Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The Future of Black Reading
What would it be like for a group of students to read Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative using an electronic book reader? How about using an e-book reader to cover Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon? Or, what would the experience be like of receiving short poems by Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks via text message?
I began posing these kinds of questions with more interest when Amazon released its e-book reader the Kindle. The Kindle's launch a year ago generated a wide range of publicity. Some viewed the device with suspicion, but an overwhelming number of reviewers predicted that the Kindle and e-book reading devices in general would become increasingly sophisticated and eventually change the nature of reading and book publishing.
Among the dozens of reviews I covered, I was especially interested in E-Book Readers: Ready for Their Closeup? by poet, literary critic, and blogger Aldon Nielsen, whose piece pointed out pluses and minuses with the Kindle and Sony’s e-book reader. Nielsen’s review did not focus directly on e-book readers and black books.
However, he’s produced such an extensive body of work on African American literature that I was inclined to wonder more and more what these new devices might mean in regards to the digital transmission of African American literary art.
Recently, NYTimes writer Motoko Rich published two articles for a series entitled “the Future of Reading” that concentrate on how “the Internet and other technological and social forces are changing the way people read.” The tones of the comments in response to Rich’s Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading and Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers indicated that a wide range of readers have strong opinions about the convergence of new technologies and reading.
There’s been little discussion about what the future of African American reading practices might entail in the mainstream venues, not unless you're counting Oprah's recent endorsement of the Kindle. Still, we have to wonder, to remix the focus of that series for the NYTimes, how are technological and social forces changing the ways black people read and shaping an array of readers' encounters with African American literature?
We’ve been trying to address those kinds of questions with some of our projects such as The Interactive Reading Group and aspects of the Poetry Correspondence Program. We’re still in the early stages of researching.
If you have any thoughts or links on the future of black reading, do let us know.