Black Futures

A letter from Catherine Weller
One of the notable books of 2018, which seems bizarrely long ago, was a collection of short stories by Hugo Award winner and afrofuturist N.K. Jemisin. How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? garnered rave reviews at the time and the paperback edition has been a best seller.

Jemisin’s title asks a question that many asked of the science fiction/fantasy world. But to be honest, it’s a question that has been asked of the publishing and bookselling worlds in general. It’s also been asked over and over again in the wider American world as we have repeatedly witnessed harassment and killings of unarmed Black citizens. The question was asked again following George Floyd’s killing last May. To help answer the inquiry - which became an urgent demand – publishers, bookstores, and readers began seeking, publishing, selling, and reading books by Black authors and antiracist books like never before

Let’s not pat ourselves on the back yet though. There’s a lot more work to be done. Books by Black, Indigenous, and authors of color still aren’t published as readily or sold as easily, no matter how good they are. And let’s not forget the act of actually reading a book. How many well-intentioned purchases sit unread on bookshelves? All of that is changing but let’s be honest, a societal shift as great as the antiracist movement requires will take energy, commitment, and time.

Books provide windows into the unique worlds of others. No matter one’s genre preference, books can show one world’s unseen, unconsidered, unacknowledged, unknown. The spectrum of non-fiction provides views of people’s experiences, history, and thoughts. Novels allow us to see people in a variety of settings through other eyes while deepening powers of empathy, insight, and critical thinking so we can grow and make meaningful change.

February is Black History Month. The books in this newsletter are chosen with that in mind. They are also selected with N.K. Jemisin’s title in mind. Let’s help ensure Black Future Month is not far away, and that it occurs every month.

--Catherine Weller

From the Rare Book Room

By Tony Weller
Sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote prolifically. His most famous work, The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, had immense impact on Black Americans’ evolving understanding of identity in a nation still bleeding from unresolved racial divides. While The Souls of Black Folk may be Du Bois’ most well-known title, his 1935, 746-page Black Reconstruction in America, is where he adroitly deflects the predominant victim-blaming that post-civil war America used to explain and justify ongoing societal inequities.

In 2007 was published The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois in 19 gray cloth-bound volumes. It is still available from the publisher for $895. We are here offering an unused set for $650.
Our Best Weller's pick is
20% off January & February
by David Gessner
Simon & Schuster
List Price: $28.00
Our Price: $22.40
Reviewed by Frank Pester

“Leave it as it is.
You can not improve on it.
The ages have been at work on it,
and man can only mar it”.

Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation at the Grand Canyon in 1903 signaled the beginning of a fight still being fought today.

David Gessner’s new book looks at the landscape of the American West through the writings and life of Theodore Roosevelt. As complicated and controversial as TR’s life was, so are the issues that confront us today in the saving and protecting of our Public lands. The impetus for this book was the creation of Bears Ears. Gessner was asked to write a piece in an anthology that was to be given to Congress. At the time, he was thinking of writing a book on Public lands. He felt joy when President Obama created Bears Ears, but that soon turned into anger when then Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, standing in front of a portrait of TR and claiming to be a Roosevelt Republican, undeclared nearly 85% of Bears Ears. He knew he had to write his Public lands book. Many writers have already championed Roosevelt with the birth of the Conservation movement, but Gessner tries to view his legacy through Roosevelt’s experiences and writings into a vision for what we face today.

Theodore Roosevelt was born into the wealthy circle of New York’s Upper class. He fell in love with the glimpses of nature he saw on family trips and vacations in upstate New York. He yearned to be a naturalist, but was also a hunter. Theodore viewed the natural world through grids he built: his view of “Manly vigor”, his love of animals, his love of hunting those animals and his deep sense of American exceptionalism.

Gessner retraces many of the places TR traveled and lived in his life; we visit Yellowstone, and its reality today: a wilderness island surrounded by development. We see the come back of big species such as Buffalo, Wolves and Grizzlies that were on the brink of extinction, and are who are now expected to exist confined.

In Leave It As It Is, Gessner deconstructs, what is is. To Theodore Roosevelt and others, it meant a virgin land, uninhabited by people, yet these lands had been lived on and maintained by the Native people whose home these lands were. What we find after is government placing tribes onto reservations, placing wilderness into parks and forests into reserves. The creation of Bear’s Ears was a five-year dedicated effort by five Native tribes to create the monument using American tools to create a public land use of the area.

