So Who Was Esther Walls?

Esther Walls, Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, Iowa c.1968 – photo – Bill Anderson  via University of Iowa Libraries, Women’s Archives

An attentive alert Esther Walls is seen here in the above snapshot in conversation with Allen Ginsberg.   Peter Orlovsky, Allen’s partner, sitting between them, listens in.

Esther Walls (1926-2008) was an important and pioneering figure, an African-American librarian and educator (notably at the Countee Cullen Branch of the New York Public Library) and tireless international advocate for literacy in developing countries (notably with the Franklin Book Program)

Erik Henderson presents a detailed report of her illustrious career – here – (see also his video presentation – here), drawing on the University of Iowa’s digital records – here 

Esther Walls, surrounded by Louis Lomax, William Melvin Kelley, John Oliver Killens, Chinua Achebe and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in a Black Writers panel organized at the Countee Cullen Branch of the New York Public Library, May 1963

Fugitive newspaper-clippings from the archive. Here’s an account of some of her activity at the library in the Fall of 1962:

“A discussion on the effectiveness of passive resistance as a means of reducing barriers to racial integration was held Wednesday evening at the Countee Cullen Branch Library… Miss Walls conducted the discussion, one of a series for adults. It was introduced with a showing of “Sit In” a filmed news analysis of the Nashville sit-in movement….The October film forum will be followed during the coming months by a variety of activities..including an additional current affairs discussion on Nigeria, recitals and instrumental and vocal works, and programs for children and teenagers…”

Her work in African-American studies and the promotion of African-American culture persisted throughout the ’80’s  and was influential and far-reaching

Check out, from October 1986 – Walls interviewed – here


Esther Walls NYC, 1972)


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