Givens Black Books Program Brings African-American Literature into Homes

Article excerpt

When her daughter was 13, way back in the '70s, Nothando Zulu wanted her to read the work of a respected black author writing about an African-American girl dealing with the challenges of life.

She wanted her to prize black literature for both its beauty and its lessons.

So she special-ordered books written by Rosa Guy, one of the founders of The Harlem Writers' Guild.

"To me it's important for African Americans to read about folks who are succeeding, who are living their lives and may not have had the best of beginnings,'' explains Zulu.

Now 67 and a professional storyteller, Zulu is one of a growing number of people and programs interested in bringing African- American literature into the homes of children and adults throughout the Twin Cities. Their goals: appreciating the art of African- Americans, better understanding the black experience and narrowing the academic achievement gap.

Discussion leader

The north Minneapolis woman is a discussion leader for the second annual Givens Black Books: Community Reading campaign involving 1,000 people meeting in libraries and schools around the Twin Cities to discuss African-American literature. The campaign, sponsored by the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, culminates with a Literary Luncheon April 21 and a keynote talk by Walter Mosley, a best-selling and award-wining black author of 37 books. The event is sponsored in part by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Minneapolis St. Paul Alumnae Chapter.

"The program reaches out to the community. It provides access to quality African-American authors by giving participants free books and convening discussions,'' explains Eartha Bell, assistant director of the Givens Foundation. The foundation is able to buy books at a discounted price thanks to Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis.

In his fiction and nonfiction, author Mosley has documented the black experience in America from the migration out of the Deep South through the election of an African-American president.

With a Jewish mother and an African-American father, Mosley experienced significant racism, Zula says, but overcame that to receive an O. Henry Award and a Grammy and to become the first African-American serving on the board of directors of the National Book Awards.

"We're trying to show the community that [African-American] literature is not tangential, but it is an essential part of the curriculum" in schools and a way of narrowing the academic achievement gap, says Ezra Hyland, founder of the African American Read-In program at the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development. …