Black History Month is not only about Black history, but also about Black literature. By hosting an annual African American Read-In every February the University of Portland works with the rest of the nation as well as other countries to encourage awareness of African American Literature during Black History Month. Our Read-In is not the only one, however, and neither is it the first. In fact, schools, churches, bookstores, and other organizations across the country have hosted African American Read-Ins for 24 years now. The first took place in 1990 and was sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English. The next year the entire NCTE joined in and African American Read-Ins have taken place each February ever since.
How does one participate in an African American Read-In? Easy! At UP’s Read-In students and staff are asked to choose a piece of literature from their favorite African American author, poet, playwright, or songwriter. Students and staff will then bring this piece to a free dinner on Thursday, February 7th from 5:00-7:30pm in St. Mary’s and present it during the evening. There is also space for those who want to listen rather than read. The RSVP deadline has been extended this year and you can still sign up! Sign up by the evening of Tuesday, February 5th and enjoy an evening of novels, poems, songs, and delicious free food.
What is the most rewarding aspect of attending an African American Read-In? While there are plenty of rewarding aspects of this read-in, our own Dr. Hiro (this years host) pointed out an important fact that illuminates a perhaps forgotten reward: much of African American art was created and passed on orally. Dr. Hiro explains that many of these texts “therefore are marked by sounds and cadences you can hear much better than see,” pointing out the benefit of sharing literature out loud with one another.
Bethany Sills, UP’s Multicultural Programs Coordinator also pointed out that African American Read-Ins can shed light on the values of diversity in our society. Bethany believes diversity to be “a grand and colorful mosaic of human life and experience,” but often “parts of that colorful mosaic are overlooked or under appreciated.” However, it is also Bethany’s belief that “Read-Ins across the country during February shine light on the spoken voice for those somber moments of voicelessness,” allowing diversity to break through prejudice. This is yet another of the many rewarding aspects of UP’s African American Read-In.
African American Read-Ins not only promote literacy during Black History Month and introduce people to African American authors, but they also provide us with the time to honor an ethnic tradition that was neglected for so many years. This February we celebrate Black history, but this Thursday we celebrate Black art.
Sign up today, February 5th, and we’ll see you on Thursday!
Can’t make it to the African American Read-In? Check out these recommended reads from Bethany Sills and Dr. Hiro!
The Marrow Of Tradition– Charles Chesnutt
Native Son– Richard Wright
“Recitatif”- Toni Morrison
Their Eyes Were Watching God– Zora Neale Hurston