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Original Publish Date: 
Sep.30.2006

Manifest Destiny, as a term for westward expansion, was not used until the 1840s.

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Native America, Discovered and COnquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny

By Robert J. Miller
Original Publish Date: 
Jul.01.2008

Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital, grew from 45,000 to 55,000 residents in the years 1910–1925.

Excerpt text: 

In 1965 I was just beginning my experiments with photography taking snapshots with my parent’s Browne Hawkeye camera and developing the film in the basement. One day, down-the-street neighbors Doug Boilesen and his father Axel, both avid garage sale sleuths who were always on the lookout for items relating to Edison phonographs, told me that they had purchased, for fifteen dollars, a stack of old 5”X7” glass plate negatives. They spied what looked like a picture of a little girl next to a phonograph as well as images of people and downtown Lincoln buildings under construction. I purchased the negatives, minus the picture of the phonograph (which is now in the Friends of the Phonograph image collection) on the time payment plan.

I immediately set out to inventory the collection. I found that there were lots and lots of pictures of people, mostly environmental portraits of Lincoln’s black citizens. I put all of those in one pile and put all of the street scenes in another. With the help of some folks in Lincoln I was able to determine that the street scenes were taken around 1915. What interested me most was that people actually wanted to buy prints made from those old glass plates. A small flurry of retail transactions followed and my photographic career was launched thanks to some negatives shot by another photographer.

In 1968, the negatives followed me to California and eventually each of the 276 negatives got its own envelope. Years passed, then in May 1994, my mother, who still resided in Lincoln, noticed a small item in the local paper about a researcher at the University of Nebraska who was doing a story on black owned businesses. The researcher discovered a clutch of 36 5X7 glass negatives housed in a woman’s closet. These photographs depicted newly arrived immigrants and blacks that lived in an area called South Bottoms. Local historians pegged the time frame of the photographs around 1910-1925. They also hinted that the photographer might be one Earl McWilliams (1892-1960) an African-American who worked part time in the darkroom at a local photo studio.

I contacted Lincoln historian Ed Zimmer and John Carter, a curator at the Nebraska State Historical Society about my collection. In short order, my collection was proclaimed a State treasure. In March 2000 Nebraska Governor Mike Jonanns honored Earl McWilliams and the McWilliams family in a ceremony at the Nebraska State Capitol building.

As time went on it seems that every discovery about the collection, its subjects and its photographer led to new questions. When Ed Zimmer was interviewing people who had relatives in the photographs information came to light that one John Johnson may have been the photographer. It’s likely that we’ll never know absolutely if all of the photographs were taken by one person or if they were collaborations. Some evidence suggests that they worked together since Johnson appears in some of the photographs and the last verifiably dated photograph corresponds to the date that McWilliams moved from Lincoln to Colorado.

Over the years I’ve poured over the images looking for a refection of the photographer in a window or a shiny surface. My search has yielded one shadowy image reflected in a brass doorknob and one image of the photographer’s or his helper’s hand. That image was taken at a zoo. The photographer prefocused the camera on a wire fence then either he or his helper held out their hand with a piece of food and enticed a deer to come and nibble. At the precise instant the deer got to the wire the photographer squeezed the shutter. That image may be the only image of the photographer we’ll ever have. However, what we will always have is an extraordinary collection of images produced by an astoundingly capable hand.

Douglas Keister, Chico, California

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Lincoln in Black and White: 1910-1925

By Douglas R Keister

Filmmaker and Film critic Donald Richie has been observing and writing about Japan from the moment he arrived in Tokyo on New Year's Day, 1947.

Excerpt text: 

“During the last fifty years, Donald Richie has been our greatest guide to the East. An outsider turned insider—a beautiful and subtle writer with an eye for the wild life as well as an ear for the silences of Japan.”
--Michael Ondaatje

“Donald Richie is the Lafcadio Hearn of our time, a subtle, stylish, and deceptively lucid medium between two cultures that confuse one another: the Japanese and the American.”
--Tom Wolfe

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Original Published Source (if Published Work is not a Book): 
The New Yorker, Newsweek, The Japan Times, Asian Film, Prairie Schooner, Tokyo Journal, Winds, Where are the Victors? (Tuttle), Public People, Private People (Kodansha)
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The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 by Donald Richie Edited

By Leza Lowitz
Original Publish Date: 
Sep.01.2003
Excerpt text: 

"Whereas it might be erroneous to claim that the literature, art, and music of the Harlem Renaissance revolutionized the practice of democracy in the United States, it would not be an error to point out that the ideas they championed did impact on America’s understanding, and subsequently its application, of democracy. The absurdities, contradictions, and hypocrisies of the racist mentality that ruled America was publicly dissected time and again to clarify the painful difference between what the country proposed to do in the name of freedom and what it in fact did do under the presumptions of white superiority. Harlem Renaissance writers and artists fashioned a powerful mirror of conscience that forced the United States to confront the reality of its moral and political failures in regard to its citizen “Negroes.” By promoting and sharing the experience of black culture the men and women of the Harlem Renaissance set in motion the mechanism that would allow the idea of “Negroes” as Americans to become in the long decades that followed, the reality of blacks as African Americans. "

 

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"I feel blessed to have witnessed the encyclopedia’s impact as it went on to win awards, receive a recommendation as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s recommended holiday gift items, and Black Book Reviews’ “Recommended Titles for the Home Library.” Moreover, it became a highly valued resource for students of the era at every level and helped to launch a publishing frenzy on related subjects, thus documenting the great era more thoroughly than ever before."
--Aberjhani

