Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mark Anthony Neal: Love in the Stacks

I am a fangirl for Mark Anthony Neal's scholarship. This started over ten years ago when I first read his work at PopMatters and continues as I get to read his posts on his blog at NewBlackMan (in exile) and on Tumblr and everywhere else. Like he writes here, I fell in love with black history at the library - first the New York Public Library, then at boarding school, then when I worked in the stacks at Vassar. Bibliophiles will feel him on this:
I still have vivid memories of my first Black History Month in 1984, which was highlighted by speeches from Chicago educator Marva Collins and writer, poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti, who had just published his collection Earthquakes and sunrise Missions:Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal, 1973 – 1983 (Third World Press). That book began a constant companion; decades later there are still cadences of Madhubuti’s writing in my own. My immediate response to meeting and reading Madhubuti (the former Don L. Lee) was to track down his earlier works like Don't Cry, Scream! (1969) and We Walk the Way of the New World (1970),m many of which I found in the E 185 section of the library. It was then that I began a life long love affair with E 185, which within the Library of Congress’s call system is the “Black” section.
It was not unusual in those days to find me on lazy Sunday or Saturday afternoons on the floor in the stacks—the E 185 section of my campus library—literally pulling books from the shelf onto the floor, as if I was pulling pieces together of some giant puzzle—and indeed I was; In the absence of a Black Studies curriculum and even Black professors, E 185 was my Black Studies Department. Years before Google and Youtube, E 185 was my search engine, and sitting on the floor in that space, Black History Month was indeed every month, everyday.
The discovery of those books now is different, less tactile than I'd like it to be. But I wonder if there are other kids out there making space for those narratives the way some of us did back in the day. I hope so.

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