Never before in either of each life had they been able to make such a choice like no other slave they knew of. Child, that freedom is something! They was both shy and kind of bashful. Though Lord knows they had been through so much in life, seen so much in their life, been made to do so much. Family, by J. California Cooper
Nothando Zulu performed a moving and emotional reading from Family at Rondo Community Library on February 17, but her performance was only a segment of the latest Givens Foundation for African American Literature Black Books event.
The literary work the foundation spotlighted this evening was that of the celebrated playwright and author J. California Cooper. Cooper has received tribute from the numerous literary critics. Alice Walker, who is best known for writing The Color Purple, describes Cooper’s writing style as “deceptively simple and direct.”
The February 17 Black Books event began with Zulu’s dramatic reading performance of selections from J. California’s Cooper’s first novel, Family. The novel provides a slave narrative that effectively details the lives of slaves with emotional complexity. Cooper weaves together an entertaining and lovable, multi-generational cast of characters.
Zulu’s dramatic reading was followed by a discussion of the novel, including critiques of the book by Nothando Zulu and noted literary scholars Carolyn Holbrook and Davu Underwood Seru.
After the discussion, members of the audience commented on Family and other Cooper writings. This admission-free event was open to the general public, and the first 30 attendees received free copies of Family. The event not only helped to introduce Cooper’s work to a new audience, but directly catered to the dozens of enthusiastic Cooper fans in attendance. About 50 fans, ranging from high schoolers to the elderly, came to celebrate Cooper’s books. “A lot of people love her work. We actually have teens all the way up to senior citizens that love to read her books” said Givens Foundation Assistant Director Eartha Bell.
Ezra Hyland, one of her many fans said, “Her stories are so relatable that I think it was a brilliant choice to choose her as your featured author.” Zulu echoed the same sentiment: “J. California is my favorite author. She really is. She sounds so relatable, that it’s like you’re having a conversation with a friend or like you’re talking with family.”
Arleta Little, the organization’s executive director said, “The Givens Foundation’s mission is to enhance cultural African American literature and writers.” This Givens Foundation for African American Literature event helped to celebrate Black History Month, and is part of their community reading campaign,Givens Black Books. Little also stated that the Givens Black Books reading campaign was designed with the goal of increasing access to and engagement in the literary arts in the Twin Cities’ African American community.”
The Givens Foundations seeks not only to showcase the artistic prowess of unsung black authors, but to help up and coming generations to cultivate their creative writing skills also. “We’ll be doing group discussions on J. California’s books in North Minneapolis, and then will do literary workshops where we’ll be teaching the kids how to do their own creative writing,” Bell said. “Then they’ll get the chance to perform their writing on local radio station KBEM. ” .
If you would like to get involved in any of the Givens Foundation’s future events and to learn more about the Givens Foundation for African American Literature at their website.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.
Feb. 28, 2011- Youth Discussion Group at Arlington Library
Mar. 2, 2011- Community Book Discussion Series at Pillsbury House Oak Park Center
Mar. 23, 2011- Black Men Reading Book Discussion at UROC
Mar. 26, 2011– Community Book Discussion Series at Sumner Library
Apr. 16, 2011- Literary Luncheon featuring author: J. California Cooper