Publishing Notes: 
In 2003, the “Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance” published by Facts On File became the first comprehensive volume on the much celebrated movement that gave birth to modern black culture. In February 2006, Black Issues Book Review voted the encyclopedia one its “essential titles for the home library.” Prior to that, it won the Choice Academic Title Award and Best History Book Award for it’s treatment of an era that not only gave us such outstanding authors as Zora Neale Hurston and leaders like James Weldon Johnson, but laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement and provided such lasting legacies as gospel music, jazz, the blues, rap, and other staples of African-American culture.
Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance by Aberjhani and Sandra L. West

Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

By Aberjhani

In these personal, evocative, original essays, thirty contemporary black and white, young and older writers--from Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Award winners to brand new voices--share their intima

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WHEN RACE BECOMES REAL: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories

WHEN RACE BECOMES REAL: Black and White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories

By Bernestine Singley
Original Publish Date: 
Oct.27.2009

Through the lives of Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, Bob Zellner, Julian Bond, Marion Barry, John Lewis, and their contemporaries, The Shadows of Youth provides a carefully woven

Excerpt text: 

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The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

By Andrew B. Lewis
Original Publish Date: 
Oct.01.1998
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A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer

By nina burleigh
Original Publish Date: 
Oct.31.2008

Checkered Fences is a heartwarming romance about a high school student, Diane Jones, who dreams of her independence and becoming the first in her family to complete colleg

Excerpt text: 

Heading into my room to get dressed for work, Daddy asked. “Which one do you like?” 

 

“Excuse me?” I said. 

 

“Which one of those boys do you like?” He asked.

 

“None of them.” I replied. 

 

“Well, you need to pick one because it’s time for you to get married,” he declared. 

 

“I mean no disrespect to you Daddy, but I’m never getting married.” I said. 

 

“How are you going to take care of yourself if you don’t get married?” He asked.  “I won’t have any grandchildren born out of wedlock.  If you get in the family way, I’ll send you to one of those homes for unwed mothers,” he declared angrily. 

 

“Daddy, I said, it’s the twentieth century now and women can work for a living.  Why won’t you understand that I don’t need a man to take care of me?  And I’m not having any babies because I’m not getting married.” 

 

“When that urge hits you, you won’t be able to control it and you’ll get in the family way,” he argued. 

 

“When that happens, then I will get married.” I responded. 

 

“Why would a man buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” Daddy responded.  “I want you married now.  I keep showing you perfectly fine men to marry and you keep turning them down.” 

 

“I won’t get married and be unhappy like you and Moms!” I yelled.  “Why do you keep trying to get rid of me and marry me off to some man I don’t love?  Why don’t you want me around anymore?” I cried.  “I try hard not to give you any trouble.  I’ll do whatever you ask of me, but please don’t marry me off.” I pleaded. 

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I hope you enjoy my family’s story.  This story isn’t just about me.  It’s about my entire, considerably large, extended family.  As I grew up, my family consisted of mostly African-Americans.  Now, my family consists of Hispanics, Caucasians, Asians, and African-Americans.  Read this delightful story and see. 

Book Cover for "Checkered Fences"

Checkered Fences

By Alma Hudson

In this powerful follow-up to Between Barack and a Hard Place, Tim Wise ar

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Original Published Source (if Published Work is not a Book): 
05/01/2010
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Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity

By Tim Wise
Original Publish Date: 
Jan.08.2009

Using the richest of language, ONE DAY highlights the complexities facing mankind today.

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Publishing Notes: 
Copyright © 2007 by Shirley Howard Hall Library of Congress Control Number: 2007941394 ISBN: 978-0-9798538-8-3
ONE DAY

ONE DAY; Life, Love and Controversy in Middle America

By Shirley Hall
Original Publish Date: 
Jan.08.2009

Using the richest of language, ONE DAY highlights the complexities facing mankind today.

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Publishing Notes: 
Copyright © 2007 by Shirley Howard Hall Library of Congress Control Number: 2007941394 ISBN: 978-0-9798538-8-3
ONE DAY

ONE DAY; Life, Love and Controversy in Middle America

By Shirley Hall
Original Publish Date: 
Nov.15.2009

“Listen”, takes a reader deep into the conscientious of the socially, economically, and cu

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Publishing Notes: 
Copyright © 2009 by Shirley Howard Hall Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN: 0-88144-481-2
LISTEN

LISTEN

By Shirley Hall
Original Publish Date: 
Sep.11.2012

From one of the nation's best-known social justice leaders and community activists comes a strategic and informed argument about the pitfalls of limited political vision, and the benefits of an age

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Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics

By Urvashi Vaid

Three generations of mothers and daughters take center stage, with 20th century events as backdrop, in this novel of depth and humor, with a touch of

Excerpt text: 

For excerpts, please see http://www.judithlaura.com/3ex.html

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For more info, excerpts, reviews, please see http://www.judithlaura.com/3PI.html

Publishing Notes: 
Earlier versions of parts of this novel appeared as short stories in Gemini Books Jetstream Selections, the e-zine So Dark, So Deep, and in Woodwind, an arts paper. An earlier edition of this book was published in 2002.
Three Part Invention, a novel

Three Part Invention, a novel

By Judith Laura
Original Publish Date: 
Feb.01.2011

Two people, two faiths, one hope, one destiny . . . .

Excerpt text: 

 OK, let's go, please.

 Call me Ishmael. That's not my name, but you can call me that. I am a type of Ishmael. I do not mean an outsider. Africans are defined by belonging not isolation. But I am a witness, taking with words what would not be taken by other means.

