A One-of-a-Kind Collection of African American Poetry and Art

Among the works highlighted in the Hillman Library ground floor display of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics are signed event posters and books by Pitt faculty members and CAAPP visiting fellows.Since its founding in 2016, the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP) in the Department of English has hosted dozens of events that have brought prominent poets and artists to the University for readings, master classes and community workshops.

For each event, CAAPP—in collaboration with the University Library System (ULS)—collects the work of the visiting fellow. This includes everything from National Book Award-winning bestsellers to chapbooks printed in limited quantities by independent presses.

“My dream is that professors will use this resource to develop curricula after really delving into the collection, discovering things for themselves,” said Dawn Lundy Martin, professor in the Writing Program and director of CAAPP.

The spirit of collaboration

CAAPP emerged from a brainstorming session initiated by then-department chair Don Bialostosky, who wanted to explore ways to celebrate the presence of three acclaimed African American poets on faculty—Lundy Martin; former faculty member Terrance Hayes; and Yona Harvey, assistant professor in the Writing Program.

“The spirit of collaboration is what produced CAAPP,” said Lundy Martin, who recalled Bialostosky’s enthusiasm for the idea of creating a center that did more than invite poets and writers to campus for readings. “We decided to make creativity at the center of the work we do. And when we think about poetics, we think about where art forms meet to produce something unique, where people can learn something new through the creative process. It's really about learning through discovery, making and collaboration. We wanted that to be at the heart of what we do.”

From the beginning, the creation and maintenance of an archive was an important aspect of CAAPP’s mission. Robin Kear, liaison librarian at ULS, works with CAAPP Assistant Director Lauren Russell to obtain items for the collection.

Kear and Russell have arranged a curated display of the collection that is currently on the ground floor of Hillman Library, where it will remain through the end of February. Members of the University community are always welcome to view the growing collection online, request the materials for reading and ask Kear for more information.

“It’s an incredible resource,” said Kear. “It’s a growing resource, and one of a kind in terms of library collections across the country.”