Back to Top

168: Collier’s Af/Am Library, part IV

January 6, 2014

I had originally hoped that once I posted a series of covers here on the blog, I’d be able to move on to new book explorations. But that’s not the way it has turned out. Each thing I post seems to create a new slot in my brain that I’m always looking to fill. About a year ago I ran a three-part series on the Collier African/American Library collection of the early 1970s, an interesting set of novels collecting writings from across the African diaspora over the previous hundred years. It’s actually quite impressive—38 books in three years, with authors from over a dozen countries. You can read those first three posts HERE.
Since running that series, I keep running across books from it which I either couldn’t find before, or I was only able to share a crappy lo-res jpg because the original book was elusive. Now I’ve got all but one or two books from the series. A couple of them have great wrap-around covers, so I’m excited to share those.
 
For lack of a better system, I’ll just cruise through these in alphabetical order. Ayi Kwei Armah’s Fragments has a much more interesting cover than I originally thought. Up close the images are less washed out, and the boxes within a box capture a sense of the anguish of being caught between the rural, traditional culture of Ghana (shining gold in the sun), and the new, urban, independent Ghana of Nkrumah.
 
William Wells Brown’s novel about Thomas Jefferson’s black daughter, Clotel, or The President’s Daughter, was first published in 1853 and is considered the first novel by an African American. The cover is restrained, and rather playing to the possible sensationalism of the subject, more interestingly attaches Jefferson to the black side of his family through a simple illustration of a locket. The image has a 1950s/60s feel, something pop at the time, but clearly referencing the past.
 
The cover of George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin is way creepier in person than the really inferior image I posted last year. The illustration is clearly a direct attempt at enacting the title, but it ends up looking terrifying, the castle/skull image looking a bit like Jason from Friday the 13th, the gate over the mouth reading as a hockey mask. It’s clear that Lamming’s head is not a nice place to be.
 

 
Although a much better image, even at better resolution there is little interesting about the cover of Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. This is a disappointment since it is such an important novel, and one of the first books by an African American woman (or anyone, for that matter) to deal with the intersections of race, class, skin color, bi-racialism, and regionalism. You would have no idea of how brutal and powerful the content is with this cover as your guide. The simple portrait of a beautiful black woman conveys little of the content, nor sells the book well in its own right.
 
One of the nicest surprises here is the wrap-around cover of Bryant Rollins’ Danger Song. The loose, pop illustration is a celebration for the eyes, with yellow, orange and pink figures strolling, hanging out, fighting, and throwing tear gas. A riot is evoked, but also contained, as everyday life appears to go on around it.
 

 
And finally, Eric Walrond’s Tropic Death, with another great wrap around cover, which evokes a different kind of riot. The clashing collage of imagery is similar to the styles found on other Af/Am books like Peter Abraham’s A Wreath for Udomo and Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters (see the earlier post). The figure with a knife on the back is cribbed from Jacob Lawrence, while the one on the spine evokes classic images of Sandino from Nicaragua. African statuary and Haitian voodoo mix with palm trees, rainbows, and the Union Jack. Somehow this kaleidoscope comes together as a whole, and sits comfortably under the bold title font, simple sans serif with a strong drop shadow.
 

 
 
Here’s an updated bibliography, with almost all of the series numbers now filled in. There are only two books I’ve yet to find. Jacques Romain’s Masters of the Dew definitely was printed as part of the series, but only one copy appears to be floating around the internet (for $100!). W.E.B. DuBois’ The Quest of the Silver Fleece is listed inside a number of the later books as part of the series, but I can’t find any evidence that it was ever actually published by Collier:
 
Peter Abrahams, Mine Boy (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #04805. [South Africa]
Peter Abrahams, This Island, Now (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #04804. [South Africa]
Peter Abrahams, Tell Freedom: Memories of Africa (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #04803. [South Africa]
Peter Abrahams, A Wreath for Udomo (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #04806. [South Africa]
Christina Ama Ata Aidoo, Dilemma of a Ghost (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #01202. [Ghana]
Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #04825. [Ghana]
Ayi Kwei Armah, Fragments (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #04826. [Ghana]
William Attaway, Blood on the Forge (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #04828. [United States]
John Bayliss, ed., Black Slave Narratives (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #04850. [United States]
Mongo Beti, King Lazarus (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #04860. [Cameroon]
Mongo Beti, Mission to Kala (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #04861. [Cameroon]
William W. Brown, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #04913 [United States]
Charles W. Chesnutt, The House Behind the Cedars (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #04938. [United States]
*W.E.B. DuBois, The Quest of the Silver Fleece (New York: Collier Books, ???). [United States]
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sport of the Gods (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #05053. Cover illustration by E. Stephen Perry. [United States]
Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #04802. [United States]
Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #05241. [Senegal]
Legson Kayira, The Looming Shadow (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #03401. Cover illustration by T. Simi. [Nyasaland]
William Melvin Kelley, dem (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #05243. Cover illustration by Leo and Diane Dillon. [United States]
George Lamming, In the Castle of My Skin (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #05270. [Barbados]
Nella Larsen, Passing (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05268. [United States]
Nella Larsen, Quicksand (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05269. Cover illustration by E. Stephen Perry. [United States]
Charles R. Larson, ed., African Short Stories (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #05271. Cover illustration by V. Berger. [United States]
Camara Laye, A Dream of Africa (New York: Collier Books, 1971). [Guinea]
Camara Laye, The Radiance of the King (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Cover illustration by Jack Wolf. Book #05273 [Guinea]
James Ngugi, Weep Not, Child (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #05308. [Kenya]
Ferdinand Oyono, Boy! (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Cover illustration by Jack Wolf. Book #05320. [Cameroon]
Ferdinand Oyono, The Old Man and the Metal (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05319. [Cameroon]
Richard Stafford Reid, The Leopard (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05336. Cover illustration by Jack Wolf. [Jamaica]
Richard Rive, Emergency (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Cover photo by Wide World Photos. Book #05340. [South Africa]
Bryant Rollins, Danger Song (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05350. Cover illustration by Jack Wolf. [United States]
Jacques Roumain, Masters of the Dew (New York: Collier Books, 1971). [Haiti]
George Schuyler, Black No More (New York: Collier Books, 1971). Book #05365. [United States]
Wole Soyinka, The Interpreters (New York: Collier Books, 1970). Book #05390. [Nigeria]
Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry . . . (New York: Collier Books, 1970). [United States]
Melvin B. Tolson, Harlem Gallery (New York: Collier Books, 1969). Book #07091. [United States]
Melvin B. Tolson, Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (New York: Collier Books, 1970). [United States]
Eric Walrond, Tropic Death (New York: Collier Books, 1972). Book #05525. [Guyana]

Culture & MediaHistoryRacial JusticeSocial Movements

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Posts by Josh MacPhee

More By Josh MacPhee