From now until 1st October, the National Library is hosting an exhibition in its Reading Room featuring a captivating series of photographs by Caecilia Tripp. The showcased photos beautifully capture intimate moments of sleep, focusing on the hands of readers gently resting on books. Tripp drew inspiration from the tragic events of fires that occurred during the night in three neighborhoods of Paris between April and August 2005. These fires claimed the lives of forty-nine individuals of African descent, including twenty-nine children, who tragically perished in their respective buildings.
Below you will discover a curated selection of books handpicked by Tripp and reviewed by BnL subject specialist Nadine Abel-Esslingen, exploring the themes of resistance, love and race, which are central tropes in the series of photographs.
If they come in the morning : voices of resistance (Angela Davis et al.)
Angela Davis wrote and edited this book while sitting in a California prison cell expecting trial for kidnapping, conspiracy and murder. In 1970, after having been fired for the second time from her job as philosophy professor at UCLA because of her affiliation to the communist party and her radical political views, the FBI arrested her following a shooting in the courtroom in Marin County, California. Her so-called contribution was the prior legal purchase of the guns used in the attack and some correspondence with the prisoner involved.
The book starts with an open letter addressed to Angela by the writer James Baldwin in which he urges us to support Angela’s efforts to get justice because “If they take you (Angela) in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” She got enormous support from intellectuals all over the world. Eventually an all-white jury cleared her of all charges. Others were not so lucky, like Ruchell Magee, today the longest held political prisoner in the US (60 years behind bars). Not only does the book give voice to some famous political prisoners, but also to their lawyer and specialists of the prison system in the US. The Black prisoners face discrimination inside the prison and hurdles in defending themselves.
It is heartbreaking to read about the inequality of the American justice system prevalent for Black and Latino people. The sad thing is that today not a lot has changed ; Blacks are three times more likely to get arrested than white people, although they represent 13.6% of the population. “At midyear 2021, about 49% of local jail inmates were white, 35% were black, and 14% were Hispanic”. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, US government)
Davis eventually returned to the University of California as a professor at UC Santa Cruz, where she taught feminist studies and the history of consciousness for more than four decades. In 2020, she was Time Magazine’s 1970 Woman of the Year.
Love (Toni Morrison)
Like the book above, the novel is set during the struggle for civil rights, the era of The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, and Black Nationalism. It follows a family of Black Americans in a segregated America and reveals years later the implications of integration on their business and private lives. The main theme of the book is the complexity of love in all its forms, filial, marital, amical, which can be a destructive or constructive force. There are numerous voices, all defining themselves in relation to the patriarchal figure of Bill Cosey. It is also a book about the secrets that people keep and the meaning of silence in the Black American culture in general.
All about love : new visions (Bell Hooks)
As the title of the book suggests, we examine what love means in thirteen chapters. From the misconceptions we hold about the notion of love to the ways to improve our relationships, it shows us that our attitude can have a positive impact for our community as a whole and that it requires willpower.
Bell hooks, pseudonym of Gloria Jean Watkins, (1952-2021), American scholar and activist whose work investigated the relation between race, gender, and class.
Home : social essays (LeRoi Jones)
Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) as he wanted to be named later, was an American poet and playwright. These essays are the reflection of the anger, which Baraka felt living as a Black second rate citizen in a society shaped by and for the white Americans. This book was out of print for a long time, and in his new introduction he states that some of his attitudes and political beliefs have changed since the sixties. Although some parts are extremely virulent, his thoughts are very clearly expressed and in my opinion justified in the atmosphere of the civil rights fights of that era. He relates more to Malcolm X than to Martin Luther King and gives good arguments for his allegiance. The book is very funny to read considering the serious subject matter, because he has an incredible sense of humor.
My favorite chapter is the first one “Cuba libre”, where he recalls his trip to Cuba with an assortment of Black people (writers, socialites and even a young model). Castro wanted to rally the Blacks to his cause and some of these guys were not the first choice invitees, but last-minute replacements. So these invitees were shipped from one government department to the other, with the aim to impress them. “Why’re all these guys so good-looking?” asks the model and another woman wants to know “why is everyone, even high-ranking officials […] still carry weapons?” That chapter gives an idea of the spirit on the island in 1960 after the revolution.
Another chapter, more shocking, is the Black male as American sexual reference, but I won’t take the suspense on this one away.
The fire next time (James Baldwin)
This exceptional book was first published in 1962 before the vote in 1964 and 1965 of major civil rights legislation in the United States.
The first part is in the form of a letter to his 14-year old nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation where he explains the challenges that a Black boy has to face in a predominantly white America.
The second essay is an autobiographical description of Baldwin’s growing up in Harlem, his experience with Christianity and later his encounter with the Black Muslim movement.
Contrary to Amiri Baraka’s stance in his book “Home”, Baldwin’s vision is more nuanced and filled with the hope of a new “consciousness of the other”. He claims that “Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.”
This is an essential book to read about race relations, still very relevant today.