Tag: Reading

#ThursdayReads: Christopher Paul Curtis

                                

The second oldest of five siblings, Christopher was born and raised in Flint, Michigan which has been used as a prominent setting in several stories including The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 and Bucking the Sarge. Graduating from Flint Southwestern High School, Christopher immediately did two things: 1) enrolled at Flint’s University of Michigan and 2) applied for a job at Fisher Body Plant No. 1, a General Motors assembly facility. This was extremely typical for many young adults. Most blue-collar jobs, particularly in “the jungle” where Christopher worked, were often heavy-duty, hard-working tasks, requiring minimal educational skills at best. The pay and benefits couldn’t be beat, so for high school graduates that wanted a significant income right out of school, General Motors was the ticket.

Of all the various departments one could work, the “Jungle” was easily one of the worst. The Jungle was where the manufacturing process began, various sizes and shapes of metal being welded together at sequential work stations that eventually became the body frame of the automobile. With all the large welding equipment hanging from the ceiling like Amazon liana branches, as well as pneumatic, electrical and other connections running to and from all the robotic welding arms gave the area the appearance of a mechanical jungle. In addition, the scent of oil, grease and lingering smoke from the welding guns only added to the metallic ambience.

Once the car’s basic skeletal frame was established, one of the first things to get added were the doors. This was Christopher’s work station. During the 70s, Fisher Body produced three models – the Electra 225 (also known as a “deuce and a quarter”), LaSabre and Riveria. All very big and extremely heavy vehicles. Very little plastic was used; the cars were made of mostly metal. Because the doors were so big and quite heavy, the company set the job up for two men to alternate installing the doors on every other car coming down the assembly line. This went on each night for eight or more hours, about 60 cars per hour.

Christopher and his coworker decided that instead of working every other car, they would work every 30 minutes. This allowed Christopher time to do other things — besides reading novels (one of his great passions), he began writing to overcome the boredom. Some of the writings were letters; others were sketches of stories that, like his character Bud Caldwell (Bud, Not Buddy), began the colorful sojourn which led him to become one of America’s leading authors of children’s literature.

Christopher currently lives in Detroit, Michigan and in his free time still enjoys reading, playing basketball and collecting music.

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#ThursdayReads: Colette Barris

“Claretta Street” follows the lives of four young African-American girls living in Pacoima as they navigate the turbulent change of the 1960s, coming of age in the decadent and destructive 1980s.

Through the lenses of the young women, the sound and textures of life unfold as the devoted friends provide vivid accounts of one of America’s greatest periods of social change.

This work of historical fiction is the first novel by Pacoima native Colette Barris, who was inspired to write her debut book as a testimony to the struggle and triumph of Africans in America.

“Much is written about the African-American experience, most of which purposely spins black achievements as not much more than snippets of missteps, one depicted (often) as simple and jovial,” Barris said. “While in actuality, the black experience is one of unbelievable intelligence and courage.”

In “Claretta Street,” Barris explores America’s black past without marginalization. The author hopes readers gain “knowledge and appreciation of black female sisterhood and comradery” and “depth and insight of the African-American experience in the development of America further dismantling the mythology of American development.”

The author’s favorite character is Denise, the protagonist, because of her love and appreciation for family and sisterhood.

“I wanted to bring up the element of sisterhood for young African-American women because they need to know that they have it within them,” Barris said. “It’s in their DNA and they can reach out to one another for support.”

“Claretta Street” is the first installment of Barris’ trilogy. The second book is set to debut in early 2019.

You can find our more information about here by visiting her website: http://colettebarris.com/

#ThursdayReads: Tavis Smiley

Tavis Smiley was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, on September 13, 1964. He grew up in Bunker Hill, Indiana, and attended Indiana University before working for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He began his national broadcasting career in the 1990s, appearing on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and then on his own program on Black Entertainment Television. Since 2000, Smiley has hosted his own shows on public radio and public television, and has written numerous books.

Background and Early Life

Tavis Smiley was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, on September 13, 1964. His mother, Joyce Marie Roberts, was a single, teenage mother. Two years later, she married Emory Garnell Smiley, a non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force. Smiley did not learn the identity of his birth father until many years later, and he has never publicly revealed his father’s name.

