February is Black History Month and, as we do throughout the year, the Free Library’s Author Events series is excited to celebrate diverse voices, viewpoints, and topics. This includes the story of one Black Philadelphian family’s long fight for social justice and human rights, new fiction from two dynamic novelists, an exploration of the history of Black musical expression, a coming-of-age memoir about chosen family and geekdom, and a multimedia look at the ties between race and incarceration in America.
All events will be hosted in person at the Parkway Central Library location and are free to attend. Books will be available for purchase at the library on event night, and book signings will follow the presentations.
Dan Berger | Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family's Journey — In conversation with Michael Simmons
Tuesday, February 7, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
Dan Berger is the author of the James A. Rawley Prize-winning Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, an “illuminating” (The Nation) reevaluation of 20th-century African American activism through the prism of mass incarceration. A professor of comparative ethnic studies and associate dean for faculty development and scholarship in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, he has published op-eds and other work about critical race theory and social justice in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. In Stayed on Freedom, Berger tells the story of the until-now unheralded husband and wife Black Power activists Zoharah Simmons and Michael Simmons.
Alongside his wife and countless other organizers and activists, Philadelphia-raised Michael Simmons has fought for social justice and human rights for more than 55 years. His work includes time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, imprisonment for draft resistance during the Vietnam War, assistance in the fair housing movement, and participation in the anti-Apartheid Movement. He is now the European programs director for the American Friends Service Committee.
From 2022, you can enjoy Simmons discussing his work with the Paul Robeson House and Museum on their YouTube page.
Sadeqa Johnson | The House of Eve — In conversation with Jennifer Weiner
Thursday, February 9, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
Acclaimed for their explorations of marital fidelity, friendship, and the difficulties of connecting in modern life, Sadeqa Johnson’s novels include And Then There Was Me, Second House from the Corner, and Yellow Wife, the harrowing tale of an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in one of the Antebellum South’s most infamous jails for enslaved people. A Kimbilio Fellow, former James River Writers board member, and a Tall Poppy Writer, she is the recipient of the National Book Club Award, the Phillis Wheatley Award, and the USA Best Book Award for best fiction, among other honors. In The House of Eve, Johnson follows two 1950s-era young Black women whose lives collide amidst taboo love affairs, ambition, and pregnancy.
“One of the biggest names in popular fiction” (USA Today), Jennifer Weiner is the beloved number-one New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels — including Good in Bed, All Fall Down, Mrs. Everything, and In Her Shoes. She is also the writer of two YA books about a diminutive Bigfoot and an essay collection titled Hungry Heart, an intimate and honest meditation on yearning, fulfillment, and her many identities.
You can enjoy a video of Johnson’s 2021 virtual appearance on our stage with her previous novel, Yellow Wife (with added Jen Weiner appearance) on the Free Library's Author Events YouTube page.
Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. | Who Hears Here: On Black Music, Pasts, & Present — Join us for an evening of music and history
Wednesday, February 15, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Pennsylvania, Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. is a celebrated musicologist, composer, pianist, and music historian. He is the author of Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop and The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop; the founder of the music blog Musiquology.com; and the former editor of the Music of the African Diaspora series at the University of California Press. Also a producer and bandleader, he has released numerous recordings performed at venues around the world, written musical scores for various multimedia projects, and collaborated with museums and galleries such as The Whitney, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In Who Hears Here?, Ramsey brings 25 years of his art, commentary, and scholarship to a collection of essays that explore the unique history of Black musical expression.
You can enjoy a track from Ramsey, titled, appropriately enough, “Who Hears?” (feat. Khemist) on YouTube.
Joseph Earl Thomas | Sink: A Memoir — In conversation with Elias Rodriques
Tuesday, February 21, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
Referred to by Carmen Maria Machado as “all blood and nerve and near-unbearable beauty,” Joseph Earl Thomas’ Sink is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles the author’s escape from an upbringing of deprivation and abuse to a geek culture in which he could build a family and community on his own terms. An excerpt of this work won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize. His other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in n+1, The Kenyon Review, and Gulf Coast, among other literary journals, and he has received writing fellowships from the Fulbright program, Bread Loaf, and Tin House. A doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas is the director of programs at Blue Stoop in Philadelphia and an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.
Elias Rodriques is an assistant editor of n+1 and author of the novel All the Water I've Seen is Running. His work has been published or anthologized in The Guardian, The Nation, and Best American Essays.
Enjoy a conversation with Thomas and outgoing Blue Stoop director Emma Copley Eisenberg on the Blue Stoop Youtube page.
Jamila Minnicks | Moonrise Over New Jessup
Wednesday, February 22, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
Jamila Minnicks’ debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup tells the story of a 1950s-era, all-Black Alabama town that is resistant to desegregation and the opposing political viewpoints that threaten a young couple’s burgeoning romance. Praised by Barbara Kingsolver for its dive into the “deep complexity of the American Civil Rights movement” by way of “compelling characters and a heart-pounding plot,” it won the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Minnicks has published work in the literary journals CRAFT, The Write Launch, and The Silent World in Her Vase, and her short story “Politics of Distraction” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Enjoy this flash fiction piece from Minnicks, titled “A Gravity of Jazz” on the Lioness Tales YouTube page.
Reginald Dwayne Betts | Redaction
Monday, February 27, 2023: 7:30 p.m.
A “powerful work of lyric art” and “tour de force indictment of the carceral industrial state” (The New York Times Book Review), Reginald Dwayne Betts’ poetry collection Felon won the NAACP Image Award, the American Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Also the author of two other poetry collections and a memoir, he received the 2019 National Magazine Award for his New York Times Magazine essay about his journey from prison inmate to Yale Law School. His other honors include a Guggenheim fellowship, a 2021 MacArthur “genius grant,” and a Radcliffe fellowship from Harvard. Betts is the founder and executive director of Freedom Reads, a not-for-profit institution devoted to providing greater access to literature in prisons. Created in collaboration with visual artist Titus Kaphar, Redaction is a multimedia examination of the relationship between race and incarceration in America.
Enjoy a thoughtful profile of Betts on PBS NewsHour's YouTube page.
Browse the Free Library Author Events page for more upcoming author discussions.