Tucked away between two large buildings is a small bookstore & coffee shop that seems like a breath of fresh air for literary and caffeine lovers on Frederick Douglass Blvd. When walking into Hue-Man Bookstore & CafÃ© thereâ€™s an almost endless wall of magazines to your right and a small sitting area for writers, those who enjoy solitude, or individuals who just want to get updated on whether Jay-Z and BeyoncÃ© tied the knot. Walking in further thereâ€™s a display of delicious looking pastries and a kind barista ready to take your order. As you keep pace youâ€™re immersed in not only the â€œwritersâ€ lifestyle but that of the African-American life with Kinte cloth bags, books on Street Life, African Diaspora, Ancient African History, Fiction, Religious Fiction, etc.
On this particular day, last spring, I visited Hue-Man Bookstore for their latest First Voices Series Panel. The position that Hue-Man takes in spreading African-American voices throughout the Harlem community is an important one. And while the space for the panel wasnâ€™t massive, the crowd was positive and as eager as myself to hear from fellow authors who served as inspiration for many within the three rows of chairs in the middle of the bookstore. Some of the most eloquent words stated were from co-owner Marva Allen when she exclaimed that the mission of Hue-Man was to â€œbecome a vault of history for our legacyâ€ as well as â€œbecome a voice of the future.â€
There were five authors present that represented non-fiction and fiction. All the authors in attendance either own the company that printed their book(s) or decided to self-publish. So in essence Hue-Man is not presenting authors backed by major publishers, but those pushing their work through their own means because of the belief of the power of the written word. The self-publishing methods couldâ€™ve been referenced more throughout the panel discussion. From the mindset of working that much harder to get oneâ€™s work out to the public it should be noted that more authors from ethnic backgrounds are taking this route because itâ€™s getting harder to break through the wall that the six or seven major publishing companies have as monopolies.
Ms. Allen opened up the panel for each author to talk about their work. Ulysses â€œButchâ€ Slaughter was to initiate the discussion and the events in his life would come to dominate the panel over the course of time allotted. Slaughterâ€™s slightly hunched frame and forceful tone caused everyone to take notice. Quite articulate in his responses he informed the audience that his first name means hater/wrathful and that as strong a word as hate is, it should be used in ones vernacular when it comes to expressing your feelings. The power of the titles of his work extends to what he conveys. His first published book Why Do Our Children Hate Us? imparts through a collection of essays that African-American children seem to look at adults as â€œfunctionariesâ€ rather than leaders. The reality of the situation is that we as adults and role models may not be doing our jobs to represent to children how matters should be dealt with. Referencing the most recent decision in regards to the Sean Bell case Mr. Slaughter was appalled by the level of complacency that has been shown when it is evident that the world is not what it should be.
Mentioning his second book Dear Daddy, I Hate You Slaughter tapped into the pain of losing his mother at the hands of his father. This book includes letters to his father and conversations the two had back in 2005 as he tried to learn to forgive himself in not being more active in preventing his motherâ€™s death. As it turned out Slaughterâ€™s father, Ulysses Sr., sent him and his brother out to retrieve their mother from the yard. When she stepped into the apartment an argument ensued. The end result was Butch Slaughter and his brother stepping over their motherâ€™s body to get out of the house. When it came to the fact that Slaughterâ€™s father did not want to talk about his motherâ€™s death he found that he had to present his anger through letters so that at least he could unleash the pain he felt in some way that his father could find it. â€œI donâ€™t believe in forgetting and forgiving,â€ he stated adamantly. As he pointed to his teenage son recording this discussion in the back of the audience Mr. Slaughter held a calm but forceful tone in stating how important it is that â€œrising authors should be about defining.â€ His work with children and becoming a role model, urging students to be able to articulate their pain is part of what he feels he can do to make this world a better place.
Looking classy in a black dress with white stripes Lesley Nurse, author of 19 Reasons Why He Really Left You Honey, smiled and nervously giggled as she took on the task of coming after the stunning revelations and knowledge that Slaughter presented. Her book is a bit lighter in regards to tone and seeks to urge â€œindependentâ€ women to look within themselves to find out why that man you liked really broke up with you.
