For information about collections at the Northwestern University Library, you may visit their website.

Northwestern University Library
Northwestern University Library

Guide to the Leon Forrest (1937-1997) Papers 1952/1998

Overview of the Collection

Title:

Leon Forrest (1937-1997) Papers

Dates:

1952-1998

Collector:

Forrest, Leon

Size:

11.00

Repository:

Northwestern University Archives

Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
URL: http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives
Email: archives@northwestern.edu
Phone: 847-491-3354

Abstract:

Leon Richard Forrest was born January 8, 1937 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago to Adelaide Green Forrest (1920-1964) and Leon Forrest, Sr. (1918-1971). Forrest served as chairman of the Northwestern African American Studies department from 1985 to 1994, and also held a professorship in the English department.The Leon Forrest Papers consist of 8 boxes spanning the years 1954 to 1998. The bulk of the papers consist of manuscripts and proofs of his first four novels.

Biographical Information

Leon Richard Forrest was born January 8, 1937 at Cook County Hospital in Chicago to Adelaide Green Forrest (1920-1964) and Leon Forrest, Sr. (1918-1971). His mother's family was Catholic and from New Orleans. His father's family were Baptists from Bolivar County, Mississippi. Leon Forrest Sr., who worked as a bartender on the Santa Fe railroad, moved to Chicago with his wife and grandmother in the late 1920s. Leon Forrest's great-grandmother Katie helped raise him until the age of nine. His father composed song lyrics and did some recording and his mother loved music and wrote short stories.

Forrest grew up in a middle-class African-American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He attended Wendell Phillips, an all African-American elementary school where he won the American Legion Award as the best male student in his class. A friend of Forrest's father let the family use his address so that Leon could attend the highly regarded and racially integrated Hyde Park High school. A mediocre student, Forrest excelled in creative writing. He went on to attend Wilson Junior College (later Kennedy-King). His parents divorced in 1956. When Forrest's mother remarried, she and her husband opened a liquor store where Leon worked as clerk and relief bartender while attending Roosevelt University. He took courses in journalism and playwriting at Wilson and Roosevelt and briefly studied accounting.

In 1960 Forrest took a playwriting course at the University of Chicago, but soon dropped out of college and was drafted. He spent his tour of duty in Germany working as a Public Information specialist, reporting on troop training and writing feature stories for the division newspaper. He wrote plays in his off-duty hours.

Upon his discharge, Forrest returned to his parents' liquor store to tend bar while taking extension courses at the University of Chicago. There he met and befriended Professor Allison Davis, social anthropologist, and educational philosopher and English professor John G. Cawelti.

Shortly after attending the March on Washington in August 1963, Forrest moved into a small room in a building filled with musicians, painters, retired professors and writers. Forrest purchased a typewriter and began his first novel while working as an office boy for the Catholic Interracial Council's Speakers Bureau. His play, "Theatre of the Soul", was performed at the Parkway Community House, Chicago, in November 1967.

By 1970 Forrest had written for and edited several South Side community newspapers, among them "The Woodlawn Booster", "The Englewood Bulletin","The Chicago Bulletin" (1964-1967), and "The Woodlawn Observer" (1967-1970). In 1969 Forrest joined "Muhammad Speaks", the newspaper of the Muslim movement, as associate editor, writing on the arts. He was promoted to managing editor in 1972, serving for a year. He was the last non-Muslim editor of this newspaper.

On September 25, 1971, Forrest married Marianne Duncan. That year he completed his first novel, "There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden", parts of which had been published previously. Saul Bellow's praise for the work (box 1, folder 8) was helpful in achieving publication in May of 1973. Ralph Ellison wrote the forward for "There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden," endorsing it to Random House editor Toni Morrison. The next year Forrest published a six-hour interview with Ellison in "Muhammad Speaks" (box 7, folder 2). In 1977 Random House published Forrest's second novel, "The Bloodworth Orphans". Forrest's verse-play "Recreation" was set to music and performed in 1978. In 1982 "Soldier Boy, Soldier," an opera (box 8), was produced at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In 1984 Random House published Forrest's third novel, "Two Wings to Veil My Face". This won Forrest the Du Sable Museum Certificate of Merit and Achievement in Fiction, the Carl Sandburg Award, the Friends of Literature Prize and the Society of Midlands Authors Award for fiction. April 14, 1985, was proclaimed by Chicago mayor Harold Washington as Leon Forrest Day (box 1 folder 3).

