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Celebrating and Supporting African American Writers: The Legacy of the African American Read-In

The following post was written by Dr. Mila Thomas Fuller.

Celebrating and Supporting African American Writers” was the conversation during the #NCTEchat on Sunday, February 21, 2016. This chat was hosted by Mila Thomas Fuller, former deputy executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, and Michelle Rankins, NCTE/CCCC member. Both Mila and Michelle served as local founders and hosts of community-based African American Read-In programs.

Mila hosted an African American Read-In held at a Champaign-Urbana bookstore and Michelle serves as founder and host of the Tri-C (Cuyahoga Community College) Eastern Campus’s African American Read-In. Many stakeholders have described the African American Read-In as a way to promote diversity by increasing awareness of African American authors.

While the program was originally focused on a single day, it has since been expanded to allow local hosts to choose any day(s) during the month of February to host a local event. These events can be hosted in your living room with family and friends, or they can occur as a more formal program in a public setting.

Below is a short excerpt detailing the history of the African American Read-In and the contributions made by its founder, Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott:

At its November 1989 meeting, the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English accepted the Issues Committee’s recommendation that the Black Caucus sponsor a nationwide African American Read-In on the first Sunday of February. At the request of educators, Monday was designated for educational institutions. Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, an active member of NCTE and the Black Caucus, brought the idea to the Committee. It was envisioned that following a decade of rigorous campaigning for participants, the African American Read-Ins would become a traditional part of Black History Month celebrations. The commitment for nationwide promotion extends from 1990 to the present. In 1990, the National Council of Teachers of English joined in the sponsorship of the African American Read-In. (NCTE website)

Here are a few of the topics that were addressed during the chat:

  • We look forward to rich conversations around practical approaches to celebrating literacy through African American literature in K-12 classrooms and university settings. This topic offers numerous opportunities for teachable moments.
  • We will discuss the positive impact of raising awareness and celebrating African American authors. For current program hosts, we would love to hear about the impact of your local African American Read-In as it relates to teaching and student learning and/or the impact it has had within your school, university, or community setting from a programmatic perspective.
  • Then, in true fashion of an African American Read-In, we look forward to taking the time to increase awareness of works written by African American authors. We will ask you to share your favorite classic African American authors, but we would also like to learn about new African American authors you have heard about or recently read. As you share the names of authors and their works, we will begin working to compile a new booklist to add to our African American Read-In toolkit that was launched this year. This is definitely a great chat to attend, contribute to, or follow, as it will result in a digital and information-rich resource.

Participating in the African American Read-In remains an easy task and can be done by following these five simple steps:

  1. Identify an African American author.
  2. Select a location (living room, classroom, etc.) to host an African American Read-In.
  3. Invite friends, family, and/or community members.
  4. Celebrate and support African American authors by reading their books, sharing excerpts, and/or inviting an author to participate.
  5. Submit a short host report indicating the author(s) featured, location, date, and number of participants.

For more resources, see our African American Read-In toolkit and booklists, and see if there’s a local event near you.