 Picture this. There is a man standing at a crossroads. Beside him, a woman. Behind them, a child. They are surrounded by men on horses. The men have guns in their hands and God in their hearts. They are the Warriors of God and they believe in perfection. Man, woman, and child have no weapons, no faith, only a story.
 

OK, let's go, please.
***
I first see Kate at the souk. She is sitting on a bench in front of the chai shop. The Warriors of God are in front of the government rest house with their horses and the Landcruiser. We have many men with guns and horses, more since the drill was blown up. The Warriors of God are drinking cold things. Kate is peering at her cell phone, concentrating hard as if playing a game. I should leave. Jemal’s men are no friends of mine. But I need books and  foreigners have always given books for my library. They like to picture their novels crossing the desert on my back. So I walk toward the white woman.

 Souk is the word we use, but it is not the sort of souk featured in tomes of travelers' tales full of color, bustle, copper kettles, spices, and bolts of bright cloth . . . . Our souk is not like that. It is a thing of dust and dry beans and sacks of sorghum and powdered milk, 'A gift from the EC' sold by Idris the Madman, who dreams of islands. Sometimes we can buy tomatoes, sometimes only bread, sometimes not even that. There is chai and Coca-Cola, occasionally cold things, always people. With the camps full, the souk is a place of meeting, refuge and flight, but no commerce is done, or not the commerce of small moneys. There may be talk of mining, of minerals and oil, of guns and gold, but the business is the business of Business, not people.
 

"Excuse me, madam. May I be permitted to speak with you for one moment, please?"
 

Kate looks up, a little startled. It is sometimes this way. I have been told by other foreigners that I speak too formally. Or perhaps she simply did not see me coming. She does not reply, yet watches me in a manner that suggests assent. She is a short woman, with a strong face and steady eyes that do no dance of etiquette, but hold your gaze, as if candor is respect. Her time in my country cannot have been easy. Propriety is important here and deference is valued more than honesty.

 I explain my purpose, ask her for old paperbacks, careful to use the language of courtesy that I have learned from the novels of Mr. Trollope and Mr. Galsworthy. When my speech is finished, she says she has heard of me, The Barefoot Librarian. The way she says it, the words sound like the title of a book, one she would perhaps like to read, but she does not elaborate.
 

I wait, not wishing to seem importunate.
 

She waits, too, watching me with a cool, distant curiosity, the degree of which I cannot yet determine. It is always a delicate moment, the period between request and bequest, for it is then that potential donors decide whether to fob me off with a token contribution or really try to help.

 Still she does not speak.

 Africans are good at waiting, but this silence is not normal for white people. White people do not like silence. In their books, they call it pregnant. They fear silence is the prologue to something that will grow beyond regulation.
 

Yet Kate says nothing.

 Just waits and watches, her figure partially obscured by my shadow, a slender ghost that slouches over her knees and folds itself across the far corner of the bench. Her own shadow is crimped by the wall of the chai shop, twisted awkwardly, an unfamiliar creature trying to fit itself into an incommodious space not fashioned for it by nature.
 

I explain again what I need and why.

 Suddenly, she loses interest, says quietly but firmly: "I don't read novels. I only have time for what is true."

 White people do not normally shock me. I have read their books and told their stories very many times. I understand them, have seen the places that made them, seen the lives they want to live, all in the reading and rereading and retelling. Sometimes my people call me 'doctor', for though my skin is dark, my mind is pale. But when Kate suggests fiction is not true she shocks me very much. Stories get nearer to the truth than facts.

 "I'm sorry," says Kate, mistaking my dismay for the discomfort her directness must often cause my compatriots. "I'm busy. I must make a call. But there's no coverage at the moment."

 She inspects her cell phone again, dismissing me by taking refuge in technology. I later learn that she has collected many facts about my country --dates, names, numbers, places-- but she does not read them right. Otherwise, she would know: when the cell phones stop working, it means someone, somewhere is about to die, and the killers do not want word to spread. Words, even simple words of warning, are powerful. That is one reason why the men with guns and horses hate me, for words tied into stories are words they cannot curb by shutting down a satellite.

 Jemal appears behind his men, stepping carefully across the broken boards of the rest house verandah. He looks at me. We were together in the orphanage, but there is no kindness between us now. He will kill me one day. He has told me this. But it will not be today, I think. He turns aside, speaks brief words in the language of the north, and the Warriors of God get ready to ride into the desert.
***
The books I carried on my back have rubbed into my flesh and bones. Sometimes they leak out again. At night, falling asleep, I often dream I am reading. The book is in my hand, a known book by a known writer, I can feel its weight, I can see the words, and I am reading, and the way the words fit together matches the way the writer fits words together. Then I turn the page and the words make no sense or the page repeats itself, so I go back to the beginning and start again. But when I turn the page once more, the same thing happens, over and over again, until I wake and realize that there is no book in my hand, and my reading is nothing but a dream.

 I dream books in the waking world, too, willing them into being as I walk between villages, so that I am in sort walking with the characters from my books, picturing them at my side. Sometimes their presence is so strong that it even inflects the rhythm of my own walking. With Captain Ahab, for instance, I do not walk quickly, but I keep going for a very long time and rarely rest. His progress is hampered by his ivory leg sinking into the soft sand, but he ploughs on regardless, because he cannot relax and fears that, once stopped, he will never start again. Miss Havisham is slower than a government paycheck. Her dress is not suited to the qoz and she is a very old lady. She protests most bitterly, until I become peevish like her, and end up bickering with myself about which path to take. By contrast, Lizzie Bennet does not complain about the heat and dust, but walks steadily, holding her skirts clear of her ankles when crossing thickets of thorny grass, so that we proceed smoothly in a most pleasant concord of mutual sympathy. Huckleberry Finn is a cheerfully disruptive influence, darting back and forth, talking all the time, trying to spend his inexhaustible energy. His is a nervous search for a world in which he will be free and safe, as if the two can be found together. Don Quijote is congenial, but erratic. Like Kate, he is always seeking enemies to challenge. Steerforth is a bit wet. Barkis is willing.