In 1987 Another Chicago Press brought out Forrest's first three novels in paperback. Toni Morrison wrote the forward for "Two Wings to Veil My Face" (box 4, folder 3). Another Chicago Press published a paperback version of Forrest's fourth novel, "Divine Days," in July 1992, but a fire destroyed most of the copies and Another Chicago Press's distributor went bankrupt. Despite these setbacks, the book received the "Chicago Sun-Times" Book of the Year Award for best local fiction (box 1, folder 5). The next year Another Chicago Press and W. W. Norton issued a hardback version of "Divine Days" and Norton published a paperback version in January 1995. The literary magazine"Calalloo" devoted part of its Spring 1993 (V. 16 no. 2) issue to Forrest's writings.

Among the articles Forrest wrote for Chicago journals were Soul in Motion on ecstasy in the Black Baptist Church ("Chicago Magazine" July 1985), and an article for the "Chicago Tribune Bookworld" (April 24, 1994), "Remembering Ralph Ellison" (box 7, folder 2). A collection of Forrest's essays, entitled "Furious Voice for Freedom," came out in 1992 and was reprinted as a paperback as "Relocations of the Spirit" in March, 1994. When Ralph Ellison died the next month, Forrest was selected to deliver the eulogy. In 1997 Forrest received a special honor, a 60th birthday party at the Art Institute of Chicago, which had not hosted a similar event since honoring Saul Bellow twenty years before.

Forrest cited many influences on his writing, among them African American oral tradition such as the blues, jazz and particularly Charlie Parker, the oral and written works of Dylan Thomas, the religions of his parents and the writings of William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill and Ralph Ellison.

Forrest's twenty-four year teaching career began in 1973, after a meeting with Jan Carew, chair of the recently created Northwestern University Department of African American Studies. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Hannah Gray offered Forrest a five-year contract as Associate Professor teaching African American literature and creative writing.

Forrest was recommended for tenure by Provost Raymond Mack in 1978, and two committees voted in favor of tenure, but Dean Rudolph Weingartner refused. In 1981 Forrest gave the inaugural Allison Davis lecture, an annual Northwestern University event (box 2, folder 1) on Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" (notes box 2, folder 3). In the spring of 1984 Forrest was promoted to full professor by Dean Weingartner.

Forrest served as chairman of the Northwestern African American Studies department from 1985 to 1994, and also held a professorship in the English department. He served on the Diversity Committee and the Alliance for Success, an organization supporting the advancement of minorities at Northwestern University. Forrest lectured at several U.S. universities, including Yale, Brown, Tufts, Wesleyan, Notre Dame and Harvard. He had a reputation as a masterful teacher, innovator, and mentor and challenging author. His most popular courses included Survey of African American Literature, Literary Techniques in Creative Writing, Art of James Baldwin, Black Presence in Faulkner, Literature of Deviance, Dosteovsky's Way, Studies in Spiritual Agony and Rebirth, Sermons in the Bible, Black Families in Literature, Art of Ralph Ellison and Five Major Poets.

Leon Forrest taught until his death, which came after a long bout with prostate cancer, on November 6, 1997. He was honored in a memorial ceremony at Northwestern on January 30, 1998. Forrest's novel "Meteor in the Madhouse" was published posthumously in 2000.

