A Reading List for Mystery Month

by Shawna Milam, student assistant
sign on top of display case with mystery books on it
This May marks The Booklist Reader’s tenth annual Mystery Month, a month-long celebration of literary mysteries and the suspense found within that makes it impossible to put the book down. In celebration of Mystery Month, we here at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library decided to share some mystery books written by African American authors guaranteed to keep you guessing at every turn.
Click on the links below to find these volumes in the UNC Library Catalog, books on a three-shelf display caseor come browse the shelves at the Stone Center Library. Don’t forget to come check out the Mystery Month display in person at the Stone Center Library to find even more books written by and about African American mystery authors. We hope you’ll be able to find a book that interests you and keeps you riveted as you try to solve the classic question of the mystery novel: “whodunit?” 


10 Books for National Poetry Month

This April marks the 23rd National Poetry Montha yearly month-long celebration that aims to spark engagement with poetry around the country. The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library’s collection features a significant section of African and African American poetry books, so we decided to share 10 books of poems covering a wide range of African and African American Poetry throughout the past two centuries.    Stack of books in the stone Center Library
Click on the links to find these volumes in the UNC Library Catalog, or come browse the shelves at the Stone Center Library to find even more poetry books. We hope you’ll be able to find a book that interests you, and that it will help you gain an increased appreciation of African traditions within poetry. 

  • Abani, Chris. Hands Washing Water. Copper Canyon Press, 2006. These poems stem from contemporary author and poet Chris Abani’s experiences growing up in Nigeria, where he was held for a time as a political prisoner, as well as his time spent in the United Kingdom and the United States. The poems cover a variety of topics, including a fictional section in the middle of the book in the form of letters between two lovers during the Civil War.   
  • Hughes, Langston, and David E. RoesselPoems. Knopf, 1999. No list of African American poetry would be complete without selections from the man who was called “the poet laureate of black America,” and this small book is the perfect introduction to the essential poetry of Langston Hughes. With the cadence of a blues song, Hughes’ poetry captures the many facets of African American life and this small volume includes some of the most iconic poetry born out of the Harlem Renaissance. 
  • Smith, Tracy KDuende: Poems. Graywolf Press, 2007. This is the second poetry collection written by Tracy K. Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate since 2017, and it brings together a number of beautiful poems. Smith uses her poetry in this book in particular to lend voices to people across cultures and showcases the diversity of topics and themes to be found in Smith’s work.  

