Poet, Playwright, and Astrologer of a Generation: Ariana Reines

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Ariana Reines (’03). To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Ariana Reines lives a life full of language and interpretation, crafting a path out of the diverse but interconnected fields of writing, translation, performance, and astrology. Reines has written a variety of poetry, plays, and prose, all the while teaching workshops and astrologizing (her term). Her writing immerses itself in themes of love, the body, eroticism, abjection, spirituality, technology, and the occult, among others.

Her Life

Reines, originally from Salem, MA, studied French and English when she came to Barnard. While she was here, Reines won creative writing awards, worked in the writing center, and was a selected to be a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society before graduating Summa Cum Laude. She went on to get a masters in Media & Communication from the European Graduate School (2006), and spent two years as a doctoral fellow in French and Romance Philiology at Columbia (2004-2006). After the earthquake in 2010, Reines traveled to Haiti several times to help with relief efforts in a naturopathy clinic there. Now, she continues to write, teach workshops around the word, and provide astrology readings.

A Bit on Her Craft

In a conversation with fellow writer Ben Lerner, Reines characterizes her performance art as distinct from the public nature of her writing, but goes on to draw connections between the two art forms in terms of the “hospitality” required for both:

Performance is not something to professionalize, or to aspire to. But I do receive these invitations. In a way my job is to receive and respond to invitations. My intentions with performance are much more private than with writing. But the hospitality necessitated by writing with care taught me to try to be hospitable with performance also.

Such a mindset reflects the care with which Reines approaches the multifaceted forms of creativity in her work. It also indicates the open vulnerability of Reines’s writing, as well as the complex ways in which she goes about addressing the reader. In the same piece, Lerner and Reines discuss the use of first and second person in their writing. Reines’s comments about her use of the pronouns “you” and “I” also speak to the issues of media, politics, and technology that her writing takes up:

The earlier “you,” the one in the first two books [The Cow and Coeur de Lion], was the Bush-era “you.” It’s the “you” of YouTube and advertising. It’s really brutalized. It’s what the impoverished “I” is made of. The “I” is just the object of the address of advertising, of George W. Bush, of ATMs. And the weird thing is that “you,” like the “thou,” the divine “thou,” isn’t expected to respond, only to buy in. You’re not expected to answer, just to ante-up or pay in. Even if there’s a comment box.

Reines’s concern for the “I” comes up again in her episode of NPR’s Bookworm. In the podcast, Reines articulates the importance of the “I” to the ethics of poetry, and advocates for its return to American writing. Host Michael Silverblatt identifies Reines as, “one of the crucial voices of her generation.” This label is quite fitting, as Reines’s work addresses many current issues in a complex, yet oftentimes emotionally clarifying, way.

Her Work

Reines has written a number of books of poetry and chapbooks. Her full collections of poetry include Alberta Prize winner The Cow (2006), Coeur de Lion (2007), Mercury (2011), and A Sand Book (forthcoming 2019). Other publications include The Origin of the World (2014), Thursday (2012), Beyond Relief (with Celina Su, Belladonna*, 2013), as well as Tiffany’s Poems and Ramayana (a set of chapbooks from 2015). She also judged the 2013 National Poetry Series. Her 2009 play “Telephone” won two Obie awards, and was published this year by Wonder Books.

Reines has completed several works of translation, including Charles Baudelaire’s My Heart Laid Bare (2009), Jean-Luc Hennig’s The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore (2009), and Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials Toward a Theory of the Young-Girl (2012).

She has performed at the Whitney Museum of American ArtSolomon R, Guggenheim MuseumThe HammerThe Swiss InstituteRenaissance Society, and has taught at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, The New School, Tufts, Poets HouseThe Poetry ProjectThe Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the Fine Arts Work Center, ANCIENT EVENINGS, and more.

To read more… 

In addition to Reines’s books, you can read more of her writing on her website. Also, check out her current column on Artforum!

-Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn ’20


Lerner, Ben and Ariana Reines. “Ben Lerner & Ariana Reines.” BOMB Magazine. October 1, 2014. https://bombmagazine.org/articles/ben-lerner-ariana-reines/.

Poetry Foundation. “Ariana Reines.” Accessed June 4, 2018. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ariana-reines.

Reines, Ariana. “About.” Accessed June 4, 2018, http://lazyeyehaver.com/.

Reines, Ariana. “Ariana Reines” Interview by Michael Silverblatt. Bookworm, NPR. April 24, 2008. Audio, http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/bookworm/ariana-reines.

