LAWRENCE — Most people know Wilt Chamberlain as a basketball giant who changed the game both in college at the University of Kansas and for several NBA franchises.
Many also may know Chamberlain's place in civil rights history in Lawrence as he faced segregation during his college years. However, fewer people are familiar with Chamberlain the author.
The basketball hall of famer wrote two books, including his 1991 work "A View from Above," in which he discusses race relations and other issues he faced during his basketball career. KU's Project on the History of Black Writing will display Chamberlain's book and works of other Kansas sports figures later this month as part of HBW's annual Black Literary Suite co-sponsored by KU Libraries and KU Athletics.
"We're putting things together. Athletes aren't generally recognized for their writing. You've got those stereotypes, and we want to push against any form of stereotype," said Maryemma Graham, a KU distinguished professor of English and HBW founder and director. "Our focus is always on writing. These athletes have published their stories, and they are involved in helping sports to become highly visible and important to our culture. We're stepping outside the box here to look at the broader culture of sport, its connection to KU and to Kansas."
The books will be on display as part of the Black Literary Suite: Sports Figures with a Kansas Connection at KU Libraries. A public program will be from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, at 455 Watson Library. The program will include a poster display and self-guided audio tour about the writers. The exhibit will remain on display at Watson Library through March.
The event will cap a week of HBW Black History Month programming that includes author Kevin Powell, who will speak at 5 p.m. Feb. 17 at 110 Budig Hall. Powell is an acclaimed writer and activist who focuses on helping the powerless become powerful. His book, "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey to Manhood," is a coming of age story that will likely resonate with college students, HBW staff members said.
"Hopefully we'll be able to get first-year students to see the value in this type of work and also have an opportunity to engage with an author and activist, someone who is really respected in academic communities," said KU senior Kierstin McMichael, HBW's collection specialist.
Co-sponsors for the Powell event are the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Kansas Athletics, the Office of Diversity & Equity, Office of First-Year Experience, KU First & Second Year English and the KU Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Powell will also appear as a special guest at the Feb. 18 public exhibit for the Black Literary Suite.
“It's appropriate because many of the athletes and authors featured in the suite found their voice using writing,” said English graduate student Matthew Broussard, HBW's digital coordinator.
Visitors to the suite will learn many interesting things about individuals known mostly as sports figures, like Chamberlain, NFL running back Barry Sanders, who grew up in Kansas, and Lynette Woodard, a KU basketball star and the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
"KU rightfully gets a lot of attention for our long tradition of athletic excellence, but we also want to shed some light on another side of some of these athletes. We want to show another aspect of them, their writerly side. These two things go together," Broussard said.
For example, Ernie Shelby, KU's first African-American track team captain and national champion long jumper, decided to come to KU because the university's art and English departments were ranked No. 1 in the 1950s and the track team was ranked second. Shelby will be among several special guests at the suite.
Other featured athletes or figures featured in the suite will be KU sprinter Charles Tidwell; Marlene Mawson, known as the "Mother of KU Women's Athletics"; and KU basketball player Tyrel Reed, who grew up in Burlington and now practices physical therapy in Lawrence.
In addition to the autobiographical works, a book of poetry by former KU football player Travis Watkins will be included.
The Project on the History of Black Writing, located within KU's Department of English, is the only archive of its kind and has been in the forefront of black literary studies and inclusion efforts in higher education since its founding at the University of Mississippi in 1983 and subsequent move to the KU in 1998.
HBW is committed to literary work; innovative scholarship, book history and digital humanities; professional development and curriculum transformation; and, public literacy programming.