 Perhaps my choice of reading seems outlandish for this hot, landlocked place? But like all good things, my library was made by chance not choice, compiled through the impulsive generosity of strangers: consular officials, NGO reps, foreign teachers and contract workers, these have been my stockpilers, supplying the raw material of the road on which I walk. Thus I tell tales of oceans my listeners have never seen, of strange countries and alien rituals they will never know, and conflicts that must be retailored to match the fabric of their experience. But it is right that I bring them a world they do not know. Books should be written and read out of context. Only then do they properly engage the imagination. Mr. Melville wrote a story about a whale, but it was a book about the whole world, and he wrote it in front of a window in front of a mountain in the middle of Maine.

 My own book must be a love story, a poem to people, and a celebration of the power of words. Yet I am telling a story of war, flight and murder.
***
Two days pass. I find no new books. I must take a place on the truck that is due to leave for Al Asher. It is too dangerous to walk now. It is dangerous to travel at all, but if you take the risk, it is best done in company. This is Africa: life is community and where there is no community there is no life; that is why they destroy the villages.
 I will get off the truck at the crossroads and go to the well of books. Al Asher is safe, but it is not good for books anymore because very many consulates have closed and those that remain are bureaus of business rather than culture. I might be given the odd dog-eared spy novel or a spine-cracked Penguin classic, but not enough to remake a library, even a portable one. This will be my third trip to the well of books.

 I stocked the well when the war got big again and the commercial agents withdrew and the consular libraries closed, abandoning all disposable printed matter. All disposable printed matter meant everything that did not contain a commercial or diplomatic secret, which is to say everything that might be interesting to a man like me. While other people fought over office furnishings and copper pipes, I foraged for books. I found very many volumes, so many that I could not store them all in Anahud. Instead, I took them to the crossroads.

 The older paperbacks were falling apart, but I wrapped the newer books in plastic and stacked them in the wide mouth of the shallow well. The well is dry and nobody goes there for water now. Few even notice the low rim of sun-baked bricks. I left the broken paperbacks in the camps, distributing blocks of pages at random. They are good firelighters, but I like to imagine someone making a new story from the fragments they find. That is the way of reading: reading people, places, books, we are always piecing together patchy information and trying to make a pattern from it. That was what Kate was doing, taking snapshots of my country and trying to make a pattern. Sometimes the patterns we make are better than the pattern the author intended. Sometimes they are simply wrong.

 I see her for the second time on my way to the truck park. She is in an alley off the main street. I say 'alley' and 'street', but there are no alleys or streets here, only ways stabilized by use, and even they may disappear if somebody builds a house in the gap. But these spaces serve a similar purpose to the passages that other people in other places call alleys and streets. My country is not well made for conventional representation. I am thinking of the European maps that purport to show the infrastructure of this place. They are  works of marvelous fantasy, locating straight roads where ways a mile wide meander across the qoz and restaurants where a chai shack sometimes serves brown beans with roundels of flat grey bread. Like the mapmakers, I am telling a story using signs that can only approximate what I am describing. Forgive me. I am pedantic. But these days, words are almost my only resource -- words and you, dear reader.

 Kate is in a narrow alley off the main street. There are no doorways, only two long mud walls, no exits save at either end of the alley. At the far end of the alley, there is a man, and between Kate and myself, two more. They are walking at her, talking angry words, and saying insults she cannot understand. They are Warriors of God, nomads who have always raided villages in search of cattle, and now raid in search of money and God. Like everyone else, they are trying to survive in a world that has changed, adapting what they know to the new world.

 Kate is standing still in the middle of the alley. She is in trouble. She is scared. But she hides it well. And she is beautiful. Her features are regular, unnaturally symmetrical. She has a broad brow and large eyes, wide and widely spaced, and dark hair that defines her face with sharp lines. But most beautiful is the way she stands, the way she looks: stubborn, watching the men defiantly; she is vulnerable but independent, even at the cost of safety. Beauty may be encountered in the happenstance of flesh and bone, but it must be quickened by more than blood if it is to move us.
 Kate's courage moves me.

 It moves me into the alley.

 I know what these men want. They want to punish her for the unspoken crime of being a woman. It is the easiest way they can find to fight their own fears. Kate knows enough to wear a loose dress with long sleeves and skirts that reach below her knees, but her hair is showing. Time before, this was tolerated in a white woman, but not now. They will probably not hurt her badly. Not a foreigner, not here in the town. But you never know with men who are practiced in the incisive art of unwomaning a woman's body.

 I should walk on, but I do not because I know that time to come these men will kill me, and it pleases me to upset them while I live. They are walking at Kate, talking angry words, when the man at the far end of the alley sees me, and warns his companions, who turn to face this new threat. They do not have their guns, but they will have knives strapped to their upper arms, knives with a ridge along the flat of the blade so that the wound will not heal cleanly. I have big shoulders and strong arms from carrying books all these years. I could beat them, I believe, even three of them. But if beating is necessary, it is better to beat a man’s spirit than his body. Bodies heal quicker than the spirit. Besides, when the world is nonsensical, nonsense is one of the few defenses left to a poor man. Nonsense, walking, reading and, in the end, when nothing else is left, writing.

