Pembroke Center

Current Exhibit

The Pembroke Center welcomes students, faculty, alumnae/i and the public to visit, "Hortense J. Spillers: A Life Recorded." The exhibit highlights personal and professional papers of the renowned Black feminist theorist and considers how archival collections are created.


APRIL 27 – DECEMBER 21, 2022

Summer Hours: Mondays–Fridays, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. EDT

Pembroke Hall, First Floor | Brown University
172 Meeting Street
Providence, Rhode Island

Hortense J. Spillers is an American literary critic and renowned Black feminist theorist. This exhibit highlights the personal and professional papers that Spillers donated to the Pembroke Center’s Feminist Theory Archive in the name of the Black Feminist Theory Project in 2019. It also encourages visitors to think critically about the construction of archives and archival collections.

Spillers’s work operates at the intersections of race, gender, psychoanalysis, Black culture, and sexuality in literature. She is best known for her 1987 essay, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book," which critiques how Black women have been figured in the American imaginary. In this essay, Spillers reads the absence of gender distinction in the archive of slavery, a critical gesture that has made possible the Black feminist critiques of the archive as such.

Visitors will see archival items that document Spillers’s professional life as well as the interests and projects she pursued in her personal time. Highlights include: a typed and annotated 1985 draft of Spillers’s landmark essay, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book;” a personal diary where Spillers recorded her response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy; her handwritten talk about her experience as a Black professor during the 1970s; an unpublished work of her original fiction; correspondence from Toni Morrison; and much more.

While appreciating items from Spillers’s collection, viewers will also encounter exhibit notes that invite them to consider how archives are formed, which stories they tell, and how available and unavailable materials make possible various narratives.

View the finding aid for a complete list of all of the materials in the Hortense J. Spillers papers.

Free and open to the public. The facility is mostly accessible to a wheelchair user or person with mobility challenges.

If you would like to use the collection for your own research project, email:

Special thanks to Ann duCille, Ben Kaplan, Kristen Maye, Stew Milne, N’Kosi Oates, Kevin E. Quashie, Erin Wells, and Hortense J. Spillers, as well as the Friends of the Pembroke Center.

The 2021-22 academic year marks the 40th anniversary of the Pembroke Center. The center was founded in 1981, a decade after Pembroke College—the coordinate women’s college of Brown University—merged fully with the men’s college. As the greater community honors 130 years of women at Brown, the Pembroke Center is delighted to celebrate its history of cultivating interdisciplinary work on gender and sexuality through its research, teaching, archival and community-building programs.