John R. Pfeiffer African American poets collection, 1972-2015 (Scattered), and undated
Using These Materials
- John R. Pfeiffer African American poets collection are open for research.
- Pfeiffer, John R..
- The collection consists mainly of cassette recordings and slides of an African and multiple African American poets and authors reading their poems and parts of their books and discussing what poetry is and why it matters to them and to the community, 1972-2015 (Scattered), undated, mostly at Central Michigan University.
- 1 cubic foot (in 1 box)
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Marian Matyn
- Scope and Content:
The collection consists mainly of cassette recordings and slides of an African and multiple African American poets and authors reading their poems and parts of their books and discussing what poetry is and why it matters to them and to the community, 1972-2015 (Scattered), undated, mostly at Central Michigan University. The collection is organized by format, alphabetically and chronologically. Physically the collection is in good condition.
The cassette recordings were mostly created when the poets presented to classes, were panelists at Paul Laurence Dunbar celebrations on campus, or presented in other public CMU forums. Most of the cassettes were recorded by CMU CSIC, while the remainder are amateur recordings. The recording quality varies.
There are also three small slide boxes of color kodak slides inside Box 1. Slide Boxes #1-2 are slides of multiple poets presenting to CMU classes, as panelists at Paul Laurence Dunbar celebrations on campus, or attending CMU receptions, October 1972. Slide Box 3 includes 4 slides of Etheridge Knight and 4 slides of Chinua Achebe on campus, all dated April 1973. There are also 8 sides of an Etheridge Knight talking with Dr. Eric Torgerson’s class with Dr. Martha Brown, including some images of him with Carroll Arnett (Gogisgi) and two other women at an airport, and at home with Dr. Eric Torgerson, August 1973. Poets and a few CMU people were identified in these slides by Dr. Tracy Collins and Dr. Ron Primeau in 2022.
Lastly, there are two folders of correspondence inside Box 1. One folder is a congratulatory letter from Pfeiffer to Alice Walker, 1983, on the occasion of her becoming the first woman of color to win the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple. The other folder includes correspondence Pfeiffer had with Octavia E. Butler, her biographical information, published interviews, lists of her publications, and an undated color photograph of Butler with Pfeiffer, 1982-2015 (Scattered).
During processing about half of the original donation of cassettes were withdrawn because they were blank, copyrighted materials which are now available in more accessible formats, or personal recorded messages from family and friends to Pfeiffers. A few slides, which were images of book covers and a few pages of generic correspondence were also withdrawn. An oversized Ray Bradbury print was returned to the donor as per the donor form.
- Biographical / Historical:
John R. Pfeiffer was born in Detroit, Michigan, on June 11, 1938, to George and Clara Pfeiffer (nee Slawienski). In 1956 he graduated from St. Mary High School (Royal Oak). He earned an A.B. (Classical) Major English and Minors Latin and Philosophy and MA English from University of Detroit, and a Ph.D. University of Kentucky English and minor in Modern German Literature in German 1969. To fulfill his ROTC obligation to the US Air Force, Captain Pfeiffer served and taught at the US Air Force Academy, 1967-1971. While there he taught the first science fiction course in the United States. Pfeiffer was honorably discharged in 1971 and he began teaching English at CMU in the fall of 1971. In 1973/1974 he was promoted to Associate Professor. He taught English at CMU from 1971 to 2015. In the early 1970s Pfeiffer, Dr. Ron Primo and Dr. Martha Brown visited Etheridge Knight during the Paul Laurence Dunbar panel in Ohio where he was then teaching. This was the catalyst that led to Pfeiffer inviting African poet and novelist Chinua Achebe and multiple African American poets to present to his classes, present publicly at CMU, and participate in a Paul Laurence Dunbar panel. Some of these poets were published by Broadside Press in Detroit and were part of the Black Arts Movement. Some of the poets also presented at CMU during what was then called Black History Week in the 1970s (see CMLife article, Poets indicate trend for ‘70s).
John has eight children, twenty-three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Pfeiffer is married to Tracy Collins, who teaches as a fixed-term faculty in CMU’s English Language and Literature Department. In 2022 John and Tracy lived in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. (This information is from Pfeiffer.)
Summary biographical information on CMU professors involved with bringing African American poets to CMU:
Dr. Carroll Arnett (Gogisgi) (1927-1997) was a nationally recognized indigenous poet who taught at CMU beginning in 1970. For further information about him, please see the finding aid for his papers which are housed in the Clarke, as are many of his publications.
Dr. Ronald Primeau (1946-) is an emeritus professor of English at Central Michigan University, having retired in 2015 after 44 years of teaching. He is the author of books on Paul Laurence Dunbar, Herbert Woodward Martin, Edgar Lee Masters, and the literature of the American highway. Dr. Primeau helped identify people in some of the slides and shared some of his memories from the early 1970s about visiting the Paul Laurence Dunbar panel.
Dr. Martha Hursey Brown taught History at Central Michigan University, Langston University and Oberlin College. She taught at Old Dominion beginning in 1990. She died in 1997. (This information is from her obituary in the Virginian Pilot, January 26, 1997 https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1997/vp970126/01260015.htm.)
Dr. Eric Torgersen is an emeritus professor of English at Central Michigan University, having retired in the spring of 2008 after 38 years of teaching. In 2022 he lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife, the quilt artist Ann Kowaleski, and is the Honorary Chancellor the Poetry Society of Michigan. (This information is from https://poetrysocietyofmichigan.com/tag/eric-torgersen/)
Summary biographical information on the poets included in this collection. For more detail, please refer to their biographical or literary history online. Books or poems noted below are recorded either in total or in part in the collection.
