Literacy, literature celebrated during Black History Month

Elizabeth Reinecke

University staff and students will kick off Black History Month by joining more than 1 million readers in the United States, the Virgin Islands, Ghana and Kenya in their first African-American Read-In.
Readings and presentations at the University will begin on Sunday at 3 p.m. in Cowles Auditorium. The event is intended to promote literacy and is geared toward the community.
Among the readers is Louis Bellamy, associate professor of Theatre Arts and Dance. Bellamy will read from monologues by playwright August Wilson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for “Fences.”
Librarian Karen Beavers will present works from a rare collection of literature containing poetry by Phyllis Wheatly, the first African-American poet to be published. The collection also contains literature from the Harlem Renaissance and works by contemporary writers such as Toni Morrison.
Audience members will have the opportunity to participate in an open reading.
Approaching its eighth national year of recognizing and celebrating African-American literature, the read-in is a tool to get people in the community involved in promoting literacy. Founder and National Director Jerrie Scott took her idea to the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English in 1989 when she and others on the council noticed widely-publicized illiteracy rates for the population, in particular for African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics.
“If we focused on illiteracy, it wouldn’t be as positive as if we focused on literacy. And we needed a long-term commitment,” Scott said.
To celebrate the event in the classroom, University professors are encouraged to read something pertaining to African-American heritage to their students.
“It can be anything from reading a poem or a piece of African-American literature that symbolizes a held value to a biography of an African-American physicist,” said Dr. Elaine Richardson, a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and professor of writing in General College.
The University Book Store, along with primarily local book stores and publishing houses, is supporting the event by donating books for distribution at the read-in.
“We hope to broaden the community’s interest in African-American literature and highlight the community’s literary resources,” said Letha Wilson-Barnard, who is helping to orchestrate the event.