Love Faces Adversity in 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

by Sarah Guy, Research Assistant

The end of the year typically sees theaters inundated with critically acclaimed films that are surrounded by talk of Academy Award nominations. This year is no exception, and one such film is an adaptation of a classic work by James Baldwin titled If Beale Street Could Talk. The film, directed by Barry Jenkins, hits U.S. theaters next month, following a positive reception at the Toronto International Film Festival and at a showing in Harlem, where the novel is set, as part of the New York Film Festival. The film is already drumming up Oscars buzz in light of Jenkins’ success in 2016, when his movie Moonlight took home Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), and Best Motion Picture of the Year, and received five other nominations. 
Jenkins’s latest endeavor is the first time a James Baldwin novel has been adapted to the big screen in English. The story is the love story of Tish and Fonny, a young black couple living in 1970s Harlem, and how they deal with adversity when Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and then Tish finds out she is pregnant. Baldwin wrote the novel in 1974 and, at first, it received mixed reviews. In A Historical Guide to James Baldwin, Douglas Fields writes, “Though the book got some of Baldwin’s best reviews in a decade, an almost equal number attacked the novel as being slight and nostalgic and out of step with the times.” 
Like other Baldwin novels, If Beale Street Could Talk deals with the reality of injustice in the black community. Fonny’s plight reflects the fate of too many young black men, their lives irrevocably altered by unjust imprisonment. This theme may have been inspired by a particular instance in Baldwin’s life: the case of a friend named Tony Maynard who also worked as Baldwin’s bodyguard and chauffeur. Maynard had a record for drug possession when he was accused of murdering a U.S. Marine in New York. He was caught in Germany, where he was beaten, and Baldwin rushed to Germany to ensure that Maynard had legal representation. Maynard wasn’t released until the same year that If Beale Street Could Talk was published. 
And yet, the book ends on a hopeful note, with the birth of a child. Perhaps the birth at the novel’s end signals a hope that Baldwin held onto, even after seeing the lives of so many African American people affected by false accusations like those leveled at Fonny, and at Tony Maynard. Initially, the hopeful ending seems to be out of touch with the harsh realities of the novel, however, maybe it’s actually a telling juxtaposition that reveals life in its complexity as a place where beauty and pain coexist in paradox. 
In an interview with the LA Times, Jenkins summed up these two opposing themes this way: “One of those modes is the protest, the anger. And then there’s the lush, the romantic, the hopeful. I think with ‘If Beale Street Could Talk,’ you find the best pairing and balancing of those two things. It was a challenge worth undertaking.” In December, we’ll be able to see the film in theaters to determine if Jenkins withstood the challenge and succeeded in bringing Baldwin’s work to life on screen for the first time. 
As Jenkins’ nephew Trevor Baldwin said before the showing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem: “As we gather this evening to witness the product of Uncle Jimmy’s words from yesterday, through the lens of Barry today, with the amazing cast of tomorrow, together creating a contemporary period piece that touches the soul, there is no darkness ’cause the lights are bright on Beale Street.” 
If you’re interested in other James Baldwin books, or other Barry Jenkins movies, check out a few of these available at UNC Libraries.
A few of Baldwin’s novels and essay collections:

Books about James Baldwin’s life and literature:  

The feature films of Barry Jenkins:  


The History Behind Racist Halloween Costumes

by Zoe Beyer, Student Assistant

a historical dancing Jim Crow cartoon
This image was the cover of an edition of “Jump Jim Crow” sheet music in 1832.

Halloween is coming up, and there are no shortage of creative costume ideas to pull from. There are classic scary options, like vampires, or more fun options like personified puns (Freudian slip, anyone?). However, seemingly every year there comes a dreaded story of white people dressing up as black people, dark foundation included.
Take, for example, the students at St. Mark’s College in Adelaide, Australia, who dressed up in blackface for various parties throughout this year. Some students chose to imitate famous black athletes like Michael Jordan at the school’s annual Garden Party. Another photo taken in 2016 depicts a student dressed up as an “African” and referencing the AIDS crisis occurring there with a sign saying “Race: African; Blood type: AIDS positive.”
Or consider students at the University of Mississipi attending an Alpha Tau Omega Halloween party. Two white men dressed in a group costume: one is in blackface, picking cotton. The other? A police officer, holding a gun to his partner’s head. The brothers of a fraternity at California Polytechnic State University dressed up as gang members during the weekend of the school’s multicultural celebration. One of the brothers in the picture dressed in blackface.
These examples are not just evidence of individual racism; rather, they come from a long history of white people dressing up in blackface. This type of performance is called minstrelsy. In these acts, white performers dressed up as negative caricatures of black people. Actors would rub burnt cork on their faces and exaggerate the wideness of their nose and thickness of their lips.
Minstrelsy too was not a subculture; rather, it was prevalent throughout America and became the first uniquely American popular culture.
Continue reading “The History Behind Racist Halloween Costumes”

N.K. Jemisin Scores a Win for Representation

by Kai Heslop, Student Assistant
The Hugo Award logo is a trophy shaped like a spaceship and the title, Hugo AwardAndrea Hairston, Nnedi Okorafor and Tananarive Due are all writers who have greatly contributed to the world of black science fiction and fantasy (SFF). However, the first author ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row has proven to be a champion for representation within the genre. N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking works in the Broken Earth series have attracted attention and acclaim among writers and editors alike in the genre.  

