Monday, January 19, 2015

August Wilson's last, as timely as ever

This Monday, January 19th, we discussed our final August Wilson play, Radio Golf. Written in 2005, shortly before Wilson's death, it draws together themes and characters from the previous 9 works in the Century Cycle: allegiance to community values versus individual success; choosing the future over the past; and the crushing weight of racist history that continues to burden African Americans well into the 21st century.

 Indeed, although it appeared 10 years ago, the conflicts in Radio Golf remain disturbingly current: gentrification, corruption, police violence. When mayoral candidate Harmond Wilks refuses to censor his speech demanding accountability for police killings of unarmed black men, we know he will lose, and we hear echos of contemporary protests like BlackLivesMatter and We Charge Genocide.

Although there are far fewer dramatic moments in Radio Golf than in some others in the cycle, it is permeated by a profound sadness. Aunt Ester is dead, her house will soon be demolished, and the rich culture of the Hill District which we have come to love over the past 9 plays is fading away. Black characters like Harmond, Roosevelt and Mame have moved into the middle class, but at a price: they have lost touch with their communal roots.

No need to lose touch with the world of August Wilson just yet! This March and April, the Goodman Theatre is hosting a Chicago celebration of Wilson's work, including  free staged readings of all 10 plays in the Century Cycle. The Piano Lesson will be performed at the Evanston Public Library on April 4th at 3:00 pm. Other Evanston events include a panel discussion April 7th at Northwestern on Wilson's work in St Paul, led by Professor Harvey Young; and actor/playwright Ruben Santiago Hudson performing Wilson’s autobiographical play, How I Learned What I Learned, March 30th also at Northwestern.

Thanks to all who have shared this marvelous year-long reading experience, especially Tim Rhoze, the original organizer; and our wonderful actors and discussion leaders: Twyla Abercrombie, James Alfred, Ron Conner, Aaron Todd Douglas, Jacqueline Williams, and Harvey Young. What a year it has been!

Monday, January 12, 2015

"11 Months" wraps, but "Coming Together Niles Township" is just getting started!

I'm so sad that our 11 Months of African American History is coming to a close this Sunday! We will celebrate with music from SOUL Creations, a reading from "Fences", food from Curt's Cafe and a preview from Goodman Theatre of their upcoming August Wilson series in Chicago.

But don't despair! There are plenty of opportunities to explore African American literature culture and history coming up both in and around Evanston.

This Sunday was the kickoff  for "Coming Together In Skokie and Niles Township", a 4 month series of book discussions, movies, and speakers all connected to themes of race. Alt
hough several books will be discussed, the primary one is

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

You can find the list of programs at

Next Sunday at 1:00 pm, before our wrap up party, Evanston Art Center is hosting the following at the Evanston Library...

Sunday January 18th, 1:00 pm Community Meeting Room, Evanston Public Library
The Evanston Art Center and Insight Arts are pleased to collaborate once again for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day program. This year we are so honored to have with us participants from the Chicago organization We Charge Genocide, a grassroots organization that  recently made headlines when they addressed the United Nations in November 2014.

Evanston Art Center Director of Education Keith Brown and Insight Arts Executive Director Craig Harshaw invite audiences to engage this new generation working in the spirit of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements as they speak about the ongoing struggles for racial justice in the United States and their experiences in Geneva. We will personally hear from We Charge Genocide and frame a broader discussion in relationship to the emergent BlackLivesMatter campaign.

annddd...looking ahead to March, you have another chance to catch
Friends Disappear: The Battle For Racial Equality in Evanston by Mary Barr
Barr explores the myths and realities of integration and racism in Evanston. Barr, who grew up in Evanston, asserts that there is a detrimental myth of integration surrounding Evanston, despite bountiful evidence of actual segregation. "In exploring the fate of her own generation of Evanstonians," Martha Biondi of Northwestern University observes, "Barr reveals the powerful role of race in structuring access to opportunity, wealth, and even to life itself."

Barr is reading and discussing her book
on Thursday, March 19, 2015, at 7 pm at the Evanston History Center in the Dawes House, 225 Greenwood Street, Evanston, IL. The presentation begins at 7pm, and a wine and appetizer reception takes place from 6:30pm-7pm. Doors will open at 6:30pm. The book is for sale at Barnes and Noble (in the Chicago section) at Bookends and Beginnings  (in the former Bookman's Alley location" and on the shelf at Evanston Public Library.

Monday, January 5, 2015

AAL authors speaking this month

Greetings! This month, two acclaimed authors whose works we have read and discussed recently will be speaking in the Evanston area: Wes Moore and Michelle Alexander

Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, will be speaking Wednesday January 14th at New Trier's Northfield campus as part of a series sponsored by the Family Action Network. His talk is entitled, "My Work: The Search for a Life That Matters".  and is also the title of his forthcoming book. In it, he continues his quest to find a meaningful life, and he explores the lives of change makers who found deep meaning in their work and who offer lessons of grace in service.

The talk is free and open to the general public.

Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, gives the keynote speech for Northwestern University's  Martin Luther King campus observance week, January 26th at 6:00 pm. For several years, Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she helped to lead a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. Given the recent attention to police violence against African Americans, her talk is especially timely.

Hope to see some of you at either of these terrific events!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January: A Great Time for African American Books!

Happy New Year everyone! We have so many exciting events planned for January! In addition to our fabulous "11 Months" Wrap-Up Party on Sunday January 18th, EPL is offering five African American themed book discussions this month: fiction, nonfiction, plays, and graphic novels.. As usual, all books are available at the 2nd floor Reader's services desk; call 847-448-8620 to reserve copies.

