Two of the mainstays in my discussions of black books since moving here in 2003 have been the guys at my barbershop and my university's humanities librarian, Julie Hansen. You could probably recognize differences between the brothers at the shop and Julie. But in those moments when books are discussed, similarities emerge.
"What you reading? What should we get?" the guys at the barbershop always ask.
"What are you reading? What should we get?" Julie always asks.
They've been consistently raising versions of those questions for, wow, almost ten years now. Although they don't ask about books every-time we meet, they've socialized me to at least be prepared for the questions. Before going to my barber in St. Louis or going to meet Julie at Lovejoy, I always try to have a few book notes or author news in mind.
At the shop the other day, I was listening to and thinking about "storying," as described by Kevin Young in his recent book The Grey Album. Last week, I was telling Julie about Tracy K. Smith winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Life on Mars.
"If you have ideas about books our students might be interested in, let us know," says Julie.
"Prof," said my barber as he interrupted his process of cutting my hair last month, "one of the guys who comes in was asking me to ask you if you know of any books he might get for his son."
Thinking about books that might be appropriate for specific audiences has been an especially interesting and important intellectual exercise. I've also learned that it's good to do a little homework on recent developments in African American literature before catching up with the guys at my barbershop or with Julie Hansen.When they ask about books or recently circulating ideas, it's good to have answers.
Julie Hansen Week: Af-Am Lit, Black Studies & Lovejoy Library