Tea, Michelle. “Coming Up @ Radar: Ariana Reines!” Radar Productions. June 4, 2012. http://www.radarproductions.org/2012/06/04/coming-up-radar-ariana-reines/.



Poet, Independent Scholar, and Activist: Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!


Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a “queer Black troublemaker, Black feminist evangelist, prayer poet priestess,” and “widely published author.” She is also the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind educational program, co-creator of the Mobile Homecoming experiential archive, and a “21st century cyber-enabled schoolteacher running the Indigo Afterschool program” for “creative black girl geniuses in 6th grade” at the Indigo Night School.

Brief Scope of the Past

Gumbs grew up in “tokenizing spaces” where she found herself to be the only Black or queer person. As a result of her unique identity and peculiar set of oppressions compared to others, Gumbs has always been on edge, prepared to be “misunderstood” and “disrespected.” She expected people to “tolerate her at best” and “to have to fight for dignity that isn’t so freely granted to people of color and/or members of the LGBTQ community. However, Gumbs’ father always managed to channel his daughter’s expectations into “transformative love,” embracing how difference challenges people to “question and re-write who we are and how we love each other.” He was her greatest support system.

At the age of 19, in 2002, Gumbs founded BrokenBeautiful Press, a grassroots publishing initiative that was inspired by Kitchen Table Press and Redbone Press. The press has published “several poetry collections, educational zines, transformative workbooks and online projects.”

Working alongside her mother, Pauline McKenzie-Day, the two created the Dynamic Duo Doula Team to provide people giving birth with holistic support as an integral healing project. They also collaboratively launched transformative mother/daughter workshops such as Thicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother Daughter Relationships and Love Overflow: A Workshop for Newly Menstruating Young People and the Supportive Adults in Their Lives.

Gumbs graduated from Barnard in 2004.

Beyond Barnard

After Barnard, Alexis Pauline Gumbs obtained a PhD from Duke University in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies in 2010. Her research was heavily devoted to Black Feminism, which entailed studying about Black women, motherhood, Caribbean women’s literature, diaspora, activism and queer theory. “She was also the first scholar to research the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University, and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University during her dissertation research.” She then went on to found her two current organizations. She also edited Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (2016), “a comparative analysis of her archival research on black feminist ideas of mothering from the 1970s and 80s together with the ways marginalized mothers are recreating the world today.” She later published Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (shortlisted for a LAMBDA Literary Award) in the fall of that same year, and M Archive: After the End of the World in March of 2018.

Gumbs has been selected for Best Experimental Writing 2015, Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Honoree Award, named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was a Reproductive Health Heroine and a Black Women Rising Finalist in 2010, and was awarded a Too Sexy for 501-C3 trophy in 2011. In addition, she was also one of the Advocate’s top 40 under 40 features and one of Colorlines 10 LGBTQ Leaders building a new politics in 2012, one of Go Magazine’s 100 Women We Love and Afropunk’s Afro of the Day in 2013, and was honored to appear on PBS’s American Masters series in 2014 alongside Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Danny Glover in Pratibha Parmar’s film Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. Her poetic work has also been published in many of the most cutting-edge poetry journals including Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift, Proud Flesh, Sinister Wisdom and ElevenEleven.

Gumbs has traveled all over the U.S., as an itinerant speaker, sharing her social media skills, intimate rituals and educational expertise, and her work alongside legends including Ntozake Shange, Angela Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Mandy Carter, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Julian Bond. Moreover, her Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind curricula, podcasts and videos have reached organizations in over 143 countries, from Chennai, India to Nairobi, Kenya.


Read her interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore featured in BOMB Magazine and Joy KMT featured in Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB)to learn more about Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04 and her work.

Aziza Rahman ’20


Brilliance Remastered. “Bio.” AlexisPauline.com, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.alexispauline.com/brillianceremastered/bio/.

Duke University. “Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Duke University, accessed June 1, 2018, https://english.duke.edu/alumni/alexis-pauline-gumbs

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “#ThisIsLuv: How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist.” Ebony, Ebony Media Operations, LLC, February 17, 2015, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.ebony.com/news-views/thisisluv-how-my-dad-became-a-queer-black-feminist-403.

KMT, Joy. “We Stay in Love with Our Freedom: A Conversation with Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Interview by Joy KMT. Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), February 4, 2018. Summary article, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/we-stay-in-love-with-our-freedom-a-conversation-with-alexis-pauline-gumbs/#!.