This month we are launching a  collaboration with Evanston's Comix Revolution bookstore, and our discussion of March, the graphic novel biography of Congressman John Lewis takes place there. All other events are at the Main Library.

African American Literature Discussion: A Dreadful Deceit

Tuesday, January 6, 7 pm, Small Meeting Room, Main Library
A power outage forced us to close the library early the day of our December discussion, but we will be back in our usual spot this coming Tuesday to talk about Dreadful Deceit, Jacqueline Jones' examination of race versus economics, and how various individuals have defined , or BEEN defined racially over the centuries.

GLBT Book Discussion: Giovanni's Room

titleTuesday, January 13, 7 pm, Small Meeting Room, Main Library
James Baldwin, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, was one of a handful to write from both an African American and a gay perspective. Join us for  Giovanni's Room, which chronicles a young American's sexual awakening in 1950s Paris.



League of Graphic Novel Readers: March

Friday, January 16, 7pm, Comix Revolution, 606 Davis Street (map)

The autobiography of Civil Rights legend and current US Congressman John Lewis,  March: Book One takes Lewis from rural Alabama to lunch counter sit-ins and a life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King.  Copies of March: Book One will be held at the Reader's Services desk on the 2nd floor and will be available for purchase at Comix Revolution.
The first 25 people to show up to the 1/16 meeting will receive a free copy of March, courtesy of Comix Revolution!


A Year of August Wilson: Radio Golf

Monday, January 19, 2015, 6 pm, Community Meeting Room, Main Library

So sad: Radio Golf is our final August Wilson discussion!
In 1997, entrepreneur Harold Wilks is on the verge of becoming Pittsburgh's first black mayor, but his identity is shaken when the past begins to catch up with him, revealing secrets that could be his undoing. Ultimately, he must recognize the price of his success and decide whether he is willing to pay it.



African American Literature Discussion: How To Be Black

Tuesday, January 20, 7 pm, Small Meeting Room, Main Library
titlePart autobiography, part humorous manifesto, How To Be Black chronicles Baratunde Thurston's inner city childhood, private school education and successful career at Harvard and in corporate America, using his experiences to illustrate the perils of being "The Black Friend", "The Black Employee"  "The Black Spokesperson" and, inevitably "The Angry Negro". Accompanied by essays both humorous and thoughtful by a panel of "professional black people"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When did "race" start anyway?

On December 16th, we'll be discussing the last of our trio of "race books" Jacqueline Jones' A Dreadful Deceit. Jones looks at 6 remarkable people from the colonial era through the late 20th century, each of whom posed a threat to contemporary racial hierarchies and categorizations. Here's a summary from the New York Times review:

There’s Antonio, murdered in colonial Maryland for refusing to submit to enslavement; Boston King, a former slave from South Carolina turned loyalist during the American Revolution; the Afro-Indian Elleanor Eldridge, who started several successful businesses in Providence, R.I., in the early 19th century; the Reconstruction-era Georgia politician Richard W. White; the early-20th-century educator William H. Holtzclaw, who founded a Tuskegee-like school in Mississippi; and finally the radical labor activist Simon P. Owens in mid-20th-century Detroit.

Jones' believes that race is far less important than economics, that race was created was for economic reasons, and that continuing to talk about race "keeps a destructive idea alive". But is it realistic,o r helpful to stop talking about race, when economic (and health, and educational) disparities still fall along racial lines.

That's what we'll be talking about next Tuesday! If you don't have time to read the whole book, let's focus on the chapters about Boston King, William Hotlzcclaw and Simon Owens. A couple of articles to give you an overview:

"It's the Economy": A Dreadful Deceit by Jacqueline Jones, New York Times, February 14 2014

Dreadful Deceit: Race is a Myth, Salon

See you Tuesday December 16th , 7:00 pm at the Evanston Public Library!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Being "Black" is more than a matter of looks...

Here's a great follow up to The Invisible Line, sent in by Fred from our August Wilson reading group:

Pike County, OH: As Black As We Want to Be

Visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. Racial lines have been blurred to invisibility, and people inside the same family can vehemently disagree about whether they are black or white. It can be tense and confusing. As a result, everyone’s choosing: Am I black? Am I mixed race? Or, am I white? Adding to the confusion, there’s a movement afoot to recognize their Native-American heritage.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is "race based" science inherently racist?

"Racial science" used to mean the inherently racist travesties of eugenics and  Nazism. In 2000, The Human Genome Project emphatically declared that there is no true biological definition of race, and that genetically all humans are 99.5% the same. Why then are DNA ancestry services  offering to parse our racial identities, and why has the FDA approved a cardiac drug marketed exclusively to African Americans?

These are some of the questions Dorothy Roberts poses in Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century Roberts questions some common assumptions about the distribution of sickle cell anemia, genetic medicine, and the very definition of "race", and asks whether the focus on genetic causes of racial disparities in health, crime, and education overlook the social and political causes. She contradicts the work of science journalist Nicholas Wade, whose book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History, claims that human evolution has in fact produced three genetically different human races.

We'll be discussing Roberts' book at our next AAL meeting this coming Tuesday. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the book, here are a few shortcuts:

Dorothy Roberts interview with Tavis Smiley on WBEZ (about 8 minutes)

Speech at Berkeley, (this is about an hour, but will give you a full experience of the book.

Interview with Colorlines, "The Dubious Dangerous Science of Race Lives On",

"Race Re-emerges in debate over "personalized medicine". Great article from the Washington Post summarizing the issues of race, genetics and medicine.

Join usTuesday, November 18th, at 7 pm in the Small Meeting room of the Evanston Public Library. Call 847-448-8630 for more information.