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Prose, poetry and ‘food for the soul’

Library Read-In celebrates African-American history

The first of two parts of the 2012 African-American Read-In, hosted by the University Libraries were filled with poetry, song, laughter, dance and sweet potato cookies.

Event host Gloria Tibbs has been an information commons and teaching and learning librarian at Miller Nichols Library (MNL) for 11 years.

She opened by thanking her colleagues and UMKC alumni for helping organize the event. She said she’s learned to wear elastic-banded pants and come prepared for the annual Read-In.

“I know that I’m going to be fed with food for the soul,” Tibbs said. “And I’ll loosen my belt to make room for more.”

The event ran from 3 to 4:30 p.m. last Tuesday in the iX Theatre at MNL and included 17 sharers.

Special collections director Stuart Hinds kept time from a table at the side of the room holding a green, yellow or red sign to let sharers know how they were doing on time.

Hinds also made the sweet potato cookies that were available to sharers and listeners.

The only criterion for sharing was that the work’s author was of African-American background. Sharers signed up as they arrived and shared in numerical order.

The first sharer was Keron Hopkins, who read from “Princess Noire” by Nadine Cohodas. Hopkins has shared all three years the University Libraries have participated in the Read-In.

Dr. Clovis Semmes of the Black Studies Program read from “Racism, Health, and Post-Industrialism.”

“Many books argue that enslavement of Africans resulted in better health for them than they’d had before,” Semmes said.

The excerpt he read, which examined slave narratives, opposed such an argument.

Next was a performance reading by Tibbs and Mary Anderson, a library specialist for Access Services.

They read from a Debbie Allen book titled “Brothers of the Knight” with props and musical accompaniment. Throughout a musical section, Tibbs did the twist, the mashed potato, the monkey and the funky chicken.

Another notable reading was from Natasha Ria El-Scari, who read two of her original works. The first a dedication to Whitney Houston, and the second was titled “Definition of a Diva.”

Among the latter, which she dedicated to Tibbs and Constance Mahone, were the words, “You can go from the club, to church, and in between, and have appropriate outfits for all three.”

This paid homage to women over 35, the age at which one must be in order to be considered a “diva,” according to El-Scari.

A few sharers, like Mahone, Student Services Manager in the School of Graduate Studies, were emotional during their sharing. Mahone read a few excerpts from “In the Place of Justice” by Wilbert Rideau. Her reading started when Rideau was in solitary confinement, moved to the time after his release, and finally to his mid 60s, when he felt like he was in heaven on earth.

After the sharers were done Tibbs thanked them.

“My soul truly has been fed this afternoon,” she said.

Hinds also thanked the sharers. He said he and Tibbs had been planning the event for months in advance.

“We work hard on this because it’s important to us,” he said.

The first African American Read-In, sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English, was held in 1990. The event exists to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month.

The second part of the UMKC Read-In will take place at noon, Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the Diastole on the Hospital Hill campus.

For more information, contact Tibbs at 816-235-1540 or at

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