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Lectures & Panel Discussions

Homegoing: A Conversation with Yaa Gyasi | Washtenaw Reads 2018 Author Event

Tuesday February 6, 2018: 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St.
Grade 9 - Adult

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Lectures & Panel Discussions

West African Art and Music in Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, with Victoria Shields

Tuesday February 20, 2018: 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room
Grade 9 - Adult

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Blog Post

Celebrating the AACM

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:44am

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an iconic collective of musicians based in Chicago. Founded in 1965 through the vision of composer Muhal Richard Abrams, they have spent over five decades pushing the boundaries of jazz and music as an art form, incorporating theatrical performance, costuming, visual art, and unusual instruments into their work. AACM members are active around the country and abroad as performers, teachers, and activists.

In honor of Muhal Richard Abrams' passing this week, here are some AACM-related books and recordings from the AADL collection.

A Power Stronger Than Itself, scholar and trombonist George Lewis' incredible and readable history of the AACM.

Urban Bushmen by the Art Ensemble of Chicago

Coming Home Jamaica by the Art Ensemble of Chicago

Sound by Roscoe Mitchell

Sonic Rivers by Wadada Leo Smith

In for a Penny, In for a Pound by Henry Threadgill

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Blog Post

We were eight years in power : an American tragedy

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 4:13pm

Released earlier this week is a new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly as they regard African-Americans. Since his first published book in 2008, Mr. Coates is now considered one of the most influential black intellectuals of his generation. Many will be familiar with his bestseller, Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Awards' top prize for nonfiction in 2015.

His most recent book is a memoir based within a collection of eight essays written during the time of the Obama administration. Mr. Coates weaves a personal history touching on the influence of hip-hop, books he read, and the blog he maintained. Interspersed within the collection of articles are autobiographical essays reflecting on his approach at the time of writing and the optimism felt when Obama began his presidency. New introductions lend insight to his process of writing and further reviewing those ideas once shared with the rest of the world.

The selections include "The Case for Reparations" and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” an article which further established Coates as a leading writer on the topic of race in America. While the essays draw from a certain period of time, Coates has broadened these ideas with added reflection and insight. Hindsight lends an introspection to where his ideas were coming from and have since grown.

Audio versions of his work are available. Between the World and Me is especially enjoyable as read by the author. His new book is read by Bennett Beresford, narrator of many audiobooks of varied genres, actor of the stage and screen, and is also an award-winning screenwriter.

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Blog Post

The 2018 Washtenaw Reads Title Has Been Selected!

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 5:00pm

After much deliberation, the book for the 2018 Washtenaw Reads program has been selected. A panel of community members from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township, Saline and Ypsilanti voted on the winner from two finalist titles. Without further ado, this year's title is...

Homegoing Cover Image


Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.


Homegoing follows the parallel paths of two half sisters, born into different villages in 18th century Ghana, and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. The book has won many awards, including the PEN/ Hemingway Award, the NBCC’s John Leonard Award, New York Times Notable Book, Washington Post Notable Book and was named one of the best books of 2016 by NPR, Time,, Harper’s Bazaar, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Esquire, Elle, Paste, Entertainment Weekly, the Skimm, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and BuzzFeed. One of the highlights of Washtenaw Reads each year is a visit from the author. Yaa Gyasi will appear in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 pm at Rackham Auditorium in a program entitled "Homegoing: A Conversation with Yaa Gyasi" - The 2018 Institute for the Humanities Jill S. Harris Memorial Lecture." The event includes a book signing and copies of the book will be for sale. Washtenaw Reads is a community initiative to promote reading and civic dialogue through the shared experience of reading and discussing a common book. Copies of Homegoing can be found at AADL and in libraries and bookstores throughout Washtenaw County. Keep an eye on the Washtenaw Reads website,, for more information on upcoming events, as well as reading and discussion resources.

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Blog Post

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 5:11pm

“Read Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing and you’ll feel the immense weight of history—and the immense strength it takes to persevere in the face of it. This novel is a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed, and anyone who assumes the ghosts of the past are easy to placate. It’s hard to imagine a more necessary book for this political era.”
Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere

Jesmyn Ward returns with her first piece of full-length fiction since her National Book Award winner, Salvage the Bones (2011). Her new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, has already been placed in some high company. Ward’s fictional Mississippi town of Bois Sauvage has been compared to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County in As I Lay Dying, its haunting spirits likened to those in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Sing, Unburied, Sing and its characters share a multi-generational memory and an understanding the of journey and toils of those who came before. Ghosts create a connection between the living, mourning with them.

