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Libraries' Larry Donnell Kimmons Memorial Book Collection Preserves Rare Books by Notable Black Authors

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The Larry Donnell Kimmons Memorial Book Collection is devoted to the memory of Larry Kimmons, who on March 12, 1969, was tragically shot and killed by a security guard on the George Pepperdine College campus. Each year since 2019, a volume has been added to the Pepperdine Special Collections and Archives in memory of Larry Kimmons and in conjunction with the Larry Donnell Kimmons Memorial Lecture Series hosted by Pepperdine. The collection consists of limited edition and rare printings of notable works by Black writers and poets, which through the Libraries are available to students, faculty, and staff. To date, there are four books in the collection, and a fifth one will be dedicated during the Larry Donnell Kimmons Memorial Lecture on March 12, 1 – 2:30 PM, in the Payson Library Surfboard Room.

The first acquisition for the collection was a limited edition of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, published by Taschen in 2017 and featuring photographs by Steve Schapiro. A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. Together, Baldwin’s frank account of the Black experience and Schapiro’s historical images offer poetic and potent testimony to one of the most important struggles of American society. Fewer than 2,000 books in the collector’s edition were made. Each is printed in letterpress and signed by Schapiro. 

The second book, Native Son by Richard Wright, was dedicated in 2021. It tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a 20 year-old Black man who goes into a downward spiral after committing a crime. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, the novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be Black in America. The copy is a rare first edition, published in 1940 by the Book of the Month club. At the time, it became an instant best-seller. Of the book, Henry Louis Gates Jr. said: "If one had to identify the single most influential shaping force in modern Black literary history, one would probably have to point to Wright and the publication of Native Son."

The third book added to the collection was a first edition of Moses, Man of the Mountain, by Zora Neale Hurston, published by Lippincott in 1939. The novel traces Moses' life from the day he is launched into the Nile River in a reed basket, to his transformation into the heroic rebel leader, the Great Emancipator. Zora Neale Hurston was an American author and central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Her writings portrayed racial struggles in the early-1900s American South and her struggles as an African-American woman. The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays.

Last year, Pepperdine Libraries acquired a first edition of Ralph Ellison's epic work, Invisible Man. Ellison was an American writer, literary critic, and scholar who lectured widely on Black culture, folklore, and creative writing, and taught at various American colleges and universities. Published in 1952, Invisible Man is his best-known novel and won the National Book Award in 1953. The novel addresses many of the social and intellectual issues faced by African Americans in the early 20th century. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Invisible Man 19th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine also cited the work as extraordinarily significant.