 I take out the book, open it at the page that pleases so many children and those adults who have kept the better part of childishness in their hearts. Everyone has childishness inside them, childishness often made ugly by age, but the love of nonsense is a beautiful thing. I raise the book and the Warriors of God look troubled for they do not like books being raised against them. Warriors of God do not like people reading. It is a power they cannot control. That is why they want me dead. It is the reason they persecute women, too. They fear women. Women and books are stronger than them. Women and books possess secret, private places in which they worry some occult and unfathomable mischief is being done. Happily, they are right.

 I begin to read aloud, reciting really. I know these words well, but the book is a weapon of sorts in itself.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
   The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jujub bird, and shun
   The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
   Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
   And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
   And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

“And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
   He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

 I have seen the magic these words make on children and reason that children’s magic will not go well with these men, for the child in them is the child of fear, not the child of nonsense. At first, the Warriors of God step forward to fight me, but they falter when they hear the Jubjub bird and Bandersnatch, and by the time the Jabberwock comes whiffling through the tulgey wood, the two men in front are glancing uncertainly at one another. The vorpal blade goes snicker-snack and they back off, so that Kate is between them and the beamish boy. It is the Callooh! Callay! that finishes them. They flee, terrified that some triumphant and terrible spell is being cast. ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe. Perhaps they are right.
 At first, Kate is incredulous, which is as it should be with nonsense, but then she starts to laugh and it is the most frabjous sound I have heard since I was in the camps. You would be surprised how often people laugh in the camps. Displaced, dispossessed, hungry, risking rape or castration when they venture beyond the perimeter, yet still they laugh. Laughter and tears ghost one another; laughter can make tears of joy and tears of pain can make a face like laughter. Either way, life is made more bearable, and we find the strength to carry on. Kate’s laughter is the laughter of one who wants to live long and well. She even snorts, her glee so immoderate that it must have a second outlet. I warm to this strange woman. I have loved many women, another misdeed in the eyes of the Warriors of God, for the love and loving of women is not admissible in their wing-clipped version of the world, but despite all the wives I had in the days when I walked from village to village, the feeling I have for this laughing, snorting woman is as alien as the place she comes from -- or would be were it not for the books that have made her place familiar to me and made old companions of many strange sensations.

 "You still want books?" she says when, at length, she has mastered her laughter.

 "I still want books, madam. But this was not done for books."

 "Please, do not call me madam. My name is Kate."

 "Yes, Miss Kate." A brief expression of distaste crosses her face, I do not know why. "Miss Kate, we should not linger here. It is dangerous. Please to follow me."

 The Battle of Jabberwocky, as Kate later calls it, is an easy victory given what happens afterwards, but I know my enemies. The Warriors of God are simple men, but they understand the power of words. They believe that words in an amulet will guard against the evil eye, that learning their book by heart will guarantee them a place in paradise, even that declaiming the beautiful names of God can protect them from the weapons of other men. But words can harm them, too. The men in the alley understand enough to know that Jabberwocky is made of words they cannot control because they are words without meaning. They are frightened by what they cannot control. That is why they kill.

 For my part, I have long lived in words, perhaps too long, and know all too well their uses and abuses. Words connect, but they can also keep people out. Some books do not tell a story, but build a wall of words shielding the reader from the world, imprisoning as they protect. Sometimes though, words are a necessary defense. They are a poor weapon, a hit and miss magic, and in this place you only have to miss once and you're dead, but they are the only weapon most of us have.

 The slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
***
We are sitting on a truck at the edge of the souk. Kate, myself and a score of other hopeful travelers. I told her she should leave Anahud and she said she was leaving anyway, had been going to fetch her bag. I did not expect her to take the truck, but she has no automobile of her own and travels like one of us: on foot, on donkeys, on top of a merchant's wares. This is a good truck, loaded with sacks of dura, so we will sleep well tonight, and tomorrow if the way is slow. It will be crowded, though. Transport is scarce and there are many who wish to escape the conflict. More people are arriving all the time.
 A Landcruiser crosses the square and stops behind our vehicle. The crowd continues scrambling up the slatted sides of the truck, thrusting bags into the hands of waiting relatives. They are so eager to get away that they do not notice Jemal emerging from the Landcruiser; no curtain of stillness falls, there is no show of meekness, just the pushy agitation of people keen to escape. He ignores them and walks around to where Kate and I are sitting. She has covered her hair with a long scarf that she can also pull across her mouth, not for modesty, but against the dust.

 He looks up at us, then says: “This is your woman?”

 Kate regards him with scorn, but he will not look at her directly, will not sully himself in this way. He merely repeats his question. It is a habit he has had since childhood, repeating himself as if language is ritual, a formal procedure that does not so much describe the world as codify it, making it fit a pattern acceptable to his expectations. It is a foolish habit and this is a foolish question. He knows Kate cannot be my woman and I cannot claim to be an approved guardian protecting my charge. Even if she was a woman who could be possessed and was possessed by me, I could not say it. Not now, not here. A black man with a white woman would not be permitted. Race is patrilineal, which is why the Warriors of God rape the women when they destroy the villages, to destroy the race, too. Any child will be Semitic, not Hamitic. It is a nonsense, of course, not the playful nonsense of Mr. Carroll, but a nonsense of feeling rather than meaning. Even Jemal with his milk and coffee complexion has African blood running in his veins. I know where he comes from. But it is a nonsense I cannot fight except perhaps in words and stories. 
 “She is not my woman.”
 Jemal watches me searchingly and for a moment I wonder whether he isn't, for the sake of the past, trying to give me an excuse for defying his men, pretending I am her muharram. As it is, merely being with her is risky. We are clearly not related and the morality laws can be read in any manner that pleases the men in power, which is to say the men with guns and horses. Whatever the text, be it a book, a body, or a landscape, how it is read can change everything.
 “You scared my men with your magic,” he says. It is an accusation, not a statement of fact. Though the recollection of his accomplices' panic pleases me, I do not smile. Smiling is not wise with Jemal. But a snort escapes Kate. He glances at her sharply, stung by her derision, then turns away from her with equal haste, as if the sight of her face is more hurtful than the sound of her ridicule. Maybe it is for him. He never did get a grip on womankind, a failure on his part that is hard to forgive. Had he got a grip on womankind, he might not have clung onto God so closely.

