Between the lines: Opening the books on Black History Month

02/02/2014 12:00 AM

01/31/2014 9:27 PM

February is Black History Month, which has its roots in Negro History Week, founded in 1926 by Harvard-educated historian and author Carter G. Woodson. It’s a time for all Americans to remember the struggles, accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.

As part of it, author Terry McMillan will headline the Author Lecture Series at California State University, Sacramento. The free event will start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Union Ballroom; free and open to the public. Information: (916) 278-6997.

McMillan’s eighth novel, “Who Asked You?”, continues the themes of families and friendships that marked “Waiting to Exhale” and “Getting to Happy.” She holds an NAACP Image Award and an Essence Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Literature. Visit her at

“Who Asked You?” explores the “blessings and burdens” of family. What are yours?

The blessing is I’m glad I have a family. But like most people’s, mine is full of drama and melodrama. I love them all, but some of them get on my nerves.

Your female characters show great strength. What makes us strong?

Owning up to the things we do that are not in our best interest, or dealing with negative things that happen to us. A lot of us feel like victims because we won’t own up to being responsible for some of the stuff that happens to us. Once you admit your vision is two-dimensional and not three-dimensional, that’s what makes you stronger. Otherwise you just repeat the same things.

What’s the source of your own strength?

On some levels it comes from my mother, from being the oldest of five children and having a lot of responsibility as a young person, from always thinking that the best can happen, and from being proactive. I try not to blame others for any misfortune I may have.

You moved from Danville to Pasadena.

I was bored to death with the Bay Area, and I have friends here. I live in a second-story loft five minutes from the Rose Bowl. I spent New Year’s Eve watching floats go by and smelling flowers. (Parade officials) had to (re-route) the floats the night before the parade, and it was the most surreal thing to watch six floats with Disney characters go right by my window. They were 40 feet tall.

Parting words?

Sometimes our past finds its way into our present, and it’s good to know when to peek at it and when to leave it where it was. We can’t go back, but we do have memories. I’m glad I have some good ones.

‘Soul Train’ perspective

For nearly 40 years, the funky TV show “Soul Train” introduced top song and dance acts to the mainstream and shared African American culture with the nation. Soul man Don Cornelius owned and hosted the show, and brought the likes of Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, B.B. King and Chuck Berry into our living rooms.

Putting perspective on the phenomenon – and Cornelius’ 2012 suicide – is “ Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show” by University of Maryland journalism professor Ericka Blount Danois (Backbeat, $24.99, 272 pages). Especially entertaining are the recollections and inside stories by those who were on the scene.

Danois will appear at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Student Center on the campus of Sacramento City College, with Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman, author of “Breaking the Line” (Simon & Schuster, $28, 336 pages). The theme of their program is “Pop Culture and the Civil Rights Movement.” Free and open to the public; (916) 558-2152.

Perspective on Mandela

Danny Schechte is the author of eight nonfiction titles and the news director and editor of, a nonprofit “network of media analysis presented in the public interest.” Serious credentials, but his 40-year relationship with Nelson Mandela is what vetted him to compile “Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela” (Seven Stories, $16.95, 272 pages). The unique perspective of the Nobel laureate was a source for the makers of the biopic “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

Black history reading

• Louis Armstrong was one of those artists whose immense talent had a profound effect on American music. In “Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism,” biographer Thomas Brothers tells Armstrong’s story during the musician’s most “creatively fertile years in the 1920s and early 1930s” (W.W. Norton, $40, 608 pages).
• William Wells Brown (1814-84) escaped slavery to become an antislavery activist, speaker and author of notable contributions to African American literature. The Library of America has published “ Clotel and Other Writings,” a compendium of his novel “Clotel,” his autobiography, play, memoirs, historical writings, speeches and public letters ($40, 912 pages).
• “Words Take Wing” returns to the Tsakopoulos Galleria at the Central Library at 6 p.m. Feb. 12, featuring award-winning author-illustrator team Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney. The “celebration of children’s literature as art” will explore the character and story diversity in works by authors from different cultures.

The event is free, but registration is required at The Galleria is at 828 I St., Sacramento; (916) 264-2800

• “ Almost Hereditary: A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism” by Bill Drake (CreateSpace, $19.95, 396 pages): As the Nevada City author notes, “This is one person’s story of overcoming the racism that was passed down in his family from generation to generation.” It includes excerpts from diaries, his family’s connections to the Jim Crow era, a memoir and “self-help” chapters designed to overcome racism.

Author appearances

• Penny Rosewasser for “Hope Into Practice,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis (530-758-4040); and 7 p.m. Thursday at Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St., Sacramento (916-447-5696). The book deals with “Jewish ethical tradition … and an activist’s call to repair the world and end racism.”
• Arthur Haarmeyer for “Into the Land of Darkness: A Bombardier-Navigator’s Story,” 3 p.m. Saturday at the Avid Reader at Tower, 1600 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 441-4400. A third of book sales will be donated to the Wounded Warriors Project.

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