The Smiley family moved to Bunker Hill, Indiana, when Smiley’s stepfather was transferred to Grissom Air Force Base. At home, Smiley suffered from poverty as well as from physical abuse by his stepfather. He attended Bunker Hill’s Maconaquah High School, where he participated in student government and the debate team.

Early Career in Politics and Broadcasting

After graduating from high school, Smiley left home to attend Indiana University at Bloomington, where he studied public affairs, was involved in student government and joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

Smiley left Indiana University in 1988 to work for Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles, through 1990. (He had left Indiana without the full credits for graduation; he finished his degree several years later, in 2003.)

After an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 1991, Smiley began working as a radio commentator for an L.A. radio station, broadcasting short, daily segments about issues affecting the African-American community.

In 1996, Smiley was hired as a political commentator on the radio program The Tom Joyner Morning Show—a position that he held through 2008.

Radio and Television Host

Smiley hosted BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, on the Black Entertainment Television cable network, from 1998 to 2001. In 2001, he began hosting The Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio; he resigned from this position three years later, citing NPR’s lack of reach to diverse audiences.

In 2004, Smiley began hosting Tavis Smiley, a nightly talk program shown nationally on Public Broadcasting Service television stations, for which he was given the NAACP Image Award. He also signed up for two programs on Public Radio International, serving as host of The Tavis Smiley Show and co-hosting Smiley & West, with African-American professor and intellectual Cornel West.

Additionally, Smiley became a special correspondent to the ABC and CNN networks. Through all these radio and television programs, he has interviewed noteworthy individuals from politicians and authors to athletes and actors, usually with an emphasis on the African-American experience.

#ThursdayReads: Toni Cade Bambara

Originally named Miltona Mirkin Cade at birth, Toni Cade Bambara was a civil rights activist, writer, teacher, and filmmaker.  She was born in 1939 in Harlem, New York.  At the age of six, she changed her name to Toni, and in 1970 she added the surname Bambara after finding it among her great-grandmother’s belongings.

Bambara earned her BA in theater arts/English at Queens College in 1959, the same year she published “Sweet Town,” her first short story.  She was a social investigator from 1959 to 1961, and then worked in the psychiatry department of New York City’s Metropolitan Hospital.  During that time she studied in Florence as well as Paris, and earned an MA degree from City College of New York in 1964.  In 1965, she was hired to teach English at the City University of New York’s fledgling SEEK program for economically-disadvantaged students.  While there, she published short stories and became interested in film production.  From 1969 to 1974 she was an associate professor of English at Livingston College.

Bambara’s influence for her writings came from the streets of New York, where she experienced the teachings of Garveyites, Muslims, Pan-Africanists and Communists against the backdrop and the culture of jazz music.  Along with her own work, Bambara edited a collection of short stories, poems and articles titled The Black Women (1970) and Tales and Stories for Black Folks (1971).  During that time she also wrote her first screenplay, “Zora,” which was produced by WGBH in Boston.  A year later she published her own collection of short stories in Gorilla, My Love, edited by Toni Morrison and featuring fifteen stories on black women’s relationships and self-love.

In the early 1970s, she risked travel to Communist Cuba and Viet Nam to research women, and then took a series of academic appointments at a number of universities.  She published another collection of her short stories in 1977, The Sea Birds are Still Alive.  In 1980, Bambara published her first novel, The Salt Eaters, which earned the American Book Award.  The following year she won the Langston Hughes Society Award, another prestigious writing honor.  As the decade progressed, Bambara concentrated more on script writing and television production, often with political and social messages.
Toni Cade Bambara died from colon cancer in 1995.  The following year Toni Morrison posthumously published Bambara’s Deep Sightings and Rescue Mission (1996).

#ThursdayReads: Chester Himes

Chester Himes, in full Chester Bomar Himes, (born July 29, 1909, Jefferson City, Mo., U.S.—died Nov. 12, 1984, Moraira, Spain), African-American writer whose novels reflect his encounters with racism. As an expatriate in Paris, he published a series of black detective novels.

