Waldo Gifford Leland Award: Jean-Christophe Cloutier

Jean-Christophe Cloutier, assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania is the 2020 recipient of the Waldo Gifford Leland Award given by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) for his book, Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature, published by Columbia University Press in 2019. The award is given for writing of superior excellence and usefulness in the fields of archival history, theory, and practice.

In Shadow Archives: The Lifecycles of African American Literature, Cloutier uses a variety of African American novels as alternative repositories for the black experience. The book traces the development of Black special collections in mid-twentieth-century America, exploring how archival methodology, acquisition, and access shape literary history. As an archivist and a researcher, he studies how leading twentieth-century African American authors carefully preserved their individual writing, as well as the African American experience in their novels. Cloutier provides an enlightening account of the unique challenges that many Black writers faced when trying to establish collections, which either clarified or reconfigured their legacies. Cloutier adeptly employs a cross-disciplinary model in his examination, skillfully moving between the archival and the literary.

“Based on a deep understanding of archival history, theory, and practice, Shadow Archives is a compelling analysis of the power of archives for truth-telling and scholarship that suggests future paths for research,” noted the nominator. “Given the lack of institutions dedicated to the black experience, the novel became an alternative site of historical preservation, a means to ensure both individual legacy and group survival.”