A Lifetime of Arts and Letters

James Hatch and Camille Billops are donating their archive of materials documenting African American artists and writers to the Emory Libraries.
Bryan Meltz

Camille Billops and James Hatch were young college professors in 1968, in love with art and literature as well as each other, when they began collecting rare books to enliven their teaching at the City College of New York.

Today the couple’s collection is among the most important archives of African American arts and letters of the twentieth century, and they are donating it to the Emory Libraries.

They chose Emory to care for their life’s work because the staff of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) “recognized the value of what we had gathered and promised to preserve it in a way that will allow the collection to grow in the future,” Billops says. “We could not have found a better home for our collection.”

They also have donated their personal papers—including artwork, films, correspondence, research files, and audio interviews—and have helped MARBL secure eight major collections and attract significant financial support from gifts, pledges, and other funding.

“It’s an extraordinary act on their part and has had a profound effect on African American collections at Emory,” says Randall Burkett, curator of MARBL’s African American Collections. “So many collections have come to us in the wake of this gift and because of the trust they have placed in Emory.”

Billops and Hatch established their archive in 1975. Through their annual journal, Artist and Influence, they have published interviews with more than 340 minority artists. The archive has continued to grow over the years, and in 2002 the couple placed a portion of it in MARBL, creating the Camille Billops and James V. Hatch Archives at Emory. Those materials include oral history tapes, scripts of unpublished plays, posters, photographs, and boxes of books and periodicals. The full collection comprises thousands of rare and out-of-print books, periodicals, posters, and pamphlets. It includes interviews with more than 1,200 writers, artists, poets and other cultural figures; and scripts of nearly one thousand works by African American playwrights, among them Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Billops is a documentarian, ceramicist, printmaker, and academic; Hatch is an emeritus professor of English and theater who has held National Endowment for the Humanities and Fulbright fellowships. They have produced a series of autobiographical films that explore issues of race, identity, and family. Finding Christa, about the daughter Billops gave up for adoption, won a Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.

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