David has written an entertaining thought provoking book built on four layers: biography, travel narrative and history. Leave It As It Is is a robust addition to the discussion of how public land use has evolved our time and what needs to come next.

Join Catherine and the crafters of Weller Book Works on Zoom for 40 minutes of casual bookish conversation and snacks. All crafts and crafters are welcome. BYOB.

Lit Knit is held the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays monthly.
Email catherine@wellerbookworks.com for an invitation to attend.

Bookseller Thoughts and Reviews
by Thomas J. Sugrue
Princeton University Press
Paperback $19.95
Reviewed by Emma Fox 

In The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue argues that structuralized racism in housing, the banking industry, and employment in the postwar era created a domino effect of long-lasting segregation, vicious racial conflict, and collapse in Detroit that can be viewed as a microcosm for understanding the origins of the urban crisis in America. As the interior neighborhoods of American cities experience white flight, economic decline, and disenfranchisement the shift toward ‘urban renewal’ and white gentrification is viewed by the dominant culture as positive; but what happens to the people who are displaced by urban renewal projects?

Sugrue examines the self-fulfilling prophecy of alleged racial inferiority that played out in racially segregated neighborhoods in Detroit, in which Black people were trapped in overcrowded neighborhoods with the oldest houses in need of the most repairs, which was then used as evidence to show that Black residents would degrade neighborhoods. Meanwhile, due to policies based on racial assumptions in the banking industry as well as federally-provided maps of ‘desirable’ neighborhoods (all of which were populated by whites), Black people were unable to secure loans for home improvements or to move outside of redlined neighborhoods.

Sugrue looks at how racial segregation was strictly enforced by the use of deed covenants that stipulated certain properties were for white ownership in perpetuity, by ostracizing realtors who dared to show properties in ‘white neighborhoods’ to Black people, and eventually by angry working-class whites who harassed and threatened pioneering Black families. White flight is examined as a product of fearmongering and the actions of capitalizing non-union realtors who created stunts that heightened white fears of integration. Shifts in employment in the Motor City interlocked with the housing and banking industries to create a damning situation for Black families who were unable to move with their factory jobs as plants were relocated to the newly-built, predominantly white post-war suburbs.

Sugrue shows that the racialized structure of housing, banking, and employment in Detroit ensured its decline from a powerful manufacturing city to a Rust Belt city of decay that trapped Black and working-class white families in a cycle of poverty, and that attempts at ‘urban renewal’ are often one-sided investments for the benefits of middle and upper-class whites. He examines how the urban crisis began and the misguided attempts at solutions that do not address the systemic racism, and even classism, that started it.
Hood Feminism:
Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot
by Mikki Kendall

Hardcover $26.00

Paperback $16.00
9780525560562 (released 2/23/21)

Reviewed by Tamsen Maloy

In Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall says, “My feminism doesn’t center on those who are comfortable with the status quo because ultimately that road can never lead to equity for girls like me.” It is a myth that feminism as it functions (as opposed, perhaps, to how feminists imagine it works or want it to work) is equitable. White feminists bring their own privilege and ingrained systems of oppression to the table and neglect to do the work that will, in fact, boost all women. “We all have to engage with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be, and that makes the idealized feminism that focuses on the concerns of those with the most the province of the privileged,” Kendall says. 

Hood Feminism addresses the feminist issues Kendall says white and privileged feminism ignores, issues like food insecurity, health care, gun violence, and education. She details the unique ways Black and brown women experience misogyny and how those experiences intersect with racism perpetrated by white feminists.

Kendall goes beyond the cry for white women to be “allies” in feminism. Instead, she says white women need to be “accomplices.” It’s too easy for allyship to dry up when challenged by people with less power because allyship can still be invested in protecting whiteness over achieving true equity. Accomplices on the other hand, directly challenge the systems, people, and power dynamics that uphold the oppression of marginalized communities. 

Hood Feminism highlights the gaps in feminism resultant from racism and classism. Kendall’s work is a must-read for feminists who want the movement to truly achieve equity for all women. 
Other Titles of Note
by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
One World
Hardcover $40.00

by Leah Johnson
Scholastic Press
Hardcover $17.99
by P. Djeli Clark
Hardcover $19.99

Black History
American History
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