17 July 2010

Fair Books


In the two (2) librarian bookclubs I facilitate, (locations: Philadelphia & Westchester, NY), we often discuss how there are librarians we work with who don't read, or who refuse to read certain genres, even if it's a matter of reading one or two titles of a popular genre in order to best serve library patrons. We are constantly talking about  what we, as librarians, read, what we are willing to read (or not), and what we are willing to admit that we read (or not). 

The Pennsylvania African American Library Association (PAALA) is sponsoring a bus trip to the  Harlem Book Fair today. Some authors who will be there are reading from their works:

Readings in the Schomburg Courtyard 

12:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Peniel Joseph Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama 
Bernice McFadden Glorious 
Wes Moore The Other Wes Moore 
Queen Afua Overcoming an Angry Vagina 
Supa Nova Slom The Remedy 
Zelda Lockhart Fifth Born II: The Hundredth Turtle 
Tova Baker Lady B. Moore 
Carol Taylor The Ex Chronicles: A Novel 
Marlen Suyapa Bodden The Wedding Gift 
Stephen F.D. Bryan Black Passenger Yellow Cabs 
Julia Butler Being Single Is Not A Disease 
April Walker More Than One Way to Skin A Dog 
Damon John The Brand Within 
Armond White Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles 
Terry McMillan The Interruption of Everything 
Sonia Sanchez Morning Haiku

Today at the fair - educators are anonymous readers. They are braving the heat and milling the crowds, listening to authors read, attending panel discussions of various literati, browsing vendor tables, all in the name of reading, writing, and literacy. So I wonder today: As teachers and librarians are walking through the book fair - will all the books there be seen by them as accessible to all the readers they teach?

I ask this question because when we say "book fair" I wonder what that means for people, especially educators. When we participate in a book fair, how are we perceiving books? writers of books? readers of books? How do we perceive ourselves as we participate in a "book fair"? Are we educators? Are we readers? What are we doing when we attend a book fair? Why are we there? For educators, are all books "fair" in the name of reading, writing, and literacy?

I'm also thinking today, about those book fair vendors and authors lined up on both sides of 135th Street in Harlem - hot and sweating outside - hawking their wares - their books - stories they've written and/or supported themselves - parts of their souls they've invested in to be read, to be regarded, to be heard. Then I think of who is inside on the discussion panels in air-conditioned auditoriums, promoting what they've written, promoting their wares from a place of comfort, coolness, convenience - inside.

Stories encapsulated in the form of books - being signified by discourse and autographs ... inside, in relief of the summer's heat, and outside, embroiled in it. Who are the authors having conversations in the auditorium? Who are the authors having conversations on the streets? And what does that say about what's a "fair book" or what makes a "book fair"? Does it mean anything that black people are in a black neighborhood, under their ancestors' sun (or inside), talking about, thinking about, being about black stories, black lives .... black books? Getting back to librarians and teachers, what are we willing to talk about when it comes to reading our people's stories? Are we willing to embrace all of who we are? all of who our people are?

What teachers and librarians teach signifies what we indeed, do read, and what we indeed, deem to be "fair" and accessible to our children, to our community, and alas, to ourselves..

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