Collection ID: Sc MG 344

Collection context


Neal, Larry, 1937-
The Larry Neal Papers document his role as a writer/editor and seminal figure in the Black Arts Movement, and consists principally of Neal's diverse forms of writings, including essays, scripts, screenplays, poems, short stories and anthologies. Published copies of some of his writings are included in the collection, as are writings by colleagues and publishers.
Preferred citation:

Larry Neal papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library


Scope and Content:

The Larry Neal Papers date from 1961 to 1985 and document Neal's role as writer/editor and seminal figure in the Black Arts Movement. The papers consist principally of manuscripts and research materials for Neal's diverse forms of writings, including essays, scripts, screenplays, poems, stories, and anthologies. Published copies of some of his writings are included in the collection, as are writings by colleagues. Neal's professional papers include correspondence with colleagues and publishers. Materials post-dating his death in 1981 document the various memorials and a conference honoring his achievements.

Biographical / Historical:

Larry (Lawrence Paul) Neal was well-known as a writer, literary and music critic, and major catalyst for the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's and 1970's. Born September 5, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia he grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Roman Catholic High School. In 1961 he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and was a recipient of the Eichelburger Award for Creative Writing from that school. After graduating from college, Neal taught creative writing, a course entitled “Afro-American Literature and Cultural History,” and other English courses at several universities including City College of New York, Case Western Reserve and Yale University between 1963 and 1976. In 1970 he was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for Afro-American critical studies. Graduate courses in folklore completed in 1964 at the University of Pennsylvania provided Neal with the opportunity to develop his writing skills, but it was folk tales, slang and street chants that shaped his distinctive style of poetry.

In 1964 Neal moved from Philadelphia where he had been teaching at Drexel Institute of Technology to New York City. The following year he married Evelyn Rodgers, a chemist at Mount Sinai Hospital; they adopted a boy, Avatar, in 1971. The Neal's residence on Jumel Terrace in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, purchased in 1971, served as a magnet for the creative individuals of the period, particularly literary figures whose works gained attention during the late 1960's and the early 1970's, including Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Ishamel Reed, Quincy Troupe, Askia Muhammad Toure, Hoyt Fuller, Stanley Crouch, and Henry Dumas. During this period, Neal worked as a copywriter for John Wiley and Sons (1964), and wrote for Liberatormagazine, a progressive journal of that time and a publication for which he eventually became arts editor. During his Liberatorperiod (1964-1966) he wrote accounts of cultural events and conducted interviews with writers, artists, and musicians.

Neal's commitment to radical politics was demonstrated through his position as education director of the Black Panther Party and as a member of the Revolutionary Action Movement, both in the 1960's. Baraka has written that he and Neal initially met at a demonstration protesting Patrice Lumumba's 1961 assassination. Neal's relationship with Baraka became more firmly established after Neal wrote an article entitled The Development of Leroi Jones which discussed Baraka's transformation from a Beat poet to a revolutionary artist. Together with Askia Toure, Neal and Baraka became principal movers in a group that created the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School in Harlem in 1964. They produced a number of plays including Jones' Jello and Dutchman, and also initiated a series of poetry readings and concerts. The Black Arts Theatre attacked the values of the Establishment theater in New York and presented art that reflected black life with its history of resistance and struggle. The theater was forced to close because of factionalism among the members and the cut of government funds (channeled through HARYOU-ACT) due to this theater's opposition to traditional theater and values. By now, however, the new direction forged in the theater became the impetus for the Black Arts Movement.

This movement by young black artists in the 1960's sought to create art forms that would advance black people's liberation. Neal described the Black Arts Movement as being radically opposed to any concept that alienates the artists from their community. Rather than fuse their ideas with the mainstream white culture, black writers, plastic artists and musicians should speak directly to the needs and aspirations of black America. Neal wrote that “Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” Both related to the African-American's desire for self-determination and nationhood. According to Neal, Black Arts was concerned with the relationship between art and politics; Black Power with the art of politics. The Black Arts Movement proposed a separate symbolism, mythology, critique and iconology. Individuals whose perceptions and art work were associated with the movement knew that their perception of reality was different from that of the white American majority.