Sycamore, Mattilda Bernstein. “We Are Always Crossing: Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.” Interview by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. BOMB Magazine, March 22, 2018. Summary article, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/alexis-pauline-gumbs/.


Ninth-grade English Language Arts Teacher Fired for Central Park Five: Jeena Lee-Walker

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jeena Lee-Walker ‘00. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!


Former English Teacher, Jeena Lee-Walker is notorious for being fired from teaching at the High School for Arts for composing a curriculum with lessons about the Central Park jogger case, which administrators feared would “rile up” black students, in November 2013.

Brief scope of the Past

Jeena Lee-Walker graduated from Barnard in 2000 and earned post-grad degrees from Harvard and Fordham. She began working for New York City Department of
Education (“DOE”), beginning in 2011, as a 9th-grade English at the “High School for
Arts, Imagination and Inquiry” in Manhattan.

“Central Park Five Case, Explained” 

The Central Park jogger case was a major news story that circulated throughout numerous news industries in the late 90’s. The story revolved around five boys of color, Antron McCray (15), Kevin Richardson (14), Yusef Salaam (15), Raymond Santana (14), and Korey Wise (16), and a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili.

According to the recollections Ken Burns received for his documentary The Central Park Five, on the night of April 19, 1989, a group of about 30 young teenagers (mostly black and Latinx boys) met up in Central Park around 9-10 p.m. and engaged in various acts of mischief, like throwing rocks at cars. They even went as far as assaulting random joggers, leading to the arrest of two of the young boys by the police, Kevin and Raymond. They were held for hours in the Central Park precinct before officers contacted their parents to notify them of their arrest for “unlawful assembly.” They also reported that the boys would eventually be sent home with a ticket to family court. However, at 1:30 a. m., a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili was discovered in Central park, beaten badly, raped, and barely alive. Hence, the boys were held longer than promised due to suspicions that they may be possible perpetrators involved the incident regarding Meili.

The boys were still detained the next morning and ushered into separate rooms where cops questioned them individually about Meili. Several more teenagers, including Antron, Yusef, and Korey, were brought in for questioning later that day. The boys were detained and endured non-stop interrogation for over  14-30 hours. Moreover, detectives threatened and coached them into providing the answers they wanted to hear. Teen Vogue author, Lincoln Anthony Blades also reported that:

Days later, the five boys were indicted for attempted murder, rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, and riot in the first degree. Once the boys left the interrogation room, each and every one of them reversed course on the lies they were goaded into telling when speaking with legal counsel.

A trial in August, 1990 acquitted Yusef, Antron, and Raymond of attempted murder, but convicted them of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. A second trial ending in December 1990, convicted Kevin of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, and Korey of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. All of the boys faced charges of five to 15 years in prison, four of whom resulted in serving seven years, while Korey, charged as an adult, was sent to Rikers Island.

It wasn’t until 12 years later that Meili’s true attacker steps into the spotlight.  Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist already serving a 33-years-to-life sentence confessed to attack. Tied with new DNA evidence, New York County district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau vacated the convictions of the five boys and cleared all charges, after having already served their time in prison. Kevin, Raymond, and Antron took this opportunity to sue New York City for $250 million, citing malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, and eventually reached a settlement for $40 million.

Film makers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon released a documentary examining the case on November 23, 2012, called The Central Park Five.

Why Fired?

Lee-Walker argued, in response to administrators, “that students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up,” despite agreeing to dial down her approach. She believed her lessons to be captivating and the topic to be important. She also found it to be a perfect application of the Miranda v. Arizona court case

Administrators still accused Lee-Walker of insubordination and given poor evaluations, more so because she pushed back.

Feeling abandoned and mistreated, Lee-Walker filed a suit in Manhattan Federal Court, and named the Department of Education and several school administrators as defendants. She claimed that:

retaliation against her violated her First Amendment right to discuss the Central Park Five case, and that the firing violated the city’s contract with the teacher’s union because she was not given a required 60 days notice.

In her favor, her lawyer, Ambrose Wotorson, told The News, “We’re not looking to turn our students into automatons. We’re looking to turn out independent thinkers — and she got fired for that, and that’s just wrong.”

On November 23, 2016, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Lee-Walker’ case, reasoning that “her termination was not a violation of her rights” because school districts can regulate the content of school-sponsored speech as long as they are “reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Furthermore, Lee-Walker’s lesson plans, were not entitled to First Amendment protections.

