Deborah Parker

Deborah Parker

Director’s Appointment
Becoming Belle da Costa Greene: A Visionary Librarian Through Her Letters
2023-2024 (January - February)
Deborah Parker


Deborah Parker is Professor of Italian at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance (Duke UP 1993_), Bronzino: Renaissance Painter as Poet_ (Cambridge UP 2000), Michelangelo and the Art of Letter Writing (Cambridge UP, 2010) and is the General Editor of The World of Dante website. She is the co-author, along with Mark Parker, of The Attainable Text: The Special Edition DVD and the Study of Film (Palgrave Macmillan 2011), Inferno Revealed: From Dante to Dan Brown (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), and most recently_, Sucking Up, A Brief Consideration of Sycophancy_ (University of Virginia Press, 2018).  She is currently working on Becoming Belle da Costa Greene: A Visionary Librarian Through Her Letters which is under contract with Cambridge UP’s Elements Series on Women, Publishing, Book Culture. 

Project Summary

Belle da Costa Greene was the daughter of two mixed race Black parents, Genevieve Fleet and Richard T. Greener, the first Black person to graduate from Harvard. From 1908-1913 she was J. Pierpont Morgan’s personal librarian and from 1924-1948 the first Director of the Morgan Library. My study, Becoming Belle da Costa Greene: A Visionary Librarian Through Her Letters, focuses on the over 600 letters she wrote to Bernard Berenson. While Greene’s letters to the connoisseur have proven invaluable to writers seeking to reconstruct the larger narrative of her life, the artistry of the letters and the way in which her writing creates a singular self, have gone largely unnoticed. In her letters to Berenson, we have a vivid account of her energetic pursuit of singular opportunities and refined enthusiasms. Berenson deemed Greene “the most vitalizing person I have ever known. . . incredibly and miraculously responsive.” Her letters embody these qualities. One is hard pressed to think of another early twentieth-century account written by a career woman that offers so vibrant a response to books, art, and the heady social world which Greene inhabited. It was a life lived large, but it was also writ large. I seek to highlight the expressive artistry of Greene’s writing. The librarian’s letters provide an unusually rich account of the way in which Greene projects and creates a self. Her passing should be seen as part of a larger exercise in self-invention and self-transformation.