The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book. –Ole Tyme Expression of unknown origin
Among all the myriad of stereotypes that Black people have been saddled with since their arrival upon American shores (natural athleticism, innate musical talent and rhythmic temperament, a predilection towards criminality, and–well you know the rest), intellectual pursuits have never been ascribed to the children of Africa.
That said, those stereotypes ignore the legions of slave descendents who’ve displayed a fondness for the printed page, even during that long span of time during which it was illegal to teach a person of color to read or otherwise attain any “forbidden knowledge.”
Being that we are presently in the Information Age–eons since Phyllis Wheatley published her pre-Revolutionary tome of poetry–it is encouraging to know that a bastion of erudition exists in this, the City of Angels (and a place known for pursuits of a more hedonistic sort), as a refuge of those who nurse an addiction for voracious reading or otherwise harbor a proclivity for pastimes outside physical exertion or the quest for a vigorous night life.
The Leimert Park Village Book Fair (LPVBK), now in its fifth incarnation, is a celebration of that timeless human urge for learning, as befitting its placement in a neighborhood considered the center of artistic/intellectual of African American life in Los Angeles. Since its inception, the fair has grown steadily, no small fete given the anemic economy that has dominated the times.
Its founder, Cynthia Ethusian Exum, was endowed with a love of reading by her grandmother, Nellie Mary Horne, and conceived the fair as a medium to dispel one of the many archaic notions about people of color. Utilizing skills acquired running an event planner business, she initiated LPVBK in 2006 to manifest her convictions, especially her refusal “to buy into the notion that African Americans don’t read or value education,” and points to the more than 150 authors of various genres she has lined up for this year’s event as a fitting rebuttal to that pigeonhole.
With about 1,500 attendees at its first installment, the fair has steadily grown over time and boasted 5,000 participants at last year’s event. Exum perceives this as a validation of her initial goal.
“I saw this as an opportunity to promote education and literary within our community.”
Exum cites the efforts of its 25 full- and part-time staff members in achieving and maintaining the quality of its programming. Citing similar local galas, she offers the following “shout out” as a tribute to the importance of social events including the Hollywood Book Fair, the Festival of Books, and LPVBK: “I see events like these as the last stand for books.”
This is a reference to the numerous electronic devices and technologies regularly sprouting up to divert the public’s attention from the more traditional past time of reading. She notes that the rudimentary skill of comprehending the written word remains the basis of any emerging mode of communication.
Headlining the event this Saturday is a triumvirate of Black female intelligentsia–economist/educator Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D., former Essence magazine editor-extraordinaire Susan L. Taylor, and Pulitzer prize winning journalist/author Isabel Wilkerson.
Among the other contributors are legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, showcasing his new autobiography in which he chronicles the obstacles on his road to success in and out of the ring, including the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an early coach and mentor.
Other notables scheduled include actors Todd Bridges, Victoria Rowell, and Isaiah Washington.
Karyn Parsons, best known as a cast regular on the NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” will grace the children’s village by doing a public reading, as will Maryum “May May” Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter, and Kim Wayans of the Wayans show business clan.
This year’s installment is truly a multi-media event boasting cooking demos, panel discussions, poetry, writing workshops, and the previously mentioned kids’ interactive/storytelling/theater activities.
In a nod to the city’s position at the apex of the entertainment industry, the Hollywood Black Film Festival will present “From Concept to Camera” a panel discussion with prominent filmmakers sharing industry knowledge.
Another attractive feature and an oxymoron, in this, the citadel of materialism that is Los Angeles, is the fact that admission to the book fair is free.
Aside from the undeniable negativity (gang violence, rampant homelessness) that is a staple of this paradoxical metropolis, Los Angeles boasts a wealth of intellectual centers and cultural resources overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of its show biz heritage. Socially-conscious residents, or just anyone with a yen for a good book, are encouraged to come and continue the tradition of this celebration of the written word.
This year’s Leimert Park Village Book Fair will be held on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the Vision Theatre Back lot, located at 43rd Street and Degnan Boulevard, in the heart of historic Leimert Park.