Monday, April 29, 2024

From Browsing Poetry to Browsing Art Books

Last summer, an editor at Yale University Press asked me to serve as an anonymous reviewer for a manuscript, and they would compensate me for my service with money or books. I've known for quiet some time that I've wanted Yale University Press artbooks, so it was an easy decision for me. 

I selected several of their African artbooks knowing that I would host browsing sessions for students. I began doing browsing sessions with volumes of poetry back in 2009, as I wanted to share collections with students to give them a sense of how much there was out there beyond the limited works we covered in class.

As a graduate student and then junior professor, I gained access to some wonderful book collections. My professors Bernard Bell and William J. Harris shared their book collections with me, and then when I became a professor, my faculty mentor Eugene B. Redmond shared his massive collection as well. I wanted students I worked with to have similar experiences, hence my browsing sessions. 

The poetry browsing sessions went well. I later took several of my comic books to class, and students expressed interest in images even more than volumes of books. Now, transporting volumes of poetry and comic books across campus from my office to classrooms is fairly easy. But, that's not the case with large, relatively heavy artbooks. 

What to do? 

In 2015, the university established the Eugene B. Redmond Learning Center. In addition to serving as a cool space to host events, the EBR Center has a back room for storage. It's the perfect space for placing several artbooks on a rolling cart to wheel out and share with students. 

In November 2023, for a Language Arts conference I organized for high school Black boys, I hosted a session featuring those artbooks from Yale University Press. I added a hands-on dimension to the browsing sessions by prompting the students to sketch images of what they saw and liked.    

The browsing session went so well that, this semester, I developed a version for undergraduates for the series of courses my colleagues and I offer. With a larger group of students, I needed to bring more of my artbooks to campus, so I included books by Jacob Lawrence, Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Bisa Butler, and Jordan Casteel. 


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