Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hot Ticket Item For a Thought Provoking Book Discussion

We currently have three adult book discussion groups here at the library and I am very fortunate to help mediate the group dedicated to highlighting African American authors called "The Soul Collections". One of our regular participants in the group asked if we could revisit some of the classics we read as youngsters and do a comparison on how we differ in our feelings of the books as we have gotten older. My first dubious task was to locate a classic that was readily available (reference the blog by Allison Beasley on January 13, 2007 on "Where is all the Black Fiction?") I decided on Black Boy by Richard Wright for our August 28th discussion. This book is required reading by many public high schools, so I knew there would be plenty of copies in public and school libraries and I was lucky enough to request the ones needed before students got back to class in August and grabbed all the copies.

For those of you that have not (yet) read the book, it is Richard Wright's autobiography. His style of writing is so descriptive and flows so smoothly that the book reads more like a novel instead of non-fiction. He was unbelievably graphic in telling his life story beginning at age 4 in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow laws and prejudices and continuing with his struggles after his move north and his discovery of the power of words – his own words, his own writing.

Well let me tell you, if your book discussion group is looking for a surprisingly thought provoking discussion – this book is the ticket. I went into the venture a little tentatively because although our group highlights African American writers, we are a very mixed group. We are young and old, African American, White, and Hispanic, male and female – well, you get the idea. We always have a very lively discussion whether the material is fact or fiction, and I thought the content of Mr. Wright’s autobiography would cause some apprehension in the group. I also thought people would be afraid to speak their mind on the issue of race relations both then and now. How far from the truth that turned out to be! Some of our older members were actually born in Mississippi during that same time and were more than willing to speak their mind on the issue of discrimination (then and now) and even gave personal stories of things that had happened to them in the South. Some of the younger members that were born north and never had to live through the civil rights struggles of the South could not even relate to some of the things that were commonplace down there - such as separate drinking fountains and waiting rooms and the list goes on and on. No one in the group felt the least little bit intimidated by the subject or the conversation and even though the group was relatively large; everyone got a chance to get in on the discussion. Our meeting is usually from 7 until 8 but it was still going strong as the clock moved on toward 8:45. When we finally broke up, some of us still discussed Mr. Wright as we moved down the stairs to the first floor.

For a man with very limited "formal education" he was a genius with pen and pad.

Yvonne Croswell
Head of Circulation


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