Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Black Studies, Harlem & Hue-Man Bookstore

Jazmine Sanders selecting books at Hue-Man bookstore, 2012

The last two years, Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem has been a key destination for my crew on our visits to New York City. Harlem appears frequently in the discourse on black studies, and the neighborhood holds a special, if not mythical, place in the cultural imaginations of many of our African American students. They begin hearing stories about the Harlem Renaissance and Langston Hughes, the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater at early ages, and so when presented with an opportunity to visit New York, ideas about Harlem quickly emerge.

But a bookstore right next to a Magic Johnson theater? A bookstore with new and used books? A bookstore called Hue-Man? In Harlem? That's something unexpected and intriguing for my students.

Anika Maddox taking notes at Hue-Man bookstore, 2012

Hue-Man contains a wide selection of African American titles and works by  various other writers as well. The store contains novels, volumes of poetry, history books, works on performing arts, children's books, autobiographies, and more. Accordingly, Hue-Man presents young people from the Midwest with a rare and important exploratory experience.

Cindy Lyles looking at books, Hue-Man bookstore, 2011
Hue-Man is sizable but not overly large; nonetheless, my students continually lose themselves in this Harlem bookstore. We walk in together; spread out in various sections; and begin silently perusing titles. In no time at all it seems, an hour-and-a-half has passed, and my crew is still immersed in what they are discovering.

Long-time residents, historians, and demographers will tell you that Harlem is changed quite a bit over the decades. Talk to some of the old-timers on the streets, and you'll hear words like "gentrification" or statements like "it ain't what it used to be." Yeah, true.

But I also know that in addition to the new and used books that my travelers purchase, they also leave with something else--an additional story, their own story to merge with the many they've already heard about this area in New York City. A memory of this bookstore called Hue-Man is what they'll carry home from Harlem.

 Related: Black Studies, NYC, 2012

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