Scope and arrangement
The Joseph F. Beam Papers document the life and career of an African-American gay activist and author, and his efforts to connect the black gay experience with the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The collection is divided into the following series: PERSONAL; CORRESPONDENCE; CONFERENCES; WRITINGS; “IN THE LIFE;” NATIONAL COALITION OF BLACK LESBIANS AND GAYS; and GENERAL. Selected letters, research materials and other documents which reveal intimate details of gay relationships or the identity of people not publicly gay are restricted until the year 2042.
The Joseph Beam papers are arranged in seven series:
The Personal series begins with Biographical Materialswhich comprise diaries, resumes, reviews and articles about Beam and his writings, obituaries, memorial tributes and ephemera. The remaining subseries document his education, employment and financial situation. Some research materials showing various influences on Beam are also included. The Educational filesconsist primarily of yearbooks for Malvern Preparatory School and Franklin College where Beam was a sophomore in 1969 and 1974 respectively. Also included is a photographic essay, “Padanaram Village,” a college project on a cooperative lumber village in Indiana. The Employmentsection mainly records Beam's consultancy with a task force of the American Friends Service Committee on lesbian and gay issues. The Financialsection relates to income generating activities, utilities and rent.
Beam maintained an active domestic and international correspondence as a way of nurturing an expanding network of gay writers and friends. There are five subseries: Family, General, Individuals, Organizationsand Prison Letters.The Familysubgroup consists mainly of letters from Beam to his parents while at Franklin, prior to his self-identification with homosexuality. These letters reveal a penchant for loneliness and adolescent depression, but also a growing political and cultural awareness. General Correspondenceis divided into letters sent (1982-1988) arranged chronologically, and letters received (1976-1988) arranged alphabetically. Beam corresponded with a wide range of people, from gay and lesbian activists, to poets and other writers from the general population. Individualand Organizationfiles comprise incoming and outgoing letters and deal mainly with gay and lesbian issues, and related activities. Significant correspondents include Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Essex Hemphill and Daniel Garrett. Prison Letterscomprise an important body of correspondence with an aspiring Muslim writer and various gay prisoners. Those letters touch on issues of sexuality, human rights, prison conditions and African-American culture.
Files in this series date from the publication of In the Lifein 1986 and consist of letters of invitation, speaking notes, conference packets and research materials, arranged alphabetically. The most substantive conference file documents the 1987 Convention of Black and White Men Together, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Other conference materials are located in the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays series.
Writings are divided into Writings by Joseph F. Beamand Writings by Other Authors.The series begins with two clipping files and a scrapbook of published articles and essays, interviews and reviews created by Beam. Manuscripts and typescripts of articles, short stories and essays are arranged alphabetically by titles. “Brother to Brother” and “No Cheek to Turn,” two short stories that received critical attention, are accompanied by several drafts and handwritten notes. Typescripts of interviews with authors Sonia Sanchez and Audre Lorde, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, and others form a separate subgroup. Other authors in this series include Essex Hemphill, Michelle Parkerson, Sandra Karp, Assoto Saint, and contributors to the first issue of Other Countries,a black gay journal launched in New York in 1988.
Materials relating to In the Life,the black gay anthology edited by Joseph F. Beam, are divided into three subseries:
Contributors' Files, Editor's Filesand Manuscripts.Arranged alphabetically by authors' last names, the Contributors' files comprise correspondence with Beam, manuscripts and typescripts of articles and interviews in various stages of editing, biographical sketches and printed matter. Letters and writings by authors Samuel Delany, Melvin Dixon and Essex Hemphill are located here. The Editor's files include correspondence with Allyson Press, chapter outlines, contract, galley proofs and graphic materials, advertisements and reviews, and reception and program handouts. The Manuscripts subseries consists of complete sets of submitted materials, in their final stage of editing.
This series consists of Executive Board materials and files relating to Black/Out,the organization's journal edited by Beam. The Black/Outsubseries is further divided into manuscripts, galley proofs and layouts, arranged by publication dates; and administrative files, comprising correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, financial records, mailing lists and prison letters. Also included are two small but substantive files for Alice Walker and the black lesbian poet Flyin Thunda Cloud. The Executive Boardsubseries contains minutes of board meetings, financial reports, correspondence, memoranda, conference papers, printed matter, and chapter files for Chicago and Philadelphia.
The General series consists of subject files on South Africa, prisoners' support groups and AIDS awareness; printed matter on gay and lesbian activities, including handbills, newsletters, newspapers and other publications; and research materials on lesbian and gay entertainers. Materials from the National Conference on Blacks and Gays organized by the New Alliance Party are also located here. Single issues of gay publications, including Au Courant, Painted Bride Quarterlyand Gay Community News,all featuring articles by or about Beam, are filed in a separate box.