As of February 27, 2018, Husch Blackwell LLP and Theresa Mullineaux report in an article for JD Supra:

If the Supreme Court decides to hear Lee-Walker v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., the Court will address two issues: (1) do state-employed pedagogues enjoy the protections of free speech in academia, especially given the Garcetti case and (2) if not, does the First Amendment protect a teacher or professor in a public school or university?


Learn more about Lee-Walker v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ. by reading the legal brief for the case.

Aziza Rahman ’20


Bekiempis, Victoria and Greene, Leonard. “EXCLUSIVE: NYC high school teacher claims she was fired for Central Park Five lessons that administrators feared would create ‘riots’.” New York Daily News, New York Daily News, January 8, 2016, accessed May 30, 2018, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-teacher-fired-lessons-central-park-article-1.2489687.

Blackwell, Husch, LLP and Mullineaux, Theresa. “Jeena Lee-Walker V. N.Y.C. Dep’t Of Educ. Et Al.: Book Banning And The First Amendment.” JD Supra, JD Supra, LLC, February 27, 2018, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/jeena-lee-walker-v-n-y-c-dep-t-of-educ-27242/.

Blades, Lincoln A. “Central Park Five Case, Explained.” Teen Vogue, Condé Nast, July 18, 2017, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/central-park-five-case-explained

Jeena Lee-Walker v. City of New York Department of Education of the City of New York, et al., 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2018).

Pulitzer Prize-winning Novelist: Jhumpa Lahiri

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jhumpa Lahiri ‘89. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!


Jhumpa Lahiri is widely renown for her collections of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008), and novel, The Namesake (2003). Interpreter of Maladies earned the Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Debut of the Year. The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications.

Lahiri’s most recent publications include her newest novel, The Lowland (2013),  a finalist for both the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award in fiction, and new memoir, In Other Words (2015), originally written in Italian while in Rome and titled, In Altre Parole. 

Early Life

Nilanjana Sudeshna “Jhumpa” Lahiri was born in London, England to Bengali Indian immigrants, Amar and Tapati. Around the age of three, Lahiri moved to Kingston, Rhode Island where she spends most of her life growing up. Amar was a librarian at the University of Rhode Island but frequently took Tapati and Lahiri to visit relatives in Calcutta (Kolkata).

As a young girl, Lahiri was surrounded by shelves towering with Bengali poetry and literature books which her mother read religiously, and books about China and Russia her father read for his graduate studies in political science, and Time magazines which he read to relax. However, Lahiri still somehow felt void of books in her life. She always pictured “the perfect” house to be overflowing with books on shelves and scattered across tables; they would be everywhere and lining the entire house. She was permitted to own a book when she was between the ages of five and six, and she describes the first book her mother bought for her as “diminutive, about four inches square, and was called “You’ll Never Have to Look for Friends.”” Her first encounter with oral stories was listening to her maternal grandfather as he crafted stories for her long after everyone had gone to sleep.

For Jhumpa Lahiri, reading and writing fed her soul. She made discoveries that nourished her mind and soothed her desires, but often defied her parents for the culture and knowledge her books entailed.

Lost in Transition

Lahiri’s journey into and through adolescence was immersed in self-doubt and denial. She convinced herself that “creative writers were other people, not me,” allowing what she loved at seven to become what intimidated her most at seventeen. She, instead, dove into “practicing music and performing in plays, learning the notes of a composition or memorizing the lines of a script.” She wrote essays and articles with the drive to become a journalist and entered Barnard majoring in English literature with the hopes of becoming an English professor. She was, in a sense, afraid of herself in writing. In an article she wrote for The New Yorker, she describes:

For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?

Lahiri later graduated from Barnard in 1989.


After graduating from Barnard, Lahiri moves on to obtain three masters degrees in English, creative writing, and comparative studies in literature and the arts, and a Ph D. in Renaissance studies. She also became a professor of the creative writing program at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

Among winning the Pulitszer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Debut of the Year, the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award in fiction, Lahiri also won numerous other awards including the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Vallombrosa Von Rezzori Prize, the Asian American Literary Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. In 2014, she was also awarded a National Humanities Medal.

