Moore Crossey on
Walter Goldwater, Bill French, & Onitsha Market Literature

I knew Walter Goldwater and a little later Bill French since late 1963. I first heard of Walter and UPBS when I worked in the Africana Section of the Northwestern University library and searched a whole bundle of bibliographic slips that Walter had sent. When I moved to the Yale library as Africana librarian in spring 1963, I contacted Walter and later went to visit him and thereafter regularly purchased items for the Yale library until the mid 1990s when I had serious surgery and had to slow down. . . so the last time I saw Bill may have been in 1995 or '96. . . .

I attended Walter's memorial 'service' at the NY Public library in 1985. . . I think I last saw Walter at an Antiquarian book fair in New York City some months before he died. . . Walter used to visit Yale in the 1960s in connection with publishing of his bibliography or catalog of radical American periodicals. He also regularly saw the late Donald Wing—one of the finest American bookmen who was an Associate librarian at Yale until his death.

I used to visit UPBS—first on University Place and then on Broadway & E 12th (or 10th St) quite regularly from 1964 until the early 1990s—less often after that. . . .

I retired in 1998 and did not hear of Bill's death until well over a year after he died. . . I think either Phil McBlain or Henry Louis (Skip) Gates of Harvard confirmed it—I am sorry I missed his memorial.

In connection with the Thometz and other notes on Onitsha market literature I have a footnote to add . . . .

In 1966 I was an exchange librarian at the University of Ibadan. A few weeks before I left Ibadan I went to Onitsha with an English lecturer on leave from Bergen University in Norway—Peter something. He bought a selection of Onitsha booklets and interviewed several of the bookseller-publishers—Onwudiwe, Maxwell and a few others. . . He later wrote at least a short account of the trip. . . for some newletter . . . I bought three or more copies of almost every title available in the market. . . I refused some tattered copies of what may have been relatively rare items. . . The Ibadan library picked out quite a few titles they had not seen before. Later on I formed the largest grouping of these publications that Yale had ever acquired. The extra copies were sold to UPBS and Northwestern. . . so it is likely that my purchases may have been the largest number if such items that UPBS had acquired at one time. . . I think the year 1966 is mentioned by Thometz..

Over the years I also bought other Onitsha items for Yale from UPBS. . . the Schomburg Collection and Yale were rivals for unusual Africana items from UPBS for many years . . . .

I did not know much about Bill's private life except from what others told me—I met some curious and/or interesting persons on visits to UPBS. . . Occasionally I shared a beer with Bill but I recall that he was sometimes drinking a pint of whiskey. . . I can only echo my memories of the relative chaos that reigned at UPBS—especially after Walter's demise. . . One other memory is of Bill giving me in the late 1960s some anarchical leaflets from the East Village. . . one was about the failure of the Federal Food and Drug Administration to provide food and drugs to 'the people'! There was one that he was a bit nervous about distributing so am not sure if I got a copy. . . These are now part of a large radical collection in the Yale library.

— Moore Crossey, former Curator of the African Collection, Yale University Library
     16 December 2002

© 2002 Moore Crossey, published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author.

A Memorial Tribute to Bill French


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