Neal's belief in the centrality of African-American music to developing a black aesthetic was expressed in essays he published in Negro Digestin 1966 and 1967. He, Baraka and A.B. Spellman also collaborated on a magazine, Cricket,a publication devoted to African-American music, which espoused a black nationalistic philosophy. Although Cricketceased publication after three issues, it served as a vehicle through which black writers attempted to define black art forms and aesthetics.

In 1968 Neal and Baraka edited Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing,a significant publication for the Black Arts Movement, and Neal wrote two ground breaking essays that sought to define the movement. Still the seminal anthology of that period, Black Firecontains works by well-known social critics, poets and playwrights such as James Boggs, Ed Bullins, Sonia Sanchez, Stokely Carmichael, John Henrik Clarke, Harold Cruse, Henry Dumas, and Hoyt Fuller.

In addition to writing essays concerning such topics as the arts and artists, Harlem, and the death of Malcolm X, Neal served as a literary and music critic, writing essays about the works of Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Charlie Parker, and others. Among his many projects, Neal was responsible for the publication of a new edition of Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road,and for her novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine,for which he wrote the introductions (1971).

Neal also published two books of poetry: Black Boogaloo(1969) and Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts(1974). Black Boogaloofocuses on discovering the historical moment when Africans lost their connection with their gods and ancestors, thereby losing themselves. Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts,Neal's second volume of poetry, explores black folk culture and figures, especially black liberation and Shine. His dramatic works include The Glorious Monster in the Bell of the Horn and In an Upstate Motel, both of which were performed during Neal's lifetime as well as after his death. Lesser known as an arts administrator, Neal held the position of Executive Director for the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities (1976-1979), a city agency that made grants to artists and organizations that encouraged the development of the arts in black communities, including the Elma Louis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

At his death of a heart attack at age forty-three, Neal was assisting the percussionist Max Roach to write his autobiography and had completed a jazz series for a Boston television station and a film script on musical improvisation for Clark College in Atlanta. Neal had nearly completed a book on the rise of black consciousness in the 1960's he had entitled New Space: Critical Essays on American Culture. This book, published posthumously as Visions of a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings: Larry Neal(New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989) is a compilation of selected works by Neal (encompassing poetry, essays, and drama); many entries were published during his lifetime. Although not credited, Neal's widow Evelyn Neal assisted in the production of the book by selecting material that was included.

Acquisition information:

Purchased from Evelyn L. Neal, 1986

SCM 86-32

Donated by Evelyn L. Neal, 1988

SCM 88-49

Donated by Evelyn L. Neal, 1990

SCM 90-17

Processing information:

Processed by Janice Quinter; Machine-readable finding aid created by Apex Data Services; revised by Terry Catapano.


The collection is divided into six series and thirteen subseries. The titles, dates and box numbers are as follows:

  • Personal Papers, 1966-1985: Box 1
  • Professional Papers, 1966-1981: Box 2-5
  • Writings
    • Essays, 1970-1975: Box 6-8
    • Scripts, 1972-1980: Box 9-14
    • Screenplays, 1967-1979: Box 15-17
    • Screenplays, 1967-1979: Box 15-17
    • Poems, 1974-1979: Box 18-19
    • Anthologies and Other Publication Projects, 1961-1981: Box 20-23
    • Short Stories, 1973 & n.d.: Box 24-25
    • Interviews, 1973-1980: Box 26
    • Notes, 1971-1979: Box 29-30
  • D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities
  • Reference Materials
    • Subject File, 1965-1980: Box 31-36
    • Card File, n.d.: Box 37
    • Annotated Books, 1960-1978: Box 38-40
  • Writings by Other Authors
    • Essays, Short Stories, 1966-1979: Box 41-43
    • Scripts, 1972-1977: Box 44-45



Larry Neal papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018, United States