 "Your men were trying to scare me," says Kate.

 Jemal ignores her, just repeats his accusation.

 "It was a poem," I say, "a simple poem," though there is no such thing as a 'simple' poem; even a bad poem, and Jabberwocky is not a bad poem, can say many complex things if it is read correctly, for there is as much poetry in the reading as in the writing. Jemal is right to call it magic.

 He says nothing, only stares at me, and I can feel all the love we felt for one another turned to hate. But even if he did not hate me, for fear of words, he and his men would want to kill me. And they are right to want to kill me. If I was them, I would want to kill me, too. But as they say in England (I have read this expression and I like it very much), mustn’t grumble. The Warriors of God want to kill everyone, after all, everyone who does not, by virtue of skin, sex and faith, fit the perfection they seek. They are very killing people.
***
Everybody scratches their bottom from time to time, but some people feel compelled to sniff their finger afterwards. Fr. Gianni was a sniffer, always scratching under his skirts then inhaling the holy aroma of piety. It was not so much his self he smelled as the sweet scent of sanctity emanating from a life sacrificed to a mission in the middle of nowhere. At the time, I did not understand this. And he did not understand me. We hated each other.

 When my father was killed, a woman called Jenny came to see us. She gave my mother flour, rice and beans. She gave me a book called Tricycle Tim. It was about a boy with a tricycle who was looking for a man called Mr. Nobody who lived Nowhere. Except for the hand-pedaled carts of the legless men, I had never seen a tricycle, nor a house like Mr. Nobody's house with very many levels and very big windows. But that did not matter, because I believed in this Nowhere place, where Mr. Nobody had boarded over the stairs, turning his house into a playground for children with tricycles. Reading the story of how Tricycle Tim tracked down Mr. Nobody and the heady account of his first wild ride from the top of the house to the bottom, I forgot all about my own problems and lost myself in the boy's carefree joy. I had discovered the magic of books, that they can turn Nowhere into Somewhere and make Nobody Somebody and show that Everybody is Somebody. I still liked the tales told by the elders, but this book story was special because it was private and did not happen unless I made it happen. I read Tricycle Tim so often that I could recite it whole or continue the story from any given sentence. I still can.

 Jenny kept giving me books, some written for children, others abridged for adult learners, until I was living more on books than on USAID rice and Canada Aid Soy Milk. Moby Dick, A High Wind In Jamaica, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations . . . I was born beside an African swamp, but I lived on the oceans and in the English countryside because I was happier inside a Simplified Reader than out. Then the war came back, bringing hunger and disease. The white people left, my mother died, and I began to walk, walking north because that was where the books came from, walking north looking for Nowhere.

 I met Jemal in the grasslands to the north of the swamp. Nearly every living thing had been eaten, but one day I chanced upon a sickly looking chicken sheltering in the shade of a burned hut. As I was stalking the bird, I spotted another boy stealthily approaching from the other side of the hut. He saw me and the bird saw us and we rushed at the bird and threw ourselves at it and each caught a leg. We lay there, face to face, the bird between us, holding our respective legs, watching each other watching the bird watching us. Nothing was said, but we knew the energy wasted fighting for a whole bird would be more than the energy won by settling for half a bird. So we shared the bird and everything else we found in the weeks we walked north, trapping desert rats and scrub doves, eating grubs and grass and wild rice and the bitter leaves of neem trees. We walked north, Jemal seeking relatives while I wanted only to find Nowhere and a world of books, each dreaming of a place of greater safety. By the time we reached Fr. Gianni's mission, we knew there was no place of greater safety.

 Fr. Gianni never liked me. My English was already better than his and my skin was dark. With words in my head and darkness in my skin, I was a creature of Satan. When he told us about guilt and damnation and explained that God manifested Himself in the shape of a thin biscuit, I laughed. He was a very funny man, I thought, full of good jokes. Particularly the one about original sin. But he wasn't telling a joke. He believed it. He had no faith in the messy ways of people muddling through the best they can, making mistakes, and forgiving other people's mistakes the best they can. He was obsessed by blame, tagging everything and everyone 'good' and 'bad', 'guilty' and 'innocent' to make the world more orderly.

 Above all, Fr. Gianni was an ism man. His ism was Christianism. Like all isms I have seen and read about, Christianism is the choice of men who cannot stand human complexity. That is why I like words and books, because they deny uniformity. They are not one big thing, indivisible and absolute, but are capable of infinite combination and many interpretations. They are complex, like people, plural and impure and incorrigibly fecund, breeding with mindless optimism in a world where there is no room for them. Above all, there is no rigid system to telling a story, not one that cannot be subverted, and no one way of reading it. Everyone must find their own crooked way. But the ism men are always trying to straighten us out. That was Jemal's problem, too.