Many view SFF as a forward thinking and progressive genre by default due to the futuristic topics and themes of challenging norms often included. This, however, does not make it exempt from the widespread phenomenon in the world of literature and entertainment of preferring characters of certain races over others. This same standard extends to the writers who create these characters and bring them to life. Being that SFF as a genre has historically been dominated by white creatives, recent efforts to diversify the genre have been met with varying levels of acceptance.  
In 2009, a yearlong discussion series called Racefail was launched to facilitate conversation around the dominant role that white colonialism played and continues to play in SFF narratives. The conclusion of this series led to a broader understanding of why marginalized voices, especially those of women and people of color, need to be given a platform. Jemisin even directly credited Racefail for the role it played in making the SFF community a safer space for minority writers like herself.  
Despite this, when Jemisin first won the Hugo Award back in 2016, making her the first African American author to receive this prestigious award for a novel, right-wing voters were in a state of disbelief. They attributed her win to identity politics, saying that Jemisin won solely because she was a black woman. The use of this rhetoric was essentially an attempt to prevent Jemisin from recognition as the deserving, talented writer that she is. In 2013, Theodore Beale, another SFF author, referred to Jemisin as a “half-savage” in posts online.   
Jemisin hasn’t allow the words of naysayers to prevent her from following her dreams and, most importantly, from doing what she loves: writing. As she said in her acceptance speech at the 2018 Hugo Awards, Jemisin’s first book, The Killing Moon, was rejected based on the presumption that only black people would want to read a book by a black author. Comparing the reception of her first book to the reception of her Broken Earth series is a testament to just how resilient Jemisin has been in her fight for representation in spaces where black voices have been challenged and silenced for years.  
You can find Jemisin’s award-winning novels, along with many of her earlier works, at the Undergraduate Library:  

And check out some of the other African American SFF books available in the Stone Center Library: 

Banned Books Week 2017!

Pictured is a reader, mostly hidden behind their large book, but with one fist extended defiantly over the book. Text surrounding the reader includes “Words have power. Read a banned book.” Image from the American Library Association.

Each year, for the last week of September, libraries across the country come together to support Banned Books Week.
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and opposes censorship and the suppression of ideas and voices.
Our new exhibit in the Stone Center Library displays books that have been banned or challenged over the years. A challenge is an attempt to remove a book based on a person or group’s objections; a banning is when the book is actually removed from a curriculum or library.
Though books are very rarely challenged or banned explicitly for racial reasons, it is often an underlying factor. The American Library Association noted in 2015 that 9 of the top 10 banned and challenged books contained diverse content – non-white, LGBTQ, or disabled characters, or books that address issues of race, sexuality, religion, and mental illness. In our exhibit, we highlight banned and challenged books that were written by Black authors or that deal with issues of race and racism.
Some of the books highlighted in our exhibit – and available for checkout in the Stone Center Library! – include:

  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which has been challenged eighteen times since its publication, for reasons including “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.”
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, challenged in five different states for explicit language. Complaints referred to the book as “filth,” “trash,” and “repulsive.”
  • Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God has been repeatedly challenged for “sexual explicitness” and its use of profanity.
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, has been challenged multiple times over “concerns about profanity and images of violence and sexuality in the book.”
  • Richard Wright’s Native Son, challenged for its “violence, sex, and profanity.”
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which has been called a “how-to manual for crime.” Challengers also alleged that the book should be banned because the author and subject “advocated anti-white racism and violence.”

Also available at other UNC libraries:

  • Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book has been challenged thirty-five times in twenty different states since its publication. Complains have alleged that the book is “sexually explicit,” “anti-white,” and “encouraging homosexuality.”

For more information about Banned Books Week, check out the links below!

  • http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks
  • http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

#OscarsSlightlyLessWhite: the 2017 Academy Awards

Promotional image for the 89th Academy Awards, featuring the phrase “Oscar 2017” and an image of a golden Academy Award Statue.

It’s no secret that the Academy Awards have historically been less than diverse. Last year, frustrations overflowed after all 20 of the nominees for Best Acting awards were white for the second year in a row. Widespread dissatisfaction with this state of affairs manifested online in the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, coined by activist April Reign.