In 2001, Lahiri married Alberto Vourvoulias, a Guatemalan-American and embraced writing and publishing in Italian. She published a number of other stories, along with In Other Words, and “The Boundary” (2018), including The Clothing of Books (2016), Ties (2017), which was named a New York Times Notable Book and Best Foreign Novel by the Times of London, Trick (2018) and Dove mi trovo (2018). She continues to write in Italian and translate her stories to English.   

The Penguin Classics Book of Italian Short Stories, edited and introduced by Lahiri, with selected translations, is forthcoming in Spring 2019.


Learn more about Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri in the Barnard alum magazines at the Barnard Library Academic and Information Services (BLAIS), listen to her interviews with NPR, or read her own published article in The New Yorker, “Trading Stories: Notes from an apprenticeship,” a self reflection of her life from childhood into adulthood.

Or, do all three!

Aziza Rahman ’20


Chotiner, Isaac. “Jhumpa Lahiri.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, April 2008, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/04/jhumpa-lahiri/306725/.

Deutsch, Robert. “Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, August 19, 2003, accessed May 30, 2018, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2003-08-19-lahiri-books_x.htm.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Trading Stories: Notes from an Apprenticeship.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast, June 13, 20, 2011, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/13/trading-stories.

Leyshon, Cressida. “Jhumpa Lahiri on Writing in Italian.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast, January 22, 2018, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/fiction-this-week-jhumpa-lahiri-2018-01-29.

Minzesheimer, Bob. “For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, August 19, 2003, accessed May 30, 2018, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2003-08-19-lahiri-books_x.htm.

NPR. “Strained Connections in ‘Unaccustomed Earth’.” Interview by Neda Ulaby. Book Tour, May 6, 2008. Audio and summary article, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97418330.

NPR. “Jhumpa Lahiri’s Struggle To Feel American.” Interview by Steve Inskeep. Morning Edition, November 25, 2008. Audio and summary article, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97418330.


Librarian and Archivist of Black Culture: Jean Blackwell Hutson

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jean Blackwell Hutson ‘35. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!


Jean Blackwell Hutson is best known for her work at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she served as chief for 32 years (1948-1980). Hutson expanded the Schomburg immensely during her tenure there, increasing the collection from 15,000 works to 75,000 works. As a librarian, archivist, and educator, Hutson was an advocate for the importance of cultural and scholarly centers dedicated to the preservation of Black history and life around the world.

Early Life

Born in Sommerfield, Florida in 1914, Hutson moved to Baltimore with her mother (a teacher) after her parents divorced. Her biographer Sharon Fitzgerald said in an interview with Schomburg archivist Alexsandra Mitchell that Hutson was a “precocious… [and] gifted child.” From a young age, Hutson formed connections with important Black intellectuals of her time. She met Langston Hughes when she was young and they became lifelong friends. He often referred to her as his “little sister,” and would later help her transition into the social and intellectual world of Harlem. While attending Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Hutson encountered teachers such as Norma Marshall (Thurgood Marshall’s mother), Yolanda Du Bois (W.E.B. Du Bois’ daughter and a figure of the Harlem Renaissance), and May Miller (the daughter of Kelly Miller and a well-known Harlem Renaissance-era writer).

Path to Barnard

After graduating at fifteen as Valedictorian of her high school class, Hutson spent three years studying psychiatry at the University of Michigan. While she was there, she organized against their segregated dorms. Hutson’s mother was worried about how much time Hutson was spending on student activism, so she encouraged her to transfer to Barnard. At Barnard, Hutson switched her major from psychiatry to English. Barnard also had segregated dorms at that time, but Hutson lived in the International House at Columbia where graduate students lived. During her time at Barnard, Hutson was also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She would later return to Barnard in 1974 to speak about her career at a Thursday Noon meeting, and again in 1983 to participate in a “Dialogue Between Distinguished Educators.”

Becoming a Librarian

After college, Hutson spent a year getting her masters at the Columbia School of Library Service. Library science was not Hutson’s intended career path — she initially took it up as a temporary occupation while saving money for medical school. However, she never left the field of libraries and education after graduate school.

Hutson’s advocacy for accessibility and attention to marginalized peoples started early on in her career as a librarian, when she worked at a New York Public Library branch in the Bronx. There, she expanded the collection to include books in Spanish that would appeal to the Spanish speaking patrons of the library. Sharon Fitzgerald notes that Hutson brought, “uncompromised intellect… to every idea… so the library became a natural place for her,” and that she shared, “extraordinary generosity… with patrons.”

