“Oh, the contagious fever of Harlem,” novelist Claude McKay once wrote. That fever may continue to spike, if the Harlem YMCA’s prospective new lecture series is any indication. It didn’t take long for the inaugural program of HARLEM Y TALKS to sell out.
“He said, she said…Expanding Bartlett’s Quotable Landscape,” the program set for Monday evening, December 2nd, at 7 PM, celebrates the publication of Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations (Little, Brown and Company). Retha Powers, the work’s general editor, will discuss the book, whose foreword is by leading scholar in African-American studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This writer is the program coordinator and host.
Monday evening talks proposed
HARLEM Y TALKS hopes to offer numerous Monday evening talks on various topics in the Harlem YMCA’s historic Little Theatre, in the spirit of the site’s former prominence as a venue for dramatics, concerts and engaging public forums. The Little Theatre is located in the lower level of the 11-story West 135th Street YMCA building known as the Claude McKay Residence.
“We’re testing the waters with this exciting new talk series,” Thalia Kwok, Program Director of the Harlem YMCA says. “Raising awareness and community pride in Harlem speaks to our overarching mission of social responsibility. We look forward to once again being known as a haven for developing cultural talent in our neighborhood.”
Admission is FREE. Confirmed reservations have already “sold out” the theater’s 100-seat capacity, however walk-ins may still add their names to an online waitlist.
The event’s community partners include Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, which will sell copies of the book ($40 US) for Ms. Powers to sign; and Harlem One Stop, which will provide refreshments at the post-program reception.
Living room of the Harlem Renaissance
Generations have called the Harlem YMCA “the living room of the Harlem Renaissance.” Its two West 135th Street buildings hosted much of Harlem’s flourishing artistic, literary and intellectual talent in the 1920s and 1930s. Writer Claude McKay was among many notable former residents of the iconic “Y” tower at 180 West 135th Street–and the building’s namesake–which opened in 1932. The 11-story building was built across the street from the smaller West 135th Street Branch YMCA, built in 1919 as the successor to the organization’s racially segregated facility called the “Colored Men’s Branch,” located on West 53rd Street. The New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the newest building an official historic landmark in 1998.
The Little Theatre is located on the lower level of the “Y” tower. From the 1930s through the 1950s, its stage provided a platform for such diverse exploits as a literary club, a theatre company and a YMCA orchestra. It also showcased such well-known and diverse figures as Ziegfeld Follies orchestrator Will Vodery; Nigerian director Momodu Adernele; bibliophile Arturo Schomburg; labor leader A. Philip Randolph; Broadway star Richard Huey; and up-and-coming actors Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne and Clarence Williams III.
About Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations and author Retha Powers
In the book’s foreword, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. praises the work as “An impressively researched and documented collection of the finest thought produced by writers throughout the African Diaspora. A magnificent achievement.”
Retha Powers has culled five thousand quotes from the time of Ancient Egypt through American slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, to the present day. It is an exhaustive compendium of passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, and many others.
The scope of Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations makes it a fitting wellspring for an array of compelling topics.
Upcoming HARLEM Y TALKS program: Jesse Owens with director Laurens Grant
The second HARLEM Y TALKS program, “On Winged Feet…Tracking the Trailblazing Journey of Jesse Owens,” will take place on Monday evening, December 16th. It will feature director Laurens Grant, who will screen and discuss her PBS-American Experience documentary, Jesse Owens, which just won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Research at the 34th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards. To reserve FREE tickets for the Jesse Owens/Laurens Grant program: https://www.eventbrite.com/event/8924524493
UPDATE: Survey reflects enthusiasm
The inaugural evening–the first of two pilot programs–of the prospective HARLEM Y TALKS series drew an enthusiastic crowd on Monday, December 16th. “We have six books left,” Janifer Wilson, owner of Sister’s Uptown Bookstore, reported. Having carted in a six-box haul (totaling sixty books) of the 764-page copies of Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations to sell, her tone was at once weary and blissful. “Huge thanks to all the community players who made this night possible,” Thalia Kwok, Program Director of the Harlem YMCA, wrote the next day on a Harlem YMCA events page.
The first program also generated an online survey for participants to weigh in on the event. The responses were equally enthusiastic.
“Great kick-off event, I enjoyed it very much!” John Reddick, one of Harlem’s well-known local historians, wrote.
A woman named Maria from outside of New York City wrote that she worked downtown and “would be willing to come for interesting talks such as tonight’s.” Another, named Alice, echoed that sentiment, writing that the “program was excellent and adds to the Y’s relevance and outreach to a broader community.”
Kakuna Kerina, who has headed the Harlem School of the Arts and various philanthropic initiatives, made perhaps the most personal appeal. “I attended countless literary programs at the Y with my parents when I was young. I wish I could have been able to do the same for my daughter,” she commented, adding, “Exposure to African America’s literary giants as a young person was inspiring and life affirming. Harlem is changing rapidly but programs like these can help us retain what made Harlem such a cultural and historical force worldwide.”
On Monday evening, December 16th, “On Winged Feet…Tracking the Trailblazing Journey of Jesse Owens,” will be the second of the two HARLEM Y TALKS pilot programs. Director Laurens Grant will screen and discuss her Emmy-winning PBS-American Experience documentary, Jesse Owens.