Access Terms

This Collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Corporate Name:

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)--History

Personal Name:

Forrest, Leon

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information

The Leon Forrest Papers include materials transferred to the University Archives by the Department of African-American Studies (Accession No. 93-106 on August 18, 1993), and materials donated by Kathleen Bethel (Accession No. 97-154 on September 8, 1992), by Leon Forrest (Accession No. 96-95 on June 25, 1996), and by Marianne Forrest via Jerral West (Accession No. 98-115 on June 26, 1998). Biographical materials from the University Archives' Faculty Biographical Files were also incorporated into the Papers. Addition: 1954-1999, Boxes 9-11". This addition to the Leon Forrest Papers was donated to the University Archives by Marianne Forrest on August 17, 2001, as Accession Number 01-134. Addition: 1978, Box 8: This score was separated from Accession Number 03-104, Records of the Music School, on July 14, 2003.

Processing Information

Peter Gunther February 7, 2001.

Addition, 1954-1999: Boxes 9-11. Janet Olson, December 2001.

Addition, 1978: Box 8. Janet Olson, July 2003.

Separated Materials

Approximately four inches of duplicate or extraneous matter were discarded. Three wooden liquor boxes, which originally housed Forrest's manuscripts, were transferred to the University Archives' artifacts collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to use Box 1, Folder 9 must be sought from the University Archivist.

Scope and Contents

Biographical Files are arranged chronologically. Biographical materials include Forrest's curriculum vitae and a chronology of his life and works (box 1, folder 1), a photocopy of pages from the family bible listing significant birthdays and events (box 1, folder 2), awards and certificates, photocopies of pages from "Aitchpe", his Hyde Park High School yearbook, newspaper clippings, and correspondence (relating mostly to his work at Northwestern). The records within each file are arranged chronologically.

The Northwestern University sub-series is comprised mostly of class notes and research notes for his classes and writings. These notes are in no particular order. There are also folders relating to his teaching and as head of the Department of African American studies. The records within these three folders are arranged chronologically.

Folders in the Books and Publications sub-series contain manuscripts, galley and page proofs of his first four novels, and other writings. The folders containing the novels, "There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden," “Sub-Rosa”—published previously and later incorporated into "There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden–The Bloodworth Orphans", "Two Wings to Veil My Face," and "Divine Days" are arranged in order of publication. Of particular interest is the forward, signed by Toni Morrison to "Two Wings to Veil My Face" (box 4, folder 3). This sub-series also includes articles by and about Forrest, the libretto to the opera "Soldier, Boy Soldier," reviews of Forrest's books, and the manuscript for "Leon Forrest, Introduction, and Interpretation," a collection of literary critiques of Forrest's work edited by his friend John C. Cawelti. Box 8 contains the undated musical scores for"Ancestral Voices" and "Soldier Boy, Soldier" with music by composer T. J. Anderson and words by Forrest.

INVENTORY

Biographical

Box 1

Folder 1

Personal data

n. d.

Box 1

Folder 2

Forrest Family

1911-1993

Box 1

Folder 3

Awards

1954-1998

Box 1

Folder 4

Yearbooks

1952-1954

Box 1

Folder 5

Clippings

1975-1992

Box 1

Folder 6

Obituaries

1997-1998

Box 1

Folder 7

Programs including Leon Forrest or his work

1976-1994

Box 1

Folder 8

Correspondence I

1975-1991

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted

Box 1

Folder 9

Correspondence II

1992-1997

Northwestern University

Box 1

Folder 10

African American Studies Department Salaries

1982-1987

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted

Box 1

Folder 11

Grade sheets/Student evaluations

1976-1996

Box 1

Folder 12

Class Notes I

n. d.

Box 1

Folder 13

Class Notes II

n. d.

Box 1

Folder 14

Alliance For Success

1989

Box 2

Folder 1

Allison Davis Lecture and Writings

1993-1994

Box 2

Folder 2

Notes on Romare Beardon

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 3

Notes on

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 4

Notes on Ralph Ellison

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 5

Notes on Toni Morrison

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 6

Notes on Richard Wright

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 7

Notes on the Blues

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 8

Various Notes

n. d.

Books and Publications

Box 2

Folder 9

Manuscript: Sub-Rosa

n.d.

