Library celebrates Black History Month

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 5:30pm

In honor of Black History Month, the Island Free Library is celebrating the work of Black writers.

“Our main focus is two things – the daily post to our Facebook page that celebrates a Black poet, which Bethany [Petrik] is working on. She curates and researches the daily posts,” said Library Director Kristin Baumann. “Then the second thing we are doing [is that] I do a daily program with a short story for adult listeners. I am reading a Black author every day, live at 3 p.m. on YouTube.”

Since February 1, Petrik has shared on the Facebook page poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Omotara James, Marcus Jackson, Harryette Mullen, Danez Smith, and Yusef Komunyakaa, and others.

“At the Island Free Library, we recognize that Black history is world history. We work to highlight Black experiences and voices all year long, and we celebrate Black History Month as a ‘highlight reel of Black American excellence,’” said Petrik, using poet Nikki Grimes’s descriptive term.

“Many of the poets and work featured can be found in the library’s collection for further reading,” added Petrik.

Baumann, on her YouTube channel, has read short stories by authors Kathleen Collins, Audre Lorde, Samantha Irby, Randall Kenan, Nikki Giovanni, and Anthony Grooms.

“I try to mix it up with current [people] and people from the past who are important. And people who are just writing and trying,” said Baumann.

“To do this program, I bought a couple of short story collections. Bethany is also choosing poets we have in the collection. Both our projects are turning people onto books that are available at the library. She posted Nikki Giovanni and that was one of my favorites – she could post a poet and I read the [story]. She’s posting about poets, but some poets don’t write short stories. But I was able to do that with Nikki Giovanni.”

“We are having a great time, and we would like to continue beyond February and maybe do installments of Black authors and poets,” said Baumann. “Potentially weekly as a highlight.”

Baumann noted she and her staff “work for equity, inclusion, and diversity. We spend a lot of time looking at the collection to include all voices. Everyone on staff has taken workshops, training sessions and webinars on how to make the library inclusive and to diversify our collection. We hope that that shows and people feel comfortable in here. We work to have the collection at the library be both windows and mirrors. The mirror is seeing yourself in the collection and being seen in the book, and the window is what else is happening out there in the world beyond Block Island. That is what is important to us when we work on the collection – to be inclusive and accurate,” said Baumann.

“Ships that Pass in the Night”

The following poem was posted by Circulation Supervisor Bethany Petrik on the Island Free Library’s Facebook page on Tuesday, Feb. 16:

“In celebration of Black History Month, the Island Free Library has been sharing the poetry of Black Americans every day during the month of February.”

“The poem below was written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the earliest black poets to be recognized in the U.S. after the end of slavery. Though Dunbar died in February 1906, at only 33, his influence on American poetry has been immeasurable, and his legacy lives on. His piece below uses repetition and rhyme to create the strong melancholy mood and sense of loss.” –– Petrik. 

“Ships that Pass in the Night”

Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear a solemn booming gun
And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.
My tearful eyes my soul’s deep hurt are glassing;
For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.
O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
That I may sight and check that speeding bark
Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?