The names of famous writers that are carved into the walls of Central Library tower over everyone who passes in and out. But the people below don't necessarily notice them — especially in their totality.
If visitors did, then they'd see that the 83 names don't come anywhere near capturing the racial and ethnic diversity of literary greats who have influenced society over the centuries. And they'd see that only a fraction of the engravings are devoted to women.
The inclusion of 10 Black authors' names — whose works span pre-Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond — will change that. They were officially unveiled Friday, April 1, and on Saturday evening, they'll accompany the Meet the Artists gala reception.
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The change will allow people "to appreciate literary history in its fullness and not through only one narrative," said Michael Twyman, a donor and patron since he was a child.
Twyman planted the seed for the engraving expansion almost 20 years ago while touring the library during construction of the 2007 expansion. He saw seven newly etched names — Kurt Vonnegut, Dr. Seuss, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats — on the north side of the old building that's now part of the atrium.
The lack of diversity prompted Twyman to inquire about the author selection process and to research whether any of the engravings were devoted to writers of color.
The initial 76 names were etched into the limestone for the old building's 1917 opening. Just below the ceiling, they march in circles around the inside and outside, immortalizing writers including French novelist Victor Hugo, Greek philosopher Aristotle, and Persian poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam.
Sprinkled throughout are the names of of five, and perhaps six, women writers, including George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Ann Evans; Sappho; Jane Austen; Harriet Beecher Stowe; and George Sand, the pen name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Melissa Wooton, the library's adult services manager, said records are unclear as to whether "Browning" was intended to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning or her husband Robert Browning.
"I said to the leadership, 'I think we're past time in correcting the narrative,' and I wanted to lead an effort to see about how we can engage our public and the community in helping to identify and to recommend names and how can we find places to add them," Twyman said.
The process to etch the Black authors' names by the Center for Black Literature and Culture began about two years ago, Twyman said. Public input and a project committee that included staff, community members and members of the library's African American History Committee whittled down the submissions from more than 300, Wooton said.
The final list comprises:
Maya Angelou: The prolific poet, storyteller and civil rights activist is especially known for "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
James Baldwin: The novelist, playwright and poet wrote unflinchingly about overt and subtle forms of racism and the psychology behind them.
Frederick Douglass: After escaping slavery, the diplomat and writer became an outspoken abolitionist who penned his autobiography, worked multiple roles in government and became a newspaper publisher.
W.E.B. Du Bois: The scholar, writer and civil rights pioneer was a founding member of the NAACP and wrote the seminal "Souls of Black Folk," a sociological exploration of how Black and white society evolved after the Civil War.
Paul Laurence Dunbar: The poet and author gained widespread recognition for his depictions of Black life at the turn of the 20th century.
Langston Hughes: The novelist, poet and playwright was an icon of the Harlem Renaissance whose writing was heavily influenced with jazz and blues.
Zora Neale Hurston: Especially known for "Their Eyes Were Watching God," the novelist captured the rural South in her work and wove in her own studies of anthropology and folklore.
Toni Morrison: With "Beloved" and forthright emotional exploration in her many works, the writer uncovered the nuanced experiences of Black communities and specifically Black women.
Phillis Wheatley: The poet wrote about noted people and used her words to undermine slavery. She received international recognition for her work as it was printed and distributed widely while she was enslaved in the 18th century.
Richard Wright: In "Native Son" and his other work, the novelist protested and challenged white prejudice.
The additions are only the first phase of a longer process that will add more authors of color to the walls. The writers that had previously been in the area around the Center for Black Literature and Culture have been temporarily moved and will be relocated during a second phase, Wooton said. The timeline for that depends on funding and identifying the best area to engrave the names, Twyman said.
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Wooton said the total cost for the project stands at about $47,000. Twyman and Adelpha Twyman, the Dr. Michael R. Twyman Endowment Fund, the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation and the Lilly Endowment contributed, he said.
"We want members of the African American community or any person of color to come in and see the names and feel like they're represented," Wooton said. "Hopefully, it makes you feel more a part of the library, gives you a little bit more of a sense of comfort when you walk in the doors."
The new engravings will open up future opportunities to engage with the writers' work, too. Wooton said the library would like to post signage that draws patrons' attention to stories behind the names, create reading groups and writing programs, and share information on related cultural topics related.
For now, people can join the all-ages #WakeUpIndy reading challenge. The titles focus on diverse authors and racial and social injustices. Among the categories is Voices Newly Honored at Central Library, which includes works by the authors whose names were just engraved.
If you go
Patrons who attend the Meet the Artists Gala Reception on Saturday will see the new engravings.
What: Meet the Artists, where visitors can see work by Black artists in a celebration that includes a gospel performance, comedy and a fashion show.
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.
More information: indypl.org/blog/for-adults/meet-the-artists
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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Central Library has carved 10 Black writers' names into its limestone