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Most Likely Outcome

After maneuvering and maneuvering, I finally ran out of shelf space for books at home. Definitely wasn’t going to win that competition with the library. So to clear space for any new works, I figured I had to donate some of the old. Or so it seemed.

The very first shelf was a problem. I couldn’t let go of anything written by Du Bois. Some sort of third consciousness would have to kick in for that to happen. Besides, he has so much that I still need to consult.

Neither is Chinua Achebe a good candidate. I didn’t need the 23 percent Nigerian affirmation in my DNA results to feel a bond. A photograph of him and I shaking hands is nearby. His spot on the shelf is secure because of a pan-African sensibility and chance meeting as well as his enormous talent.

Geneva Smitherman isn’t going anywhere and is, in fact, creating new problems. I can’t do without two classics: the 1977 Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America and the 2000 Talkin that Talk: Language, Culture and Education in African America. If you’re trying to get a feel for how the study of African American English has evolved over the past 50 years, these books are as good a starting point as any other. These texts put me on serious game. They’d probably bite me if I grabbed them the wrong way. And then here goes Sista G dropping a memoir, My Soul Look Back in Wonder: Memories from a Life of Study, Struggle, and Doin Battle in the Language Wars, 45 whole years after Talkin and Testifyin. It’s on order, and I can’t wait to read it, even though it won’t help with my space crunch.

Then The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010. She’s smiling confidently from the front cover, like, “sweetheart, I’m not the one.” She’s not. She has the whole package that keeps her place on the shelf---range, complexity, humor, love, rage. These are qualities noted by Toni Morrison in the foreword. Untouchable.

Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community. This book by anthropology and Africana Studies professor Steven Gregory probably isn’t a major work for many readers, but I’m from Corona. Grew up there and had family roots there for 60 years. Not surprisingly, as an insider, I had a data set that was unfamiliar to the Brooklynite academic. However, his contention that the “urban experience of African Americans is more diverse than is generally acknowledged” is a point well taken. His book should be central to the narrative of my old neighborhood and must remain on the shelf for ready reference.

Langston Hughes, who has a library named after him in Corona, one in which I spent many hours, said don’t even come in his direction, though he was next. He was right. Surely he couldn’t get voted off the island on his birthday. Ironically, I opened to the beginning of The Big Sea, “I leaned over the rail of the S.S. Malone and threw the books as far as I could out into the sea—all the books I had had at Columbia, and all the books I had lately bought to read.” He needed to open up room for experiences. I needed to open up room on my shelves.

At this juncture, there is no way around the most likely outcome. Against a vow, more shelves.


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