Renowned authors hash issues of race

Melrose Branch library hosts discussions by National Book Award writers


From left: Douglas Jackson, founder, Book City Roanoke, speaks with National Book Award writers Justin Phillip Reed and Ibram X. Kendi during a program held Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 before a standing room only crowd at the new Melrose Library in northwest. – Photos by S. Hale

by S. Rotan Hale

It was a standing room only crowd–the biggest the new Melrose Library has seen since opening July 22. It was also a night of introspection for both presenters and those who attended the event held Thursday, Aug. 29, billed as Indecent Histories.

The event is part of the National Book Award Foundation (NBF) series with the express mission of “amplifing NBF award writers and their work while opening access to these writers and books in addition, to providing educational programing and book donations for young people and their families,” stated Natalie Green, mgr, public programs, NBF.

Douglas Jackson, a local writer of note, moderated the program through which authors Justin Phillip Reed and Ibram X. Kendi delivered provocative presentations and addressed several questions from the moderator as well as the audience.

The standing-room-only crowd at Melrose Branch Library listen as Justin Phillip Reed and Ibram X. Kendi discuss race in America.

In his opening statement, Jackson, founder of Book City Roanoke, spoke on the importance of the organization as a “celebration of our literary assets. We’re here because we believe that the extended historical analysis of Dr. Kendi’s work can help us create a new framework for conversation,” said Jackson. “We’re here because the raw and intimate first person perspectives of Mr. Reed’s poetry can help us seek humanity rather than ignore it in our neighbor.”

Jackson’s opening remarks set the stage for both renowned authors who engrossed the audience in an engaging and in-depth discourse on humanity’s current struggles to reset the guidelines of a dwindling morality that continues to plummet. Considering the depth and scope of their presentations, Kendi and Reed did not disappoint.

Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi, a Washington DC resident, is the founding director of Antiracist Research and Policy Center, American University. He is professor of History and International Relations and an Ideas Columnist at The Atlantic–a print and online magazine with the mission statement of “Challenging assumptions and pursuing truth.”

As the author of several books, he spoke briefly about his most recent one “How To Be An Antiracist,” published August 13.

He opened his talk with a detailed personal account of a sobering prognosis he received from his doctor who informed him he had cancer. Kendi proceeded to reflect on his shock and the flood of dark reservations regarding his newfound dilemma– not only the issue itself but the unfortunate complication of his wife’s bout, also with cancer. Further test would later verify he had metastatic stage four-colon cancer. His candid account, though real, was an analogy of our present-day society entrenched in the plagued of racism.

“Our world is suffering from metastatic cancer, stage four,” he said. “Racism has spread to nearly every part of the body politic–intersecting with bigotry of all kinds, justifying all kinds of inequities by victim blaming, heightening exploitation, misplaced hate, spurring mass shootings… shutting down essential organs of democracy,” Kendi proclaimed with stark profundity.

Justin Phillip Reed

Reed is an accomplished writer and poet with an impressive body of work that has been published in the African American Review, Best American Essays and various other high profile publications. He opened his presentation with an excerpt from ‘Indecency’ his first published collection of poetry. His piece ‘Pushing Up Onto its Elbows the Fable Becomes the Fact,’ was a dark and riveting tribute to a poem by Tafisha Edwards, ‘Everywhere in the World They Hurt Little Black Girls.’

Both Reed and Kendi would go on to move the audience with their brilliant perspectives delivered from a range of angles levied against the onslaught of inequities and debilitating discrimination that continues to stifle society and it’s progress.

Following the program, many stood in line during a book sale and signing session with the authors.

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