Ward’s characters belong to three generations of a Mississippi family. Jojo and his little sister, Kayla, are being mostly raised by their grandparents. Their mother, Leonie, drifts in and out of the picture in a drug-induced haze, their father, Michael, is serving time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, a prison farm known as Parchman. When Michael is released, Leonie brings Jojo and Kayla to pick him up. Their journey is not an easy one, their bodies crammed in a dirty, hot car, always hungry and thirsty, traveling dangerous terrain. Three narrative voices relay the details of the trip to Parchman and back; Jojo, Leonie, and Richie, a young boy whom Jojo’s grandfather had served time with in Parchman. Richie died when he was 15. That his voice not only shares in the telling of this story, but speaks to Jojo directly, shows how masterfully Ward can weave magical realism into her storytelling. These supernatural elements feel at home here, in the swampy, steamy, deep south of the Mississippi Gulf. Richie is not the only spirit who appears on these pages. Leonie is often visited by her deceased brother Given. Jojo hears not only from Richie, but is highly attuned to the sounds of the natural world, truly as if the earth’s song has been unburied for him. “Home ain’t always about a place...home is about the earth. Whether the earth open up to you. Whether it pull you so close the space between you and it melt and y’all one and it beats like your heart. Same time.”

Ward’s story retells the hardships of past racism in the south and outlines the brutality of it in the present day. She illuminates this country’s struggle with race relations, police brutality, mass incarceration, by using the voices of the past and the present in conversation. Though her characters, both living and dead, speak often of cruelty and inhumanity, Ward’s matter-of-fact tone and presentation, coupled with her use of magical realism, imbues her words with an inflection that is calm and lyrical. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a moving and important work.

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Blog Post

Contemporary Fiction by African Authors

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 5:52pm

With the continuous popularity of books such as Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fiction about modern Africa is becoming ever more prominent. These novels are a great learning tool to connect readers with stories and experiences they may not necessarily be familiar with. Although these authors may seem hard to come across, the library has you covered with some great recommendations. Be sure to check out this list for more modern novels written by African authors! Here are 2 intriguing titles to get you started.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. Jende, a struggling Cameroonian immigrant lives in Harlem with his wife and son. When he finds an opportunity working for the Lehman Brothers in New York, he is certain his luck has improved but soon learns that everything is not what it seems. With the 2008 financial crisis serving as a backdrop, read and find out how Jende learns what it takes to make it in America, all while keeping his family together. The novel is currently being featured as apart of Oprah's book club.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta tells a unique story about Africa. Amid a perilous interstate civil war, a young Nigerian girl is sent to a neighboring village for safety. During her stay, she meets a refugee girl of a different ethnic background and quickly falls in love. Due to cultural norms, she faces negative stigmas placed on her and her new found love leaving her to make an important decision. Does she make the choice to dishonor her host family or to fall in love? This novel was featured on NPR's Best Books of 2015 list.

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Blog Post

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #635

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 10:07pm


Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by [|Entertainment Weekly] and [|The Chicago Review of Books], [b:1505612|No One is Coming to Save Us *] is the debut novel by [a:Watts, Stephanie Powell|Stephanie Powell Watts], who previous won a [|Whiting Award], [|Pushcart Prize]; and the [|Ernest J. Gaines Award] for her story collection.

Pinewood, North Carolina is the setting for this contemporary recast of [b:1024745|The Great Gatsby], which delves into African American family life in a community in decline. As the major employer of the town shifts production overseas, former employees of the furniture plants are feeling unmoored and depressed. In stark contrast, is J.J. Ferguson, who has returned to Pinewood, rich and self-assured, to build his dream house high on the hill, and to pursue his high school sweetheart, Ava.

The narrative focuses mainly on Sylvia Ross, and her daughter Ava who, despite a shaky marriage to the unemployed Henry, is desperate to have a child. Sylvia, herself estranged from philandering husband Don, and missing her son Devon, is taking comfort in her relationship with a prison inmate. Moving back and forth in time and between all the players, it is clear that "(e)veryone was keeping the wrong secrets".

"The novel’s intricately plotted relationships pay off satisfyingly in its final chapters. When Gatsby didn’t get what he wanted, the story could only end with his death, but Watts’s characters are people who have seen generations of dreams stymied and thwarted — for their kin, their community and themselves. Rather than giving up if the game doesn’t go their way, they do what they’ve always done: Forget the rules, shake up the players and turn Gatsby’s green dock light gold." (New York Times [|review])

* = starred review

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African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County Living Oral History

Tuesday March 21, 2017: 9:00am to 9:00pm
Malletts Creek Branch: Exhibits