NYPL to Take Archives of East Village Eye, Newspaper of 1980s Downtown SceneBreaking News
tags: New York, archives, urban history, newspapers, Alternative Press
In November, Leonard Abrams opened every box in his storage locker in Ridgewood, Queens, and inspected its contents. Half contained his personal belongings. In the other half were seventy-two yellowing issues of the East Village Eye. The newspaper, which Abrams published and edited from 1979 to 1987, covered the era’s monumental art scene, the gentrification of downtown Manhattan, and the swelling aids crisis in real time. This was the day he would finally part with its physical remnants, having sold his archive to the New York Public Library.
I watched as Abrams made his way through each of the cardboard boxes: one was a wine box, one was from Amazon, some were ripping along the folds. He unearthed a menorah, a ceramic peach, a dress coat he’d meant to wear to a recent wedding, and an old address book, in which he showed me the entry for the famed drag queen Ethyl Eichelberger. Abrams’s archival broker, Arthur Fournier, held a clipboard, checking off each of the nineteen official boxes and accordion folders as Abrams located them in the piles stacked taller than any of us. When the full inventory was accounted for, the two men loaded the boxes onto a dolly, and then into Abrams’s cherry-red minivan.
Fournier and Abrams had spent eight years trying to place the Eye archives. They were a comical duo: Fournier, earnest and enthused, wore a cardigan, a scarf, and sunglasses. He was in salesman mode. When Abrams told me that the thirty-pound newsprint on which the early editions of the Eye were printed “crumbles eventually,” Fournier emphatically denied it. Abrams, twenty years Fournier’s senior, was wearing a leather jacket, and driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other in his lap. “Take a breath, Arthur,” he muttered. He had an inconspicuous cool befitting the former editor of Cookie Mueller, Gary Indiana, David Wojnarowicz, and other icons of the nineteen-eighties.
When we arrived at a processing center of the New York Public Library, we were met by Julie Golia, the curator who had accessioned the collection. Everyone was jubilant, celebratory, complimenting Abrams, who was complimenting Fournier, calling him a “trouper.” Abrams, Fournier, and library staffers loaded the boxes onto a two-level dolly, and we walked with them down a long hallway, past a door ominously labelled “Disaster Recovery” and into a meeting room. There, the staff quickly counted the boxes; they’d conduct a full inventory once we’d gone.
Golia explained to us what would happen next: when the library acquires a collection, it is inspected for pests and water damage. When necessary, materials are isolated and treated in the Disaster Recovery room. Once they’ve been cleared, the collection moves into the archival-processing queue and the items are rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes. The library’s staff begins to make the finding aid, essentially an index of the collection. This inventorying can be time-consuming, depending on the scale of the collection, which can vary widely—the Eye archive arrived in fewer than twenty containers, which is relatively small. The library’s New Yorker archive, on the other hand, is stored in more than two thousand containers.
Abrams never struggled to find contributors. People wanted to be associated with the paper, Abrams explained, because of its editorial sensibility. “I had a nose for news,” he told me, in the only compliment I heard him afford himself, “and the news I had a nose for was ten years ahead.” Having shuttered an earlier attempt at a publication in Denver after only two issues, Abrams also knew that the kind of newspaper he wanted to run “required a social movement and a scene.” The East Village had both.
The cultural historian Tim Lawrence told me that he drew more heavily from the Eye than from any other source for his book “Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983.” “You could read the Eye and feel fully fed, with all cultural, sensory, and political bases covered.” As he read through the issues, which Abrams gave him access to, he couldn’t believe how underutilized the Eye was. “It felt like the springboard for a hundred more books.”