Sentinels in Long Still Rows

Sentinels in Long Still Rows

Libraries never let us forget who we are, for their worth stands by the knowledge they keep and save for us.

Returning the Favor

On a cold, terribly windy January evening this year, I presented a program at the Wright Memorial Library in Oakwood, Ohio. I’d not been there before. We drove, my husband and I, for 45 minutes through the windswept, snowy landscape to get there. I was certain we would not have many people this bitter night.

We were ushered into a lecture/meeting room that seated about 75. People came in slowly. Before a presentation is the time when I gather my nerves and my thoughts, and hope that my written talk will be variously amusing, thoughtful, and of interest to the audience. But one never knows for sure. Then it was time.

I was introduced by Tony Walder, director of the library, and I made my way to the podium. Reading my lecture, I looked up to discover the room was full – and still people came. Every seat was taken.

People stood three deep in the rear. They lined the walls, and children sat in bunches in front on the floor. Nothing so thrills an author than the effort the public makes to come hear her.

I always like my audiences in libraries. They are multi-generational – children, parents, grandparents. They are of variety, of diversity. They are teachers, librarians, other interested writers. All are singularly devoted to books. They understand they are the other side of the coin. The other hand, too, of the author. If I am the call, the audience is the response. I joked, saying they had all gone stir-crazy over the long capricious Ohio winter, and decided at last to get out of their houses this winter night, no matter what the “show” or the weather. They smiled, but weren’t to be dissuaded from their serious interest in my books for children.

I talked to them about what I do and why, about parallel culture communities, about cultural learning to be found in the literature I make, and what it means to be African American in this society. I told them that we of the parallel cultures want to be counted as givers to the learning process of children. We want our heritages and our contributions to society to be seen as significant contributions to the social order. We want our books in libraries so that all children can know about all of us. We learn about one another through the books we read and enjoy. Finally, we want to see our books as sentinels – brown, black, yellow, white, green, or purple – on the shelves.