After taking a year off, I decided to go the 9th Annual Harlem Book Fair on Saturday, July 21. The last time I attended the event, I was a bookseller unsuccessfully (according to my standards) hawking my memoir, Bearing Witness: Not So Crazy in Alabama. Slow sales aside, I was disappointed at what the event had become — a showcase for the worse in black “literature.”
To be fair (no pun intended), there are really two Harlem Book Fairs — one that takes place outside on 135th Street between 5th Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and the other which takes place inside the esteemed Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture where noted scholars/authors/intellectuals discuss the larger more complex issues facing African Americans the audience of which is comprised mainly of middle/upper middle class blacks over the age of 35.
My focus this visit was on the events taking place in the Schomberg. First, I listened to a speech on The State of Black Literacy given by former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts. (I will touch on some of the points he raised in his speech in another post.)
Directly following Watts was a lively exchange between black author Walter Mosley and white progressive historian Howard Zinn. What was promoted to be “a peoples history of the U.S. from 1493 to the present” turned out to be discourse on the need for the establishment of people-centered movement. Both contend that the political establishment has failed and will continue to fail the electorate regardless of who’s in office.
Choice Quotes from the Mosely/Zinn Discussion
“Everything is built around the vote…the fact is that we cannot depend on them (the Congress, the President, the Judicial system) to bring about justice and equality….[they] have bamboozled us into thinking voting is the most important thing for us to do” – Howard Zinn
“We are living in a benevolent oligarchy.” – Walter Mosley
“Young people don’t get the kind of history that empowers them…We need a new set of heroes for young people.” – Howard Zinn
“Knowledge alone doesn’t seem to create enough impetus to change things.” – Walter Mosley
“Patriotism is the love of your country not the love of your government.” – Howard Zinn
“America’s religion is capitalism.” – Walter Mosley
In contrast to the more serene and edifying activities taking place inside, outside, in the sunny breeze, the atmosphere was more rambunctious. In an attempt to lure people to tables filled with books and other paraphernalia, men and women with a hustler’s energy walked around handing out colorful postcards most featuring pictures of scantily clad women.
The “literature” that graced these tables centered on the activities of licentious women and “thuggish” men who live life hard and fast on the streets and in the housing projects and tenements of urban America.
The Harlem Book Fair is a prime example of disconnect between the black middle class and those who that same middle class refer to “them” – urban, undereducated, less refined blacks whose tastes and interests differ widely from their middle class counterparts.
Outside, I met a colleague, a ethnomusicologist (don’t ask me to define) trying to promote her book about black girls and the games they play in childhood and how those games contribute to the socialization and success of black women. She received a similar response as I did promoting my memoir two years ago. Many patrons passed her by to take a look at the latest baby mama drama tale at an adjoining table.
The Shame of the Harlem Book Fair
The award for this dubious honor goes to the postcard promoting the novel, Nothing’s Wrong by Dr. M.F. It features a man and woman naked and clearing engaging in sexual intercourse. We see the man’s naked rear end and woman’s legs wrapped around his torso. One of her manicured hand cups his bald head, the other rests on his muscular back. Flip the card over and the man is choking the woman, her head is back and she is clearly in pain and is struggling to free herself. There was a poster exhibiting the same on the author’s table.
If the author believes this is acceptable promotion material for the general audience of the Harlem Book Fair, (which includes children and teens) something’s wrong with him. I also find fault with Max Rodriguez, founder and organizer of the fair, who should regulate such displays.
Note: C-Span2 will rebroadcast some of the fair’s activities beginning at 10 p.m. Sunday, July 22: the J.C. Watts speech, the Zinn/Mosley conversation and the panel discussion on hip hop and grassroot political thought.
Historian Howard Zinn passed away on Wednesday, January 27.
Here’s a video to Zinn’s and Mosley’s discussion (click)