Achebe, Chinua (1930-2013) Nigerian novelist, poet, critic. He is the most dominant and influential writer of modern African literature. During the 1970s-1980s he taught at Amherst where he was friends with Quincy Thorpe. Because Thorpe received a warm welcome at CMU when presenting during Black History week, Achebe agreed to be the speaker for the CMU College of Arts and Science’s Visiting Scholar Series during the end of March 1973. (CMLife March 28, 1973, p. 7. The slides in this collection were taken during his presentation which was discussed in CMLife on April 2, 1973.)
Aubert, Alvin (1930-2014) poet, African American culture/life champion.
Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-2000) poet, author, teacher, first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize (1950), Black Renaissance poet, Illinois Poet Laureate (1968-2000), Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1985-1986). Her book, Family Pictures (1970) was published by Broadside Press.
Butler, Octavia E. (1947-2006) science fiction author, winner of multiple awards, the first science fiction author awarded the MacArthur Award.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence (1872-1906) first influential African American poet in American literature.
Emanuel, James A. (1921-2013) poet and scholar, created jazz-and-blues haiku. His book The Treehouse (1969) was published by Broadside Press.
Giovanni, Nikki (1943-) poet. Her book Re-Creation (1970) was published by Broadside Press.
Gregory, Dick (1932-2017) comedian, civil rights leader, vegetarian activist.
Harper, Margaret--no information available
Jackson, Ron-no information available.
Knight, Etheridge (1931-1991) poet, married to Sonia Sanchez 1968-1972. His book Poems from Prison (1968) was published by Broadside Press.
Lee, Don L. (1942-1980) used the name Haki R. Madhubuti (his adopted Swahili name) author, educator, poet. His books Don’t Cry Scream and We Walk the Way of the New World were both published by Broadside Press in 1970.
Marshall, Paule (1929-2019) female writer, poet, professor, award winner.
Martin, Herbert Woodward (1933-) poet, playwright, singer, librettist, scholar, professor.
Murphy, Beatrice M. (1908-1992) poet, editor, founder of the Negro Bibliographic Research Center. Her book the Rocks Cry Out (1971), coauthored with Nancy L. Arnez, was published by Broadside Press.
Patterson, Raymond R. (1929-2001) poet, librettist, educator.
Possiant, A.- no information available.
Randall, Dudley (1914-2000) Detroit poet and poetry publisher. His Broadside Press published many leading African American poets in this collection. Copies of many of his publications are in the Clarke Historical Library.
Redding, Jay Saunders (1906-1988) writer, educator, first African American faculty member at an Ivy League college.
Sanchez, Sonia (1934-) poet, writer, professor, a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, recipient of several major awards. She was married to Etheridge Knight 1968-1972. Her book We a Bad People (1969) was published by Broadside Press.
Stephany (dates unknown) a teenage female poet whose book Moving Deep (1970) was published by the Broadside Press.
Walker, Alice (1944-) poet, novelist, writer, social activist, the first woman of color to win the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple.
Walker, Margaret (1915-1998) poet, novelist, publisher, operated a Black-theme bookstore. Her book Prophets for a New Day (1970) was published by Broadside Press.
Welsey, Frances Cress (1935-2016) psychiatrist, author, racism theorist.
X, Marvin (1944-) Poet, playwright, essayist. His book Black Man Listen was published by Broadside Press.
Central Michigan University Self-Instruction Systems Center or CMU CSIC was established in 1971 on the first floor of the Park Library building. The purpose of the CSIC was to allow students an affordable option to learn a subject at their own pace. Students could listen to a cassette on a topic with which they were struggling, and then take a quiz to see if they had learned the material. Over 1,000 speeches, discussions, and interviews were in the collection. Students would listen to cassette recordings with a headset in the CSIC or could order a copy for a dollar (CMLife, March 8, 1972, p. 3). By 1990 the CSIC was known as the Park Library Instructional Resources. As recorded formats morphed to videotapes and DVDs, the cassettes were withdrawn. The newer formats joined the rest of the circulating hardcopy Park collections.
- Acquisition Information:
- Acc# 77392
Arrangement is by format, numerical, alphabetical, and chronological.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
African American poets--20th century.
African American poets--19th century.
Poets, American--20th century.
African American women--History--20th century.
Central Michigan University. English and English Literature Department.
Central Michigan University--History.
Pfeiffer, John R.
Brooks, Gwendolyn, 1917-2000.
Butler, Octavia E.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence, 1872-1906.
Knight, Etheridge, 1931-1991.
Madhubuti, Haki R., 1942-
Marshall, Paule, 1929-2019.
Martin, Herbert Woodward.
Murphy, Beatrice M., 1908-1992.
Patterson, Raymond R.
Randall, Dudley, 1914-2000.
Redding, J. Saunders (Jay Saunders), 1906-1988.
Sanchez, Sonia, 1934-
Walker, Alice, 1944-
Walker, Margaret, 1915-1998.
Welsing, Frances Cress, 1935-
X, Marvin, 1944-
- Mount Pleasant (Mich.)--History.
Using These Materials
John R. Pfeiffer African American poets collection are open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Books and poems read by poets, magazine articles, and CSIC cassettes are separately copyrighted. Copyright was not transferred to the Clarke.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
John R. Pfeiffer African American poets collection, Folder # , Box #, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University