Monday, July 16, 2012

Save Black bookstores

News of Hue-Man Bookstore's closing later this month in Harlem continues to evoke dismay among readers and book lovers about the loss of that landmark store, in particular, and the loss of Black bookstores around the country. Recognizing the impact of bookstore closings on the Black community, L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, an assistant professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York, published a piece in Ebony, "Why We Must Save Black Bookstores."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Education reform before the school bell rings

Dr. Camika Royal, a teacher and teacher coach of urban communities, spoke the unvarnished truth to about 700 soon to be Teach for America educators who will enter classrooms and hopefully serve as gateways to knowledge for students in need of inspiration, wisdom, and knowledge in the Philadelphia public schools. Here is an excerpt of her speech published in the Huffington Post.

 Swift to Hear; Slow to Speak: A Message to TFA Teachers, Critics, and Education Reformers

For new teachers, understanding what is expected of them and the context in which they work is essential for their success and for the success of schools, students, and communities. It is because of this belief that I accepted the invitation to speak at the Opening Ceremonies for Teach For America's 2012 Summer Institute to train its new teachers in Philadelphia. I was asked to speak as a Teach for America alumnus but also as a Philadelphia community member. I thought this was an awesome opportunity and responsibility to speak to the more than 700 new teachers who are being trained.... read Camika Royal's the full speech in the Huffington Post.

Friday, July 6, 2012

50 books to read in the struggle

This morning I read an article in the Huffington Post, a suggestion of books that every African American should read.
The list of books, fiction and non-fiction, were chosen in the context of books that would make good summer reading on vacation, at the beach or traveling. Well enough.  
I I suppose that for me the word, "should," overwhelmed the otherwise casual context of the list. I began to think about what books I would choose for a list of "the 50 books that every African American should read."
 Preparing lists of recommended books for the community to read is rarely far from my thoughts. Since I was a child I've been creating these lists of Black classics, first in response to my grammar school readers that almost always marginalized Black characters or my young adult books that almost never listed a Black book in their "best of" lists on the back endpaper or back cover.  
Through my college and grad school experience,  literary works by Black writers were sparsely explored in most of my classes. Some professors gave balanced treatment of Black writers, but most professors (and most of my professors were white) made only superficial exploration of Black texts. I once had a professor who never met eye contact with me during the entire semester until the one day that the class was assigned to read Langston Hughes. On that day, he only looked at me as he talked about Hughes. What was the message to my all white classmates? "Black literature is for Black people; you don't have to worry about it" is the conclusion that I drew.
This longstanding dearth of Black texts in my academic experience was certainly an influence on me when I began teaching developmental writing, freshman composition and Black literature at a community college in the 1990s. 
Where the composition textbooks failed to provide models of strong writing by Black writers, I filled in the gaps. I used material by Dr. King, James Baldwin, Haki Madhubuti, poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Paul Laurence Dunbar. My students were apprehensive and perplexed about the Declaration of Independence as assigned reading, but they understood the effectiveness of the rhetorical strategies that I pointed out, and later when we read Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and material from the Black Panther's ten-point plan, they not only absorbed the continuity of certain rhetorical strategies in key American texts, but most importantly the content of some of those texts reflected their own cultural values and voice.  In this way, my students' (the majority of them were black) cultural identity was validated because those black texts held equal weight with the texts by white writers published in their textbooks.
[Apologizes for the errant content that appeared here in an earlier draft of this post.]
That validation was palpable. Students really got into the texts, reading closely at home, looking up words, and coming into class saying that they couldn't wait to talk about what they read. The students practiced using these writers' strategies to give voice to their own ideas. This was all very exciting for them and for me, convincing me of the importance of balancing the selection of cultural voices used to teach college writing, just as our democracy is validated and our nation is served best when diverse voices are respected in our national conversations. 
This list of books reflects the mission of Now Rise Books, to arm our community with cultural information and affirmation needed to participate in our national conversations that consider race, citizenship, cultural pride and contributions of many voices that represent contemporary America. Would appreciate hearing your comments and additional recommendations.. 
2. The Book of Negro Folklore (Eds. Langston Hughes & Arna Bontemps, 1958)
3. A Frances E(llen) W(atkins) Harper Reader (Frances Smith Foster, 1990)
4. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (Fannie Jackson Coppin, 1913)
5. On Lynchings (Ida B. Wells-Barnett, ed. by Norm R. Allen, 2001, includes Southern Horrors, her first pamphlet on the subject. Later, after moving to Chicago and marrying lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, she brought out the pamphlets. A Red Record and Mob Rule in New Orleans)
6. Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829 (David Walker, 1829)
7. Black Women in the Ivory Tower: 1850-1954: An Intellectual History (Stephanie Y. Evans, 2008)
8. Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1987)
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)
10. The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown (1990)
11.  The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson, 1927 [1912])
12.  The Book of Negro American Poetry, Revised Edition (ed., James Weldon Johnson, including the "Preface" to the 1st edition, 1931)
13.  Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson, 1832)
start with this excerpt:
o   Notes on the State of Virginia --
o   Notes on the State of Virginia "Laws"The administration of justice and description of the laws?
Laws -
14.  The Declaration of Independence (Thomas Jefferson, et al, 1776)
15.  "I Have A Dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I Have A Dream, ed. James Melvin Washington, 1992)
16.  Seize The Time, (Bobby Seale, 1970) see Black Panther Party Ten Point plan announced by Bobby Seale: YouTube
17.  Black Studies in the University (eds. Armstead L. Robinson, Craig C.Foster, Donald H. Ogilvie, 1969)
18.  How Europe Underdeveloped America (Walter Rodney, 1972)
19.  The Mis-Education of the Negro (Carter G. Woodson, 1933)
20.  Brainwashed (Tom Burrell,  2011)
21.  Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey (Colin Grant, 2010)
22.  The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon, 1963 translation)
23.  Africa's Gift to America (J[oel] A[ugustus] Rogers, 1961)
24.  Jesus and the Disinherited (Howard Thurman, 1949)
25.  They Came Before Columbus (Ivan van Sertima, 1976)
26.  The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, (Cheikh Anta Diop, 1967)
27.  The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin, 1963)
28.  Brown sugar : eighty years of America's Black female superstars (Donald Bogle, 1980)
29.  Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: Afrikan American families in transition : essays in discovery, solution, and hope /  (Haki Madhubuti, 1990)
31.  Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1962 (Lerone Bennett Jr., 1962)
32.  The Black Poets (Dudley Randall, 1971)
33.  Unbought and Unbossed (Shirley Chisholm, 1970)
34.  The Emancipation Proclamation (Abraham Lincoln, 1863)
35.  Stride Toward Freedom (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1955) and Where Do We Go From Here, (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  1967)
36.  The Lonely Londoners (Sam Selvon, 1956)
37.  Hamlet (1603) and Romeo & Juliet (1597) (William Shakespeare)
38.  The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (Katherine Anne Porter, 1984)
39.  Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization: Exploding the Myths (Anthony T. Browder, 1992)
40.  Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1885)
41.  The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros, 1984)
42.  Common Sense (Tom Paine, 1784)
43.  The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway, 1926)
44.  Sojourner Truth: Speech to the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851
45.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
46.  The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan, 1989)
47.  A Different Drummer (William Melvin Kelley, 1962)
48.  A’int I a Woman: black woman and feminism (bell hooks, 1981)
49.  A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid, 2000)
50.Brothers and Sisters (Bebe Moore Campbell, 1995)

