|Donald Garcia looking for a book for me from his marvelous collection, June 2015.|
A conclusion in a recent study about black boys and young men noted the importance of positive black men mentors or guides. That finding resonated with me as I was thinking about the development of my personal library, which has been 20 years in the making and now contains well over 1,000 books. My collection was directly inspired by the personal libraries of Donald Garcia, William J. Harris, Bernard Bell, and Eugene B. Redmond -- black men who were always quite willing to give me access to their many books.
[Related: A series on black book culture]
One of the most fortuitous yet long-lasting outcomes of my time as an undergraduate exchange student at New York University in the spring of 1998, was meeting Mr. Garcia. In addition to guiding me to several different bookstores in the city, he invited me to his home where I saw his vast collection of books. Mr. Garcia's collection first gave me the idea and goal of someday building my own.
|A birthday party for William J. Harris at his and Susan Harris's home in Brooklyn, March 2017|
A year and a half later when I began graduate school at Pennsylvania State University, I met Professors Bell and Harris, who also had massive book collections, which they shared with me. Taking note of Professor Harris's extensive materials on Amiri Baraka gave me a sense of creating special author collections within a larger collection. When I began my teaching career at SIUE in 2003, I began making regular visits to Professor Redmond's home, which included literary publications and large numbers of photo albums.
I don't think Professors Redmond, Bell, Harris, or Mr. Garcia ever thought of themselves as mentoring me on how to build a personal library. Yet, that's what they were unknowingly doing. The classroom exercises I do where I bring dozens of books from my collection to share with students is directly shaped by the wonderful personal libraries to which I gained access.
And there's more work to do. At one point early on while perusing Professor Harris's books, I noticed that he would often document the date and location of where he purchased books. I wish I had been more diligent about following his lead on that habit over the years. At some point, taking a lead from Harris, I plan to do a better job of documenting information about he books in my collection.
• A series on black book culture