 He never found his family and naturally wanted no part of a family in which Fr. Gianni was the father, so he hid inside the bigger family of his people's God and the wild hope that one day he would wake up dead in a lovely garden with lovely ladies washing his private parts. We were at that age when the prospect of lovely ladies washing your private parts is enough to recommend any crackpot scheme, no matter how preposterous. Actually, the words he used were maidens with swelling breasts. But the mischief was on me when he confessed his secret to me, the only person he could trust in the Christian orphanage, and I put my own construction on it. I told him that if he wanted lovely ladies washing his private parts, he'd better be nice to them now, here, on this earth, because there'd be no washing of private parts when he was dead. He was not happy. In fact, he was very unhappy. It was all true, he protested, God had told him. No He didn't, I said, it was the lads from the madrasa, and you only had to look at those poor boobies to see they knew even less about lovely ladies washing private parts than we did. Really very, very unhappy. He looked at me like I'd just gobbled the entire chicken in a single gulp, leaving him with nothing but a few limp feathers. Mocking his faith, I had betrayed his trust more thoroughly than if I'd informed on him. He never forgave me.

 Nor did Fr. Gianni forgive the innumerable infractions he detected in my behaviour. They were so many that I became the rebel he required, cultivating any contravention liable to upset him, and making the most of it when I was found out, like the time he caught me drinking the communion wine.

 "Why are you drinking the communion wine?" he demanded.

 "Because there is no merissa," I said.

 "You are preferring muddy beer to the blood of our Savior?" he sneered, attempting sarcasm I believe.

 “I prefer the spit of a living woman to the blood of a dead man,” I said.

 Fr. Gianni was nearly sick over his soutane. Fermenting cereals with saliva was clearly not to his taste. He locked me in a hut for two days. But I did not mind. It was the book hut, so I read for two days, holding the books to the light from the crack under the door. I do not know what they did in the mission school during that time. Jemal would not say. He was distracted by God and the lovely ladies.

 It was a lovely lady who precipitated my departure from the orphanage. I was thirteen, Mihad was twelve, and we were back in the hut, but instead of books, I was deciphering another stunning composition when the door was flung open with a triumphant shout. At the sight of Mihad's glistening sex, Fr. Gianni staggered backwards, so dazzled that he neglected to stand straight, and stayed crouching as he had been at the doorway. Silhouetted against the sunlight, his hunched profile reminded me of a dog defecating. But I did not tell him. I could see it was not a good moment for a confidence.

 He said I was a black devil and would be cast into the pit of hell to suffer eternal torment for my sins. I said he was a white spirit, like we used for cleaning the generator, best kept on the top shelf with the other poisons, and only taken down for dirty jobs. It was all a large mound of camel manure. There is no black, no white, only shades of light and dark, and one day we will all be brown on the outside like we are all brown on the inside, but I was pleased with my retort. Fr. Gianni was not. My departure was swift. I scarcely had time to snatch up a handful of books before he was hustling me out of the compound. There was no opportunity for farewells. Jemal and I had barely spoken since that business about paradise's sanitary arrangements for his private parts, but I would have liked to say goodbye. When next we met, he was a Warrior of God and I was The Story Man.

 It began with the books I had liberated from the store hut. I have stolen many books, most often from the consular libraries because I dislike the way they confine books by classifying them in narrow categories, but none were so important as the half-dozen volumes I had taken from the orphanage, for they were the books that gave me my life. Walking away from Al Asher, I begged food from a family of cowherds. There was little to spare, but they spared it, and in return I gave them a copy of Great Tales From Shakespeare Made Simple. Though only the eldest boy could read and that very approximately, they fell on the book with such avid hunger that I realized I was not the only person with a thirst for stories -- and it is hunger and thirst. Reading is alimentary. We devour books and get our teeth into them and lap them up and feast on words if the language isn’t indigestible . . . books are nourishment and, like all nourishment, there is always enough to go round; it's just not very well distributed. I resolved that I would remedy that.

 My ambulant library began with the books I had taken from the mission, but I soon got new volumes from the expatriates. Books are given more gladly than food, because the hunger for books is an appetite that implies hope and independence not despair and dependence. It is good to give something that looks to the future, not the past. Very many times, when white people want to give something to Africa, they give because they feel guilty about the past, reaching into their pockets, as if they owe a debt that can be paid with money. White people are very guilty people. You only have to look at their literature to see that. The books of Mr. Hawthorne alone have got enough guilt in them to decorate a presidential palace; Mr. Poe has the stuff beating away under the floorboards, Mr. Hardy depicts it seeping through the ceiling, and Mr. Conrad stains entire continents with it; Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Steinbeck, Mr. Styron, they are all always worrying at guilt. Even their radio broadcasts announce that guilt is up, as if it can be measured like water in a well. But giving a book, you get away from the guilt of the past and give something positive to the future, because all the unborn readers that will be are implicit in every book, like an unspoken promise. It is a gift of creation rather than consolation. In a short time, I had over eighty books, most out on loan, but with a score or so in my pack and more stored in my memory, and when my cotton cloth wore through, an English teacher gave me a canvas rucksack with a metal frame so that I could carry my stock from village to village.

 Most of the country people were too poor to pay to borrow books, but in Africa we are used to making a living where there is no money, so each community subscribed to my library by providing me with a cot, food and merissa. Later, out of kindness or disquiet, for every African understands the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, a wife would come with the bed, and with the wife a hut, a vegetable garden, and occasionally a goat. There was no permanence about these unions and most of my wives went on to marry other men, but while together we would live as husband and wife. I never fathered any children, though. The stories were my children. I watched them grow, saw them break out and away into other people's heads, and I was glad. That was what I wanted. I wanted people to make stories happen for themselves, like I had learned to do with Tricycle Tim.

