Snap! The Marlon Riggs Bibliography
Vershawn Ashanti Young, University of Kentucky
Julie Anne Naviaux, University of Kentucky
With five full-length documentary films, two non-fiction video shorts, his own published writings, interviews, dialogue exchanges, reviews, scholarly articles, book chapters, theses, and a wealth of yet unmined material in the newly acquired archives at the Stanford University library, there is more than enough content to sustain a college course on Marlon Riggs (1957-1994). And yet, even with all of his international acclaim, political activism and, in some conservative circles, notoriety, we -- Vershawn Young as professor and Julie Naviaux as research assistant -- had trouble locating and accessing material on the late American documentarian, creative writer, and cultural critic, who won an Emmy for his first film Ethnic Notions (1987), a chronicle of negative black iconography in early American popular culture, and who was catapulted into political controversy for Tongues Untied (1989), because it depicted mild sexual intimacy between black men on public television. Has Riggs already become a figure of yesteryear, we wondered, a past time provocateur in whom intellectuals have little current interest? Absolutely not. This certainly could not be the case, not with the sustained critical interest in Riggs's work, as shown by such recent projects as Rhea Combs's dissertation "Exceeding the Frame: Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator" (Emory, 2009), David A. Gerstner's award-winning book Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic (U of Illinois P, 2011), and Christopher Smith's dissertation "Thinking Otherwise: The Politics of Black Queer Filmmaking" (York University, 2010).
We take little comfort in knowing that others encountered a similar problem. Lydia Pappas, Project Archivist at Stanford for the Riggs Collection, said that when she researched Riggs, she found sporadic information in diverse places and not very much in one location (Pappas). In addition, Henry Lowood, curator of the Stanford archives, commented that in his role he has "had to write various things about Riggs, and it's been hard to find [Riggs's] writings ... if I just went by his online works I wouldn't have thought he published very much" (Lowood). However, we know from our research that there is material on Riggs from sites, for example, like the Berkeley University library's web bibliography on him. But such sources are quite limited. So we decided to do two things: to construct a comprehensive bibliography on Riggs and also to put together an anthology, a reader of sorts, of writings by and about him that can be used by scholars, students, and the interested public.
Our bibliography is detailed, but it isn't exhaustive. How can it be with Riggs's archives at Stanford just becoming available to researchers and other random artifacts still surfacing, like this video interview from California College of the Arts Libraries between Riggs and his assistant, Akiba Onada-Sikwoia, for a fictional public access program? Therefore we expect to update the bibliography periodically as we make progress on our anthology, Snap! The Marlon Riggs Reader.
On the subject of the reader, we are indebted to Lowood who suggested that we take a non-conventional organizing approach, one more in line with Riggs's own multi-dimensionality. As Lowood puts it, "Riggs was a documentarian, journalist, historian, creative writer, someone concerned with documentary practice, a cultural critic of black experience, a critic of both the gay and the black gay experience, a teacher, someone embattled with copyright laws, as well as with issues dealing with freedom of expression" (Lowood). What an idea! To organize the reader around these "personalities" will make for a richer, more informative and dynamic publication.
However, for the time being, we're quite conventional in our approach to the bibliography, which is primarily organized around Riggs's major documentary works. In fact, following standard form, the citations are first arranged by film in the order of each work's production; followed next by thematic groupings, such as "Published Writings," "Letters," "Profiles & Webpages," "Detailed Obituaries," "Interviews," and "Cultural Criticism." As an example of the items placed under these latter categories, Corey K. Creekmur and Alexander Doty's collection Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture, dedicated "In Memory of Marlon Riggs," is listed under our heading "Cultural Criticism" because it includes Riggs's essay "Black Macho Revisited," and it refers to Riggs and the poet Essex Hemphill, his friend and collaborator, several times in the introduction. We also list some sources under multiple categories for reader ease, since a few of them deal with several films. In her study, Exceeding the Frame, as an instance, Rhea Combs analyzes most of Riggs's films and shorts, and therefore her work is included under many of the films and subheadings. The same is true for David Gerstner's book Queer Pollen, which not only analyzes the films but also includes biographical information on Riggs.
Readers will note too that such collections as Essex Hemphill's Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men and Michele Wallace and Gina Dent's Black Popular Culture, are not listed as books per se but by individual authors' names or chapter titles. Therefore, Hemphill's Brother to Brother is listed first under "Tongues Untied" because it includes an excerpt from Marlon Riggs's transcript for Tongues Untied, the essay "Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a Snap! Queen," and Ron Simmons's interview with Riggs. Wallace and Dent's Black Popular Culture is listed under the film "Black Is...Black Ain't" for filmmaker Isaac Julien's piece on the film. We certainly recognize that our bibliography may not be perfect, but we at least hope that it's helpful.
In addition, we are eager, as we're sure others are, to lay our eyes on Riggs's archives at Stanford. As Pappas told us, "Marlon kept everything -- rough cuts, edits, his post production process, handwritten notes, time codes for the interviews, copies and versions of transcripts, correspondences, copyrights, birthday and get well cards, lunch receipts, bank statements, cashed checks, everything." Beyond this the archives contain almost 1500 videos, with close to 300 of them digitized, including finished versions of Riggs's films, interviews, and pieces he shot himself. To assist researchers, Stanford has prepared a finding aid that allows you to search for material from the comfort of your office chair. However, although you may be able to see what's among the material from the finding aid, none of the actual material is currently available online. The digitized preservation and access copies that Stanford has made can be accessed via their reading room only (compliant with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).
We know that the Stanford archives will help researchers and the public wrangle with Riggs's life and work. We can only hope that our reader and the bibliography we offer will too.
Combs, Rhea L. "Exceeding the Frame: Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator." Diss. Emory University, 2009.
Creekmur, Corey K., and Alexander Doty, eds. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
Gerstner, David A. Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2011.
Hemphill, Essex, ed. Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men. Boston: Alyson, 1991.
Lowood, Henry. Telephone interview. 10 Feb. 2012.
"Marlon Riggs: A Bibliography of Materials in the UC Berkeley Library." Media Resource Center. Moffitt Library. 16 Feb. 2012. Web.
"Marlon Riggs Papers, 1957-1994." Collection Guide. Online Archive of California. 16 Feb. 2012. Web.
Onada-Sikwoia, Akiba. "Marlon Riggs Interview: Signifying Meets the Media." 10 June 1992. California College of the Arts Libraries. 10 Feb. 2012. Web
Pappas, Lydia. Telephone interview. 9 Feb. 2012.
Smith, Christopher G. "Thinking Otherwise: The Politics of Black Queer Filmmaking." Diss. York University, 2010.
Wallace, Michele, and Gina Dent, eds. Black Popular Culture. Seattle: Bay, 1992.