Hutson married musician Andy Razaf in 1939, but they got a divorce after eight years of marriage. Starting in 1947 she worked in New York Public Library’s Division of Negro Literature, and she became chief of the Schomburg Collection (originally based on Arthur Schomburg’s private collection of books) in 1948. In 1950, she married John Hutson. They later had a daughter, Jean Frances Hutson. Unfortunately, that marriage was also brief as John Hutson passed away in 1957.

Hutson’s Time as Chief

Hutson spurred a tremendous amount of growth at the Schomburg. She curated important art and historical collections and got her friends Langston Hughes and Richard Wright to donate their personal papers to the collection. Hutson said in a 1964 radio interview with Director of Urban Planning of the American Jewish Committee Irving M. Levine that she was committed to, “filling the gaps of omissions that have occurred” in the telling of Black history. Her work as a librarian and archivist reflects her success in this pursuit. In 1962, Hutson helped publish the Dictionary Catalogue of the Schomburg Collection. This catalogue made the reach of the Schomburg global, as microfilms of the catalogue allowed libraries around the world to explore the contents of the collection. Hutson’s personal prowess as a librarian and educator also attracted international attention. In 1964, she was invited to the University of Ghana to help assemble their Africana collection. She spent the year there as a librarian in the University’s Balme Library.

On her return to the Schomburg, Hutson focused her efforts on fundraising for a new building to house the Schomburg. In addition to helping create the Schomburg Corporation in 1971, Hutson lobbied for federal funding in Albany. Her efforts came to fruition in 1981 when the impressive $3.7 million building opened its doors.

Life beyond the Schomburg

Even though she retired from the position of chief in 1981, Hutson’s name will forever be attached to the Schomburg Collection, especially because of the Jean Hutson General Research and Reference Division (which was dedicated to Hutson on her 80th birthday). After her retirement, Hutson went on to hold a position in the office of library administration at the NYPL.

Hutson was also involved in many organizations beyond the Schomburg, including the American Library Association, the African Studies Association, the NAACP, and the Urban League. In addition, she helped found the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and was the first president of the Harlem Cultural Council. She was an associate adjunct professor of history at City College, where she encouraged students who were engaged in the Black Power movement to use the Schomburg as a resource for their activism. She wrote for journals and library publications, and also contributed to books such as Notable American Women: The Modern Period: a Biographical Dictionary. She has been honored with many awards, including The Annual Heritage Award of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1966; The Black Heroes Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service Commemorating the Lives of Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Whitney M. Young Jr. and Martin Luther King, Jr., 1974; and The Professional Service Award, Black Librarians Caucus of the American Library Association, 1980.

Hutson passed away in 1998 at age 83, leaving behind a rich legacy of scholarship, culture, and history for the world to cherish and explore.


To learn more about Hutson in her own words, read an interview with her in the Barnard Alumnae Magazine or listen to her 1968 conversation with Irving M. Levine on Black history.

To learn more about the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, visit the NYPL’s about page.

-Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn ’20


“A Celebration of Scholarship.” Barnard Alumnae, Summer 1983. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/BC11-08:10450#page/16/mode/2up.

Chambers, Kate. “Navasky Speaks at Thursday Noon.” Barnard Bulletin (New York), January 31, 1974. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/bc:bulletin-19740131-5.

“Class Notes.” Barnard Alumnae, Fall 1984. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/BC11-08:10695#page/40/mode/2up.

Fitzgerald, Sharon. “The Early Life of Jean Blackwell Hutson.” Interview by Alexsandra Mitchell. Live From the Reading Room, September 7, 2017. Audio, https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/09/07/birthday-jean-blackwell-hutson.

Howard, Sharon. “Hutson, Jean Blackwell.” Oxford African American Studies Center, Oxford University Press, accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0001/e0285?hi=0&highlight=1&from=quick&pos=1.

“Hutson, Jean Blackwell 1914–.” Contemporary Black Biography, Encyclopedia.com, accessed May 24, 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/jean-blackwell-hutson.

Hutson, Jean Blackwell. “Mrs. Jean Hutson: Are We Rewriting History?” Interview by Irving M. Levine. New York Tomorrow, December 24, 1968. Audio, http://www.wnyc.org/story/mrs-jean-hutson-are-we-rewriting-black-history/.

Smith, Dinitia. “Jean Hutson, Schomburg Chief, Dies at 83.” The New York Times February 7, 1998. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/07/arts/jean-hutson-schomburg-chief-dies-at-83.html.

