The Story Of J.P. Morgan’s ‘Personal Librarian’ — And Why She Chose To Pass As White

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-09-14 14:38Z by Steven

The Story Of J.P. Morgan’s ‘Personal Librarian’ — And Why She Chose To Pass As White

Code Switch
National Public Radio
2021-08-31

Karen Grigsby Bates, Senior Correspondent


Marie Benedict (left) and Victoria Christopher Murray
Phil Atkins

This summer on Code Switch, we’re talking to some of our favorite authors about books that taught us about the different dimensions of freedom. In our last installment, we talked to author Julia Alvarez about her poetry collection The Woman I Kept to Myself and how difficult it can be to share your many selves with the world. Next up, a conversation with authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray on their book The Personal Librarian.

At the turn of the 20th century, financier J.P. Morgan amassed a rich collection of antique objects related to the power of the written word: manuscripts, books, artwork. He did it all with the idea of enjoying his collection privately. But shortly after his death, Morgan’s personal librarian, a woman named Belle da Costa Greene, convinced J.P. Morgan’s son, Jack Morgan, to make the library a gift to New York City.

The Morgan, as it is now known, welcomes thousands of visitors each year — scholars, researchers, tourists and art lovers — to enjoy the collection. What most don’t know is this: For more than four decades, the library’s collections were acquired and curated by a Black woman. Belle da Costa Greene was quietly passing as white in order to work for one of the most powerful men in the United States

Read the story here.

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J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-20 02:20Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

The Washington Post
2021-06-28

Natachi Onwuamaegbu


“The Personal Librarian” co-authors Heather Terrell, writing as Marie Benedict, and Victoria Christopher Murray. (Phil Atkins)

Historical fiction writer Heather Terrell (who also writes under the name Marie Benedict) was introduced to Belle da Costa Greene between bookshelves at New York’s Morgan Library over 20 years ago. The docent — whom she has tried to find since — told her about a Black woman who passed as White and worked as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in the early 1900s. Terrell wasn’t yet writing historical fiction about women — she was a lawyer — but the story lingered in the back of her head.

Once she read Black author Victoria Christopher Murray’s work two years ago, she knew she found the partner she was waiting for to tackle da Costa Greene’s story. To write about a Black woman who passed as non-Black with an author she had never met was a process, especially when the editing coincided with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and a pandemic.

The Washington Post talked to Terrell and Murray about what it was like to work on “The Personal Librarian” when so much of the world was falling apart…

Read the entire interview here.

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J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:53Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s librarian hid her race. A novel imagines the toll on her.

The Christian Science Monitor
2021-06-29

Heller McAlpin, Correspondent


Library of Congress
Belle da Costa Greene, shown in 1929, curated rare books for mogul J.P. Morgan. She was the first director of the Morgan Library.

Some books leave you wondering why the author has chosen to tell this particular story, and why now. This is emphatically not the case with “The Personal Librarian,” a novel about the woman who helped shape the Morgan Library’s spectacular collection of rare books and art more than a century ago. It quickly becomes clear why two popular authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, have teamed up to tell this important, inspirational story.

Belle da Costa Greene’s success in the almost exclusively male world of art and rare book dealers was an unusual feat for a woman in the early 20th century. But what makes it even more extraordinary – and such rich material for historical fiction – is the secret she harbored throughout her long career: She hailed from a prominent, light-skinned Black family, many of whose members had chosen to pass as white.

“The Personal Librarian” reminds readers that this decision was not made lightly. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act in 1883 – a ruling that ushered in Jim Crow segregation and gave white supremacy and racial discrimination legal cover, the ramifications of which are felt to this day – few opportunities were open to anyone classified as nonwhite…

Read the entire book review here.

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The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-17 00:36Z by Steven

The Personal Librarian, A Novel

Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Randomhouse)
2021-06-29
Hardcover ISBN: 9780593101537
Paperback ISBN: 9780593414248
Eboock ISBN: 9780593101551

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

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