The domination of his dark-skinned father by his light-skinned mother was a source of deep resentment that shaped Himes’s racial outlook. The family’s frequent relocations, as well as the accidental blinding of his brother, further disrupted his childhood. Himes attended Ohio State University. From 1929 to 1936 he was jailed at the Ohio State Penitentiary for armed robbery, and while there he began to write fiction. A number of his stories appeared in Esquire and other American magazines. After his release from prison, he worked at numerous odd jobs and joined the Works Progress Administration, eventually serving as a writer with the Ohio Writers’ Project.

His first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945), details the fear, anger, and humiliation of a black employee of a racist defense plant during World War II. Lonely Crusade (1947) concerns racism in the labour movement. Cast the First Stone (1952) portrays prison life, and The Third Generation (1954) examines family life.

In the mid-1950s Himes moved to Paris. There he wrote chiefly murder mysteries set in New York City’s Harlem. These include The Crazy Kill (1959), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965; film, 1970), and Blind Man with a Pistol (1969; later retitled Hot Day, Hot Night). Among his other works are Run Man, Run (1966), a thriller; Pinktoes (1961), a satirical work of interracial erotica; and Black on Black (1973), a collection of stories. He also published two volumes of autobiography, The Quality of Hurt (1972) and My Life As Absurdity (1976).

Himes, who moved to Spain in 1969, died there in 1984. In 1985, A Case of Rape was first published posthumously.

#ThursdayReads: Mildred Taylor

Mildred D. Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 13, 1943. Even though she was born in the South, she did not grow up there. Yet, for Ms. Taylor, the South still holds pleasant memories as the home of her family. When she was only three months old, her parents moved her and her sister to live in the North. They moved to a newly-integrated Ohio town called Toledo. When she went to school, she was the only black child in her class. Her father decided to leave the South in the mid-1940’s because he did not want his children to live their lives as he had lived his, in a segregated, racist society that allowed little or no opportunity to blacks. Over the years she came to know the South through the yearly trips her family took to Mississippi and through the stories told whenever the family gathered. Mildred Taylor was quoted in Something About the Author, as saying, “As a small child, I loved the South. In my early years, the trip was a marvelous adventure, a twenty-hour picnic that took us into another time and another world.” Her father told her many stories that he had been told when he was a boy. Some of the stories he had actually lived himself. She has used some of those stories in her novels.

Taylor attended the University of Toledo where she majored in English and minored in history. By age 19 she had written her first novel, Dark People, Dark World, the story of a blind white man in Chicago’s black ghetto, told in first-person. Although Taylor’s novel attracted some interest from a publisher, she disagreed with the editor’s call for revisions, so it was never published.  After graduation she joined the Peace Corps on a teaching assignment on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.  She then went to Ethiopia as an English and history teacher for two years. When she returned, she worked for the Peace Corps recruiting and training new volunteers.  She attended the University of Colorado School of Journalism where she earned a Master of Arts degree in Journalism. While she was attending school, she worked with university officials and fellow students in structuring a Black Studies program at the university.  In 1971 Taylor moved to Los Angeles to write.  She supported herself with temporary work such as proofreading and editing.In 1972, Taylor married Errol Zea-Daly , but they divorced three years later. There is a daughter named Portia.

In 1973 Taylor entered a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Her book, Song of the Trees, won first prize in the contest’s African-American category and was published by Dial Books  in 1975. The New York Times listed it as an outstanding book of the year. This book  about the Logan family was the first in a series of nine books based on stories from her own family’s history.  One of her best known, Let the Circle Be Unbroken,was nominated for the 1982 National Book Award and received the Coretta Scott King Award in 1983.

Mildred Taylor has won many other awards for her books.  She won the Coretta Scott King award for three of her books. She also won the Newberry Medal in 1977 for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  In addition, this novel was a National Book Award Nominee, a ALA Notable Book, a Booklist, Best of the Best Books, 1970-1982,Kirkus Choice, on The Horn BookFanfare Honor List , a New York Times Book Review Best Children’s Book 1970-1980, and won the Pacific Northwest Young Readers Award.  Taylor has taken great pride in her heritage and provides historical fiction about life for the Logan family as many events in the stories are  based on events in Taylor’s family  history.   In all of Taylor’s stories, she has shown the true vision of black families and their racial struggles.

In 2004,  Mississippi celebrated a Mildred D. Taylor Day, and Mildred Taylor returned to her roots to address several hundred school children and adults at The University of Mississippi also known as Ole Miss.