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Bernard W. Bell collection

 Collection — Box: 1-101, OS 1
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0122

Scope and Contents

The Bernard W. Bell collection (1959 – 2012) provides researchers with a unique view into African American scholarship. This collection contains seven series: 1. Professional Papers 2. Afro-American Studies Executive Committee 3. Writings by Bell 4.Writings by Others 5. Grants and Awards 6. Research Materials 7. Audiovisual material.

The Professional Papers series documents Dr. Bell’s university life and teaching career at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and The Pennsylvania State University. It also includes correspondence between many well-known African American writers such as Clarence Major, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Amiri Baraka.

The Afro-American Studies Executive Committee series contains information about Dr. Bell’s role in developing the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, one of nation’s first degree-granting African American Studies programs.

The Writings by Bell series and the Writings by Others series include a large collection of manuscript drafts, reviews, promotional material, chapters, essays, and creative works written by Dr. Bell and his colleagues.

The Grants and Awards series document Dr. Bell’s career as a traveling scholar. This series abounds with administrative information, travel logistics, correspondence, and curriculum materials.

The Research Materials series mainly includes biographical files and subject files that Dr. Bell created during his career. These files cover a wide range of topics related to African American writers, literature, culture, and higher education.

The Audiovisual Materials series includes cassette tapes and reel-to-reel tapes containing music, poetry, and narratives relating to the African American experience.


  • Creation: 1959-2012

Rights statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright and/or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical / Historical

Dr. Bernard William Bell (b. 1936 - ) is an emeritus research professor at The Pennsylvania State University and an internationally known scholar of American and African American literature, language, and culture. Throughout his forty-year career in academia, Dr. Bell’s contributions to African American scholarship included serving as a co-founder and acting head of one of the nation’s first African American Studies programs, authoring and editing nine books and more than seventy articles and reviews, and teaching and lecturing in eight countries. Dr. Bell also served as a mentor to Dr. Carlton E. Brown, a former president of Clark Atlanta University (2008 – 2015). Dr. Bell was born in Washington D.C. yet spent most of his childhood years growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, and the South Bronx of New York City. Despite being born into the Great Depression to an unwed mother, Dr. Bell had aspirations to attain higher education from the time he was young and was affectionately known as “School Boy” within his neighborhood. His path toward higher education began after serving in the Marine Corps for four years. Upon the completion of his service in the Marines, Dr. Bell enrolled in Howard University under the GI Bill where he studied under Professor Sterling A. Brown. To support his wife and young family, he worked full time as an airline chef and a taxicab driver while taking a full load of courses.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1962, Dr. Bell worked as a high school English teacher in the Washington D.C. public school system while pursuing a master’s degree in English at Howard University until 1967. He then enrolled in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and earned his PhD English with Honors in 1970.

In 1969, Dr. Bell co-founded the interdisciplinary W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and in 1970, he became the acting head of the department and the first chairman of the Five College Afro-American Studies Executive Committee. He served as an Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts from 1975 until 1987, during which he received a Senior Fulbright Award and other travel grants to teach in Coimbra, Portugal; Freiburg, West Germany; and various institutions around the U.S. While at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Bell authored and edited widely-acclaimed books including Modern and Contemporary Afro-American Poetry (1972), The Folk Roots of Contemporary Afro-American Poetry (1974), and The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition (1987), which was a recipient of the 1989 CLA Book Prize.

In 1991, Dr. Bell became a Professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University and taught there until he officially retired on June 30, 2012. During his thriving career at Penn State, he received multiple Fulbright and travel awards to Spain and China and published a host of award-winning books, articles, and monographs. Two of his most famous works include The Contemporary African American Novel: Its Folk Roots and Modern Literary Branches (2005), which received four awards, and Bearing Witness to African American Literature: Validating, and Valorizing Its Authority, Authenticity, and Agency (2012).

Dr. Bell has been married to Mrs. Carrie Bell since 1958. They have three sons—Byron, Douglass, and Christopher—and six grandchildren. Dr. Bell currently resides in Pennsylvania.


42 Linear feet

Language of Materials



This collection is organized into seven series: 1. Professional Papers; 2. Afro-American Studies Execuive Committee; 3.Writings by Bell; 4. Writings by Others; 5. Grants and Awards; 6. Research Materials; and 7. Audiovisual Materials. Series often contain a mix of individual files as well as subseries and subsubseries. Most items in the collection are arranged alphabetically with the exception of files within the manuscript subsubseries, which are arranged chronologically. Additionally, series one, two, four, and six contain oversize items which are housed in twelve folders within an oversize box.

Bernard W. Bell collection, 1959 - 2012
Finding aid prepared by JoyEllen Freeman, 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository


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