Reared from a Caribbean background, Nurseâ€™s family is Trinidadian and filled with strong-minded women, she found that it became part of her life to be a woman that didnâ€™t need a man. That one should never cooperate or submit because this equated to being a â€œdoormatâ€ to her significant other. It wasnâ€™t until some failed relationships and self-reflection, as well as some holy intervention (she was recently saved) that Nurse realized the rules she was raised under didnâ€™t seem to apply when used in the real world. Her tag is that her book reflects on the â€œnineteen issues that independent women tend to have in relationships.â€ Each chapter encompasses stories, dialogue, and advice. What she boasts about is that her 19 Reasons is not preachy and doesnâ€™t force you into forming an opinion, you gather your own. The best summation of the information she wants to present is that â€œLove is not demanded, itâ€™s earned.â€
In a black & white floral blazer, and having chatted up members of the panel before discussion started, LeRoia (nÃ©e Sonia Russell) spoke about her debut novel, The Cost of Love, that took five years to complete. She began writing Cost during her separation from her husband and considers it the biggest accomplishment of her life. The book is about two women in search of the love of their lives and examines that the â€œresults can be staggering.â€ The Cost of Love began as an extension of her poetry and is a test to see the lengths that people will go to get what they want.
The excitement she has for her novel showed in her explanation of taking stories she heard from friends and family, using inspiration from those she knew. Her hand gestures were adamant when she described the fun she had in creating a world that readers can relate to and reflect on when it comes to realizing that what you want isnâ€™t always what you need.
A young man fully clad in a large black t-shirt with the word â€˜Reviveâ€™ in silver and baggy jeans and the beginnings of dreads on the top of his head began to discuss his first novel Entrepreneurâ€“partly autobiographical, but mainly fictional. Markeise Q. Washington (noted on the cover as MQW) wrote Entrepreneur from his own experiences fused with stories heâ€™s heard and thought of. During mid-chews of his gum he explained that this paperback is also his legacy to his son and something that his child can be proud of.
His novel is about a young man that graduates college and is hit with the reality of what he wasnâ€™t taught in school. Markeise didnâ€™t expand too much on the interior of his tome, but surmised that itâ€™s about trials and tribulations that befall this particular character in life. After having been in a ritualistic lifestyle from military school for six years he found that taking each day one at a time is a bit stirring. He mentioned that his worst days were the days he found the most material to write, which I think most people can understand that at our lowest we may become the most articulate and expressive.
Lady Charmaine Day was a ray of sunshine in a flowing, yellow dress and grin as brilliant as her ensemble as she proudly presented her two autobiographies. One Step from Insanity exposed her time in the hospital during her diagnosis and treatment for bipolar disorder. Scribing in numerous composition books Day recorded her time there moment by moment knowing the material would be helpful for her and others. In realizing that her first memoir, Size 7 1/2: Walk a Mile in My Shoes, didnâ€™t fully illustrate that segment of her life she decided to write her follow-up. The cover of Insanity, in Ms. Dayâ€™s words, shows that crazy is â€œlike a GYN examâ€ with a black silhouette of a woman spread open in a mass of red.
Ms. Day felt it important to get her story out there as inspiration to others and as therapy to herself.
The Q&A session from the audience tended to focus a lot of Butch Slaughterâ€™s past, but also on how writing was a sort of therapeutic element for all the authors present. The back and forth became lively between the audience and panelists as well as the panelists with one another. As one who believes wholeheartedly in divine intervention Lady Charmaine Day stated that she decided to love those who caused her pain rather than hate them. Slaughter countered that he chose â€œboth.â€ â€œHating protects your children,â€ he added which drew some nods of agreement from audience members and Marva Allen herself. Ending on these reflections of our own pain and that which others describe can be haunting, but also empowering. The result of this First Voices Series Panel was definitely projecting the latter.
The First Voices Series Panels are held quarterly at Hue-Man Bookstore & CafÃ©. The next panel will take place this Saturday, August 30th at 2 p.m.
To visit Hue-Man’s website, click here.
About the Author (Author Profile)A native New Yorker Jennifer Baker-Henry has been writing since she entered the academic institution and continues to do so every moment she gets. Jennifer received her MFA from The New School's graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York's baccalaureate program in English. She works as a production editor in academic publishing, while also freelancing as an ESL tutor, proofreader, and writer for the urban e-zine AroundHarlem.com. Jennifer was a mentor for Girls Write Now and now volunteers for the organization. She's also a writer-in-residence with the Jentel Artist Residency Program from April-May 2011. Jennifer is working on a variety of short stories in addition to a collection centered around race and family, and a YA novel. You can see her writing and baking on her website at www.jennifernbaker.com.
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