Jeannette Mirsky: In the Words of an Archivist

“In drawing on the letters and unpublished personal narratives, I have taken the liberty of letting the story run along without denoting ellipses; the pages filled with dots looked unseemly… I have utilized whatever books and articles would carry the story ahead fully and honestly and so obviated the repetitiousness of an archivist’s bibliography.”

-Jeannette Mirsky, from the Preface of Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer


Last month I referred to Barnard alumna, author, and world traveler, Jeannette Mirsky, as “the coolest person I never heard of until last week.” Considering that her personal papers, recently acquired by the Barnard College Archives, remained unprocessed until this week, it is not surprising I had not encountered Mirsky previously. Last week I completed processing Jeannette Mirsky’s personal papers and reading her book, To the Arctic! Having spent so much time with her collection, and because there is so little information online about her, I found it fitting to pay her a brief tribute by sharing a few words about Mirsky and her work.

Jeannette Mirsky was born in New Jersey in 1903, and raised in New York City where she went on to earn her A.B. from Barnard College in 1924. From 1935-1938 Mirsky did graduate work at Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. Mirsky’s academic records from this time and a notebook from a 1935 Anthropology course entitled “Social Organization,” are included among her papers.

As Mirsky embarked on her graduate studies, her inaugural book, To the North! was published. This time period is documented by extensive correspondence with publishers, manuscript drafts, and a collection of maps, illustrations, and photographs to be considered for inclusion in the publication. To the North! recounts the history of Arctic exploration, utilizing primary source materials to detail Arctic journeys in the words of the explorers themselves. To the North! begins: “Not so long ago there was a custom among sailors that accorded to all those who had sailed round Cape Horn the right to put one foot on the table after dinner, while those who had crossed the Arctic Circle could put both feet on the table. Here will be found the stories of those men who have both feet on the table, told whenever possible in their own words.”

Despite Mirksy’s extensive research and utilization of primary source documents, To the North! was controversial for largely discrediting Frederick Cook’s claims of discovering the North Pole. Mirsky wrote, “Cook was an extraordinary figure. It is impossible to dismiss him simply by calling him a liar. Rather it may be said that he was a great teller of stories, a fiction-writer who on a certain amount of fact built a vivid and absorbing yarn. For a man of his ability and experience he harbored too puissant an imagination…The story told in Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole is exciting and well written, but it nevertheless appears to be mainly fiction.”


Jeannette Mirsky outside a bar

To the North! subsequently went out of print for a number of years due to a lawsuit by Cook, but was re-released in 1946 under the title, To the Arctic: The Story of Northern Exploration from the Earliest Times to the Present. In addition to English, the book has been published in German, Spanish, and French. Although the book is largely remembered for the controversy ignited by Mirsky’s assertion that it was Robert Peary, and not Frederick Cook who first reached the North Pole; the vast majority of To the North! is interested in what happened prior to the so-called attainment of the Pole. Near the end of the book, after devoting a chapter to the North Pole claims, Mirksy concedes: “It has been many years now since the Pole was reached, and viewing Peary’s exploit from such a vantage-point, it would seem fair to say that if any man were to reach the Pole, that man would be Peary…But like all deeds whose import is self-contained, it seems a strange goal on which to have lavished so much energy and planning and money. Like so many grand gestures, when seen in retrospect, it does not seem to matter greatly.”

 Mirsky expressed a lifelong interest in travel and exploration. Her personal papers are full of her research on explorers, letters and correspondence from around the world, and boxes of postcards and photographs documenting these pursuits. Her years of research culminated in a number of publications, which includes The Westward Crossings, The World of Eli Whitney, Elisha Kent Kane and the Seafaring Frontier, The Great Chinese Travelers: An Anthology, Houses of God, and Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer.

Prior to Barnard’s acquisition of Mirsky’s personal papers, the extent of our knowledge ended with her non-fiction and anthropological writings. It is my hope that with the availability of the Jeannette Mirsky collection that interest is sparked and a biographer of Jeannette Mirsky will emerge to tell her story, in her own words, just as she spent her life doing for others.

