-American movement.  Breman considered Cables to Rage the best book in his series after Hayden's. Ronald Fair, author of Excerpts, published in 1975.  A successful novelist, Fair was a close friend of Breman's, and a frequent correspondent.  He also wrote the introduction to The Wright Poems (1972), by their late mutual friend Conrad Kent Rivers. Ronald Fair was very resistant to the idea of supplying autobiographical information to appear in his Heritage book, but Paul Breman insisted. Fair finally relented, but signaled his discontent by titling the document 'The Shit Sheet,' ca. 1975. Dolores Kendrick, author of Through the Ceiling, published in 1975.  This was Kendrick's first book of poetry, to be followed in later years by the award-winning The Women of Plums (1989), as well as Now is the Thing to Praise (1984) and Why the Woman is Singing on the Corner (2001).  In 1999, she was named the Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia. The only other person to be honored with that tile was Sterling Brown, in 1984.

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