Last updated on July 10, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stop to start: Hue-Man Bookstore closing

Dr. Poussaint and Biil Cosby, November 2007
The news that Hue-Man Bookstore will close its doors on July 31st is reverberating throughout Harlem and across the Twittersphere. Once again, many readers are despairing the loss of a bookstore that is more than a commercial enterprise, that functions as a place that sustains culture.

Of course, the decision that owner Marva Allen has made -- to abandon the traditional brick-and-mortar model bookstore in order to consider how to re-invent their bookselling presence in a technology dominated world -- is practical, proactive even. However, the decision leaves a void in the community where her store, the largest Black bookstore in Harlem, was a coveted destination.

The news is disappointing beyond Harlem, too, like here in New Haven. Lots of folks in Connecticut followed events at Hue-Man; the store was their bookstore away from home. I have hopped on the Metro-North train to travel to a number of events at Hue-Man, such as the Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint booksigning (pictured). I saw folks from Bridgeport, CT at the Cosby and Poussaint event that evening. I've seen folks from Connecticut on other occasions at the store, too. As I did with Liberation Bookstore, also gone now, I have made a point of visiting the Hue-Man many times when I was in the city on other business. 

In her letter to the Hue-Man patrons, Marva Allen left readers to think about how booksellers that cater to Black interests will transform themselves to serve a readership that increasingly accesses books and information across many platforms, not just through a book store. With the loss of another venue, I consider how we as readers will make new conventions to sustain the cultural exchanges that took place when we flocked to our favorite bookstore to celebrate the release of a high-profiled book, at readings and at events to talk about a pressing community issue? How will we replace the cultural and intellectual impact that the iconic Black bookstore has had in our communities?