In response to this criticism, Reign led the Academy in taking some steps to diversify itself. In 2016, the Academy invited 683 new members to its highly secretive roster of approximately 6,000. Of this new class, nearly half were women and people of color: 46% women and 41% POC. (Compare that to the previous year’s class, which was 25% women and 8% POC.) While the Academy remains disproportionately white and male, it has committed to doubling the number of women and minorities in its roster by 2020.

Shockingly, it would almost seem that increasing the number women and people of color in the Academy leads to having more women and people of color nominated in the Academy Awards! Although there is a long way to go before parity is achieved, this year’s Oscars are some of the most diverse yet, and have marked a historic level of achievement for Black performers, directors, writers, and filmmakers. Some of the history-making nominations at the 2017 Oscars include:

Continue reading “#OscarsSlightlyLessWhite: the 2017 Academy Awards”

MURAP 2017 Informational Meeting

Our neighbors in the Stone Center are having their first informational meeting of 2017!
The Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) invites UNC rising juniors and seniors in the humanities, fine arts, and social sciences to attend an information meeting held on Monday, January 30th, 2017 at 5:30pm in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, Institute of African American Research Suite 305.
MURAP is a ten-week paid summer research internship for students interested in pursuing a PhD. The program will be held from May 21st to July 27th, 2017 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. MURAP seeks to prepare talented and motivated underrepresented students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, or those with a proven commitment to diversity and to eradicating racial disparities in graduate school and the academy, for graduate study in fields in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts (For the fields supported by MURAP, please see our website identified below). The program provides students with a rigorous research experience under the guidance of a UNC faculty mentor.
Each participant will receive:
• Generous stipend
• Campus housing
• Meal allowance
• Writing, Communication Skills and Professional Development workshops
• GRE prep course (and all necessary materials)
• Paid domestic travel expenses to and from Chapel Hill (IF APPLICABLE)
The student application is available online and the application deadline is February 10th, 2017. To request an application, or for additional information about MURAP, please visit our website at http://murap.unc.edu/murap-2016-application/ or contact Ashley Lee, Program Coordinator, at murap@unc.edu.

Libraries in Dakar

In late May, I had the opportunity to accompany UNC-CH African Studies Center Director Emily Burrill, and Associate Director Barbara Anderson, on a trip to Dakar, Senegal. The trip’s objective was to finalize the renewal of UNC’s 5-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Université de Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD). Jim Herrington, Director of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Global Gateway, whose blog post about the trip is well worth reading, was the fourth member of the UNC delegation.

The trip was also an important opportunity to see the work of many libraries/library workers based in Dakar. My first library stop was at the West African Research Center (WARC), a small library that serves a large number of researchers both locally-based, and visiting.
IMG_6737Next, I visited the branch library for the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, pictured below. This branch library makes ingenious use of space, shoehorning periodical shelving and study tables into a corridor, and integrating a reference service point with heavily used test preparation materials.

Finally, I visited the main UCAD library, where on the Friday afternoon before Ramadan, there was hardly an empty seat to be found.

UNC students can learn about opportunities to visit/study abroad in Senegal by visiting the UNC Study Abroad site.

Another Open Door

April 10-16, 2016 is National Library Week. This year’s NLW theme is “Libraries Transform”. This theme allows us to catch you up on many of the changes we’ve made/initiatives we’ve undertaken since January 2015, in order to enhance the services we provide to Stone Center Library patrons.

Logo of the National Library Week 2016 theme, “Libraries Transform”

We saved our most dramatic transformation for last. In February, we had a door cut between the workroom and the librarian’s office!

This transformation involved a few noisy, dusty days but our patrons were flexible and understanding, and it was well worth it in the end.

This structural modification effectively makes the librarian’s office, the workroom, and the service desk, a unified service point and allows us to better serve our patrons through improved staff communication.
View from the librarian’s office.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this weeklong peek into what we’ve been up to at the Stone Center Library. We look forward to seeing you soon!