Written by: Heather Lember, Barnard College Archives Graduate Assistant

Juliet Stuart Poyntz, Class of 1907

Juliet Stuart Points' photograph from the 1907 Mortarboard. Image courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

On an early June day in 1937, Juliet Stuart Poyntz—Barnard class of 1907, known for her intellect, poise, and charisma—walked out of her rented room at the American Woman’s Association clubhouse and was never seen again. Her attorney reported her disappearance seven months later, launching Poyntz to a different kind of recognition than the intellectual was used to: notoriety. Newspaper headlines traded allegations: Poyntz was a Russian spy–she had been recalled to Russia–she was murdered by the OGPU (the Soviet secret police and the predecessor to the KGB)–she had turned against her communist ties and was placed in the Witness Protection Program. Who was Poyntz, and what happened to her?

Born Juliet Stuart Points on November 25th, 1886 in Omaha, Nebraska, Poyntz moved to New York City with her family at some point during her adolescence, and enrolled at Barnard College in 1903 as a 16 year old. Precocious and intelligent, Poyntz was extremely invested in Barnard as an institution and supplemented her coursework with leadership roles in extracurriculars. She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for women and of the Christian Association, President of her sophomore class, and President of the Undergraduate Association in her senior year. The scrapbook of her close friend, Sophie Parsons Woodman (also class of 1907) contains a letter from her about the proposed creation of a “senior society,” in which she worried over the possibility of creating divisions within her class. She also participated in the 1907 senior show and worked on the Board of Editors for the 1907 Mortarboard. Poyntz was voted “most popular” in her class and in the college, spoke as valedictorian for her graduating class, and went on to work as an instructor in the Barnard history department.

Page one of an article on feminism written for "The Barnard Bear" by Juliet Stuart Poyntz during her time as an instructor at Barnard. Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

During her years at Barnard and after her graduation, Poyntz was involved with the suffragette/feminist movement, which was gaining momentum during the early 20th century. In 1912, she gave an address to the Suffrage Club at Barnard, quoting freely from John Stuart Mill and calling for women to assert their individual freedoms. Ironically, referencing one of the fathers of laissez-faire economic policy was in direct opposition to her other great cause: socialism. Poyntz viewed the principles of equality touted in socialism as a natural extension of the women’s movement. In the 1912 Barnard Classbook, Poyntz reports having worked as a Special Agent for the U.S. Immigration Commission shortly after graduation, where she “found [her] proper level in the slums with the lowest of low delightful immigrants” and claims she is “still a woman’s suffragist or worse still a feminist and also a socialist (also of the worst brand).” In 1913, she married Dr. Frederick Franz Ludwig Glaser, a German immigrant. Though she kept her maiden name after the marriage, she legally changed the American spelling of her last name, “Points,” to an Eastern-European phonetic version, “Poyntz.” Though her reasons for doing this are unknown, it is around this time that Poyntz actively became involved in the Communist Party.

Poyntz rose to visibility as an activist for both the suffragette movement and the communist party in the years that followed her marriage. She published articles in the Nation about the economic future of various forms of government, and was one of the headlining speakers at Woman’s Day on April 31st, 1915–a historic event crucial in the women’s suffrage movement and associated with both the socialist and communist causes–where she was billed as a “Feminist Communist.” By 1920, Poyntz was “high in the circles of communists.” In 1934, disillusioned by the apparent inaction of the Communist Party in America, Poyntz withdrew her communist sympathies and visited Russia, where she became an agent for the OGPU. In 1936, Poyntz, disgusted by the brutality of the organization and the realities of the communist Gulag, withdrew from the OGPU. According to an article written by her close friend Carlo Tresca (labor organizer and opponent of Stalin) in which he accused the Soviet Union of murdering her, she began to unleash violent tirades against the self-serving and tyrannical activities in Soviet government to her personal friends. Less than a year later, she vanished.

Given her unpatriotic activities towards the end of her life, it is understandable that Poyntz is not listed as a notable alumna on any of the brochures that Barnard gives prospective students. However, throughout her life of activism, Poyntz worked to maintain her personal integrity and beliefs in the cause of social de-stratification even while she was being dragged progressively deeper into the activities of a dangerous organization. She is an unlikely but excellent example of the dauntless, committed spirit that Barnard prizes in its students.

Additional Information:

Tresca’s accusations can be read here, in an article entitled “Where is Juliet Stuart Poyntz?” written in 1938, just five years before he was murdered by Mafia gunmen for his anti-facist sentiments.

Dorothy Gallagher’s “Disappeared,” a dramatic essay on the Poyntz abduction (in which Gallagher accuses Poyntz of abducting another OGPU spy to the Soviet Union in 1936, before her break with the organization) that claims to draw information from Poyntz’ FBI file, can be read here.

-Johana Godfrey, BC ’13