 Since many villagers could not read, I also performed my stories in public, reading aloud, telling from memory when the books were borrowed elsewhere. Reading each story as I traveled, I would tell different parts in different places at different times. Each village heard the story in a different order and no village ever heard the whole story in sequence. Some had to guess why Ahab hated the white whale, others had to work out why the gold doubloon was nailed to the mast, and when people from different villages met at market, they would tell each other what they knew, explaining Queequeg's coffin, the nature of the Parsee's riddle, or the horror that made Pip mad. It was not as good as reading, but they could piece the story together for themselves and show it back to each other.

 To the villagers, I was The Story Man, but the white people called me The Barefoot Librarian. I was never barefoot, but I did not mind the wrong name. It meant something to them, like the roads on their maps. For thirteen years I walked from village to village. I believe I walked nearly twenty thousand miles. Then the war got big again and once again everything fell apart.
***

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Cover.jpg

Standing At The Crossroads

By Charles Davis
Original Publish Date: 
Feb.18.2010

The Trouble With Change is a suspenseful crime story about a college student, Sondra Taylor, who dreams of being the first in her family to graduate from college.  Wi

Excerpt text: 

I picked up the telephone and called the police department.  Vick sat in a chair and watched as I did so.  The police department wanted to know what my call was regarding.  I told them my boyfriend had taken my baby and wouldn’t return her to me.  I was transferred to an officer who asked me several questions. The officer wanted to know if my boyfriend was the father of my child.  I explained that he was the father. Then he asked me if I had legal custody of the baby.  I informed the officer I didn’t have legal custody of the baby.  He asked me if I felt that Vick would harm the baby in any way.  I replied that he would never hurt our baby.  The officer then explained that Vick had as much rights to the baby as I, being the father of the child. He explained it was a legal matter, which would have to be taken up with the courts.

 

“How can it be legal for a man to take a two-month-old baby from its mother?” I asked as tears ran down my face.

 

“Unless you have legal custody, it’s a dispute between you and the baby’s father.  You both have legal rights to the child.  You need to get a custody visitation order, defining both your legal rights.  If your boyfriend violates the court order, then the police can get involved in the matter,” the officer stated.

 

I thanked the officer for his explanation and hung up the phone.  I looked at Vick and started to cry.

 

“How could you take Patrice from me? You say that you love me, and you take my baby from me.  How could I marry a monster like you?  I’ll get an attorney and get legal custody of Patrice.”

 

“I have already spoken with an attorney,” he declared. “You need to have physical custody of Patrice to get legal custody.  I’ll tell the courts you weren’t taking proper care of Patrice.  You’re upset because I have a new girlfriend and took it out on our baby. When I asked you for visits with Patrice, you either give me a hard time or refused me visitation.  I took the baby for her own safety until we could iron out our differences in court.”

 

“I’ll tell the courts you’re a pimp and unfit,” I said.

 

“She’s delirious with jealousy; I’ll reply,” stated Vick. “I’m a respectable businessman with a janitorial service, and I have never broken any laws.”

 

“Now here’s what we’re going to do,” he declared. “I want you to pack both Patrice’s and your belongings.  Tomorrow we’ll get dressed.  We’ll drive to Birmingham and get a marriage license.  You won’t say anything to my mother about your forced marriage. When she asks where the baby is, you’ll say I took her for a visit to Aunt Carolyn’s house. You’ll explain she offered to watch the baby so we could go out on a long-needed date.”

 

I sat down in a chair and shook. My whole body hurt, and I felt weak. Vick walked over and took the engagement ring I had returned to him in the mail.  He placed it on my finger and kissed me on lips.  I felt sick.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow morning, early,” he said and left the house.

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I’m a domestic violence survivor.  It was a struggle for me, but I’m here today with the help of God, my husband, family, & friends.  So many people have thanked me for writing this story and given my book to others in domestic violence situations to read.   I invite you to become my voice encoura  

Book Cover for "The Trouble With Change"

The Trouble With Change

By Alma Hudson
Original Publish Date: 
Aug.01.1989

"Chosen - Not Cursed!", is a treatise on Biblical Black History. It dismisses the myth that blacks are a cursed race.

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Chosen - Not Cursed by Dr. Jefferson Edwards

"Chosen - Not Cursed!", subtitled, (The Destiny of the Spiritual Ethiopian)

By Jefferson D. Edwards, Jr.
Original Publish Date: 
Sep.19.1992

This book deals with the present effects of bondage that comes through systems that benefit by the categorization and enslavement of people, especially black people.

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Liberated - No Longer Bound by Dr. Jefferson Edwards

"Liberated - No Longer Bound", subtitled, (What Really is Freedom?)

By Jefferson D. Edwards, Jr.
Original Publish Date: 
Sep.19.2008

"The greatest love that you can receive this side of heaven is a father's love, and most of us have never received it," says Dr. Edwards.

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Where Are All the Fathers by Dr. Jefferson Edwards

"Where Are All the Fathers", subtitled, (The Detriment [Curse] of a Fatherless Generation)

By Jefferson D. Edwards, Jr.
Original Publish Date: 
Sep.19.1994

Every ethnic group has unique and varied talents that are innately given to us by God.  There comes an appointed time when God, who gave the gifts and talents, has need of them and gives opportuni

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"Gifted - Discovering Your Hidden Greatness" by Dr. Jefferson Edwards

"Gifted - Discovering Your Hidden Greatness"

By Jefferson D. Edwards, Jr.