Box 2

Folder 10

Manuscript: There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, pp. 1-100

n. d.

Box 2

Folder 11

Manuscript: There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, pp. 101-196

n.d.

Box 2

Folder 12

Galley Proofs: Sub-Rosa

n.d.

Box 3

Folder 1

Page Proofs: There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden

1973

Box 3

Folder 2

Manuscript: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 1-100

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 3

Manuscript: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 101-200

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 4

Manuscript: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 201-300

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 5

Manuscript: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 301-400

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 6

Manuscript: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 401-489

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 7

Galley Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 1-245

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 8

Galley Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 246-384

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 9

Galley Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 1-233

n. d.

Box 3

Folder 10

Galley Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans pp. 234-383

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 1

Page Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans

1992

Box 4

Folder 2

Copy Page Proofs: Bloodworth Orphans, Introduction and Chapter 1–Another Press edition

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 3

Manuscript of forward for Two Wings to Veil My Face by Toni Morrison

n.d.

Box 4

Folder 4

Manuscript: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 1-100

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 5

Manuscript: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 101-200

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 6

Manuscript: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 201-300

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 7

Manuscript: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 301-409

n. d.

Box 4

Folder 8

Galley Proofs: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 1-136

1983

Box 4

Folder 9

Galley Proofs: Two Wings to Veil My Face pp. 137-297

1983

Box 5

Folder 1

Galley Proofs: Two Wings to Veil My Face

1983

Box 5

Folder 2

Page Proofs: Two Wings to Veil My Face

1983

Box 5

Folder 3

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 1-151

n. d.

Box 5

Folder 4

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 152-314

n. d.

Box 5

Folder 5

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 315-545

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 1

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 546-699

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 2

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 700-850

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 3

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 851-1000

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 4

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 1001-1300

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 5

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 1301-1440

n. d.

Box 6

Folder 6

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 1441-1650

n. d.

Box 7

Folder 1

Manuscript: Divine Days pp. 1651-1829

n. d.

Box 7

Folder 2

Articles by Leon Forrest

1972-1996

Box 7

Folder 3

Libretto to

n. d.

Box 7

Folder 4

Two book jackets

1977-1984

Box 7

Folder 5

Reviews of Leon Forrest's Works

1972-1997

Box 7

Folder 6

Articles about Leon Forrest

1982-1995

Box 7

Folder 7

Manuscript: Leon Forrest, Introduction, and Interpretation; Ed. John C. Cawelti pp. 1-184

1997

Box 7

Folder 8

Manuscript: Leon Forrest, Introduction, and Interpretation; Ed. John C. Cawelti pp. 185-358

1997

Box 9

Folder 1

Correspondence: T.J. Anderson

1980-1985

Musical Scores for Ancestral Voices and Soldier Boy, Soldier

n.d.

Teaching files

Box 9

Folder 2

Syllabus, African-American Studies A45 (“The Oral Tradition and the Creative Process”)

n.d.

Box 9

Folder 3

Grade books

1972-1999

Box 9

Folder 4

Master's Thesis by Sarah E. Hoisington

1997

Publications

Box 9

Folder 5

Meteor in the Madhouse (page proofs and cover letter)

1999

Box 9

Folder 6

Draft: To the Magical Memory of Rain (part of ) Meteor in the Madhouse

n.d.

Box 9

Folder 7

Draft: By Dawn's Early Light: The Meteor in the Madhouse

n.d.

Box 9

Folder 8

Synopsis and notes: The Adventures of Joubert Jones

n.d.

Box 9

Folder 9

Drafts and notes: Meteor in the Madhouse (1 of 4)

n.d.

Box 10

Folder 1

Drafts and notes: Meteor in the Madhouse (2 of 4)

n.d.

Box 10

Folder 2

Drafts and notes: Meteor in the Madhouse (3 of 4)

n.d.

Box 10

Folder 3

Drafts and notes: Meteor in the Madhouse (4 of 4)

n.d.

Box 10

Folder 4

Notes: “New Works, Sources and Resources”

n.d.