Harold Patton maintains the largest private collection of black literature in the nation - some 20,000 books at last count.

His Studio City home contains works ranging from 17th century poetry by former slave Phillis Wheatley to late 20th century novels by Terry McMillan.

He owns rare first editions by authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, James Baldwin and poet Langston Hughes.

The oldest book in the collection was Wheatley's ``Poems on Various Subjects,'' published in 1773.

Patton began collecting books as a child, starting with the ``Little Big Books'' series. He started focusing on black literature during the 1950s, when he spent a few months living in Paris and met Baldwin.

As one-time stage manager for singer Ray Charles, Patton traveled the globe collecting books. One of Patton's most treasured possessions is his leather-bound journal that held 200 authors' signatures, including those of Baldwin, McMillan, Alex Haley and Maya Angelou.

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