Matt Richardson

The omnipresence of the Internet and search engines such as Google has not made professor Matt Richardson’s search for black queer films, literature and music any easier.

Richardson, associate English and African and African diaspora studies professor, discussed his goal to continue identifying and archiving films for the UT Libraries Black Queer Studies Collection during a talk Wednesday. Richardson said this mission can be difficult because typing the words “black” and “queer” into a search bar will not necessarily bring up this type of cultural material sufficiently.

“If you go into the library website catalog and you type in ‘black queer studies collection,’ there are more than 600 searchable items that will pop up,” Richardson said. “And that’s not actually everything that is in the library. Some materials are not even actually tagged.”

Richardson said before any of the films or literature can be gathered and become part of the library, the materials must physically be retrieved from a wide range of off-campus locations. To aid in developing UT’s collection of black queer art and cultural content, Richardson said he spent time in Glasgow Women’s Library’s Lesbian Archive in Scotland, going through its materials.

“What I ended up doing there was spending a week in a cold attic with no heater, searching through boxes of information and trying to find this history,” Richardson said.

Antonio Santana, an African and African diaspora studies graduate student, said he has been following Richardson’s whole process of digitizing black queer art and cultural content for UT, which, according to Richardson, now has one of the largest collections of black queer film in the country.

“This is a good initiative of making the queer black experience visible,” Santana said. “This kind of material is usually erased from mainstream media.”

Richardson’s talk, given in the large study room on the second floor of the Perry-Castaneda Library, was the first event related to the library’s Learning Commons initiative to use the study space for the betterment of students. 

Xavier Livermon addressees a crowd in support of UT Professor Matt Richardson's new book "The Queer Limit of Black Memory" on November 11, 2013. 

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Though the existing field of black lesbian literature and analysis is limited, it recently became a little bit bigger with the release of a UT professor’s new publication on black lesbian culture.

Matt Richardson, an associate professor in African and African diaspora studies and women’s and gender studies departments, celebrated the release of a piece 16 years in the making on Monday, when he participated in a discussion with faculty and students about the strenuous process he went through in researching and finding material on black lesbian culture. 

Richardson’s book, “The Queer Limit of Black Memory: Black Lesbian Literature and Irresolution,” looks at archives of work dealing with black lesbian culture, a topic for which Richardson said there is not a large collection of work to be referenced in academia. Initially, Richardson was discouraged from pursuing a dissertation on this subject because of the small resource pool, but he stuck with what he wanted to do and chose specific pieces to use in his own publication.

While conducting his research, Richardson spent time in Scotland at the Glasgow Women’s Library, but he was still frustrated with what he found, he said. He then went and identified authors who wrote black lesbian literature and conducted his own interviews with them to get a better grasp of the knowledge at hand.

“That my book would be important for those who come after me, that it would open up space and it would give things they could reference and find useful and helpful intellectually and creatively — that’s what I hope for,” Richardson said. “And that people who aren’t academics can get something from it that they can find books they’ve never heard of.”

According to Patena Key, a women’s and gender studies graduate student, students still struggle, like Richardson did, to find published work to reference for their thesis papers.

“There’s two books that focus exclusively — at least from a theoretical standpoint — on black lesbian literature, and that’s important to me because that’s what my thesis is about,” Key said. “That work is really important to me, especially as a grad student, whereas in my undergrad I tried to write a thesis on a similar topic and it was extremely difficult to find important text from scholars.”

A panel of faculty shared their thoughts about Richardson’s piece at the release Monday, where Omi Osun Joni Jones, an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies, said she felt Richardson’s piece offered a unwavering look at violence perpetrated on black bodies.

“When you have an opportunity to read the book, prepare yourself for the end, where Matt offers a very terrifying litany the black bodies that have been killed, [and] mutilated because too often we are a people born into violence,” she said.