Author Archives: Sarah Guy

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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.  

Looking Back for Black History Month

by Sarah Guy, Research Assistant

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library for Black Culture and History first opened its doors on September 7, 2004, but its history can be traced back many years prior. The library’s namesake, Sonja Haynes Stone, served as the director of UNC’s Curriculum for Afro-American Studies from 1974 until 1979; she then continued as a professor until her unexpected passing on August 10, 1991. Stone won multiple awards during her time as a professor, including the Black Student Movement Faculty Award from one of the organizations that she advised, and she also served on numerous committees as a faculty member.  

One committee that Stone served on was the Black Cultural Center planning committee, which advocated for a center for black culture on campus.  In 1988, the committee’s planning came to fruition when the Black Cultural Center was established at UNC, housed in the Franklin Porter Graham Student Union. After Stone’s death in 1991, the BCC was renamed the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center. Soon after, students began a campaign to provide the growing center with a stand-alone building to accommodate its work and programming.  

In the summer of 1992, four African American football players founded the Black Awareness Council (BAC),  aimed at improving the treatment of African Americans on campus by several means, including the construction of a free-standing Black Cultural Center. The creation of the BAC  helped spark one of the largest student movements in the university’s history, which was chronicled by many newspapers, including the student-run Daily Tar Heel  and Black Ink. Student organizations were actively protesting Chancellor Paul Hardin’s lack of support for the Black Cultural Center outside of South Building as early as March 1992.  

A digitized Daily Tar Heel front page from September 9, 1992, with headline "BCC supporters give Hardin ultimatum"

The front page of the Daily Tar Heel on September 11, 1992 detailed the march to the Chancellor’s office in South Building. Articles and documents related to the Black Awareness Council can be found in the Wilson Library Special Collections.

The protests and rallies became more frequent, however, during the 1992-1993 school year, particularly with the activity of the BAC. On the night of September 3, 1992, 300 students marched from campus to the residence of Chancellor Paul Hardin to give him a list of demands, but he wasn’t at home. A week later, students marched from the Student Stores to the chancellor’s on-campus office and delivered their letter with their demands, which included an ultimatum demanding that he take action by November 13.  

On September 17, 1992, filmmaker and activist Spike Lee visited the Dean Smith Center and spoke at a rally of 5,000 people. In response to these events and the students’ ultimatum, Chancellor Hardin endorsed a free-standing center in a press conference on October 15, 1992.  

A digitized September 1992 article from the Daily Tar Heel with the headline "About 5,000 rally in support of free standing BCC"

Another Daily Tar Heel article covered the rally at the Dean Smith Center.

The UNC Board of Trustees approved the building of a free-standing center almost eight months after the Chancellor’s endorsement on July 23, 1993. Although the proposal for the center listed an open tract of land near Wilson Library and Dey Hall as their preferred location, the Board of Trustees said that it would be better placed at one of the alternate locations across from Coker Hall.  

Among the original plans for facilities to be housed in the Stone Center were a dance studio, an auditorium, and a library. The library was originally conceived as a non-circulating, browsing collection, which would be open for anyone to read its materials but not to check them out. However, by the time the building opened its doors in 2004, librarians in Davis had been developing the Stone Center Library’s collections for months, and it opened as the newest branch of UNC Libraries. The collection has grown from around 6,000 books to nearly 12,000 volumes over the course of almost 15 years.    

A page from the plan for the Stone Center

This page from the architecture firm’s proposal lists the plan for the library to go in the Stone Center.

Currently, the Stone Center Library’s shelves are near capacity, filled with books covering a wide range of topics, from encyclopedias of black culture to the works of African American historians and great works of African American literature. As part of the Stone Center, the library seeks to further its mission to serve the population of UNC-Chapel Hill with information about African, African American, and African Diaspora Studies. The Stone Center Library would be unable to accomplish that goal without the untiring efforts of people like Sonja Haynes Stone and the students who many years ago fought for the existence of a center for black culture.  

 

 

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.

 

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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: