Today is Veterans’ Day here in the U.S., and it certainly was an eventful one here. Brian was off work, since he’s a federal worker, but I had to go to work. He met me for lunch and was helpfully going to spend the afternoon re-framing a large poster I have of a Waterhouse painting. Well, I got a phone call about two hours after lunch that started with “Well, I’m okay, but there’s been a little accident here at the house.”
The glass in the frame shattered during the re-framing project and cut his hand pretty badly. Fortunately for everyone, the very curious cat, Anastasia, had already been banished to the basement since she likes to “help” around the house whenever you’re working on a project by being very in the way. So she wasn’t hurt and was kept away from the broken glass that was EVERYWHERE while Brian got himself stitched up. Not exactly how my veteran planned to spend his Veterans Day! But the glass is swept up, Brian’s got a cup of tea and Monday Night Football, and the slightly traumatized cat has been fed and only knocked over the Scrubbing Bubbles in the basement in her distress. So it could have been much worse!
I had every intention of blogging about the backlog of books that I had read in the last few months from my ever-growing library but not yet written about. But I first need to talk about the local book-things going on here. Last week was the Baltimore Book Festival, which (for the first time) was combined with another Baltimore festival, Light City, for a single festival called Brilliant Baltimore.
There were a ton of great events I wanted to see, and I managed to attend two different days of the festival. Our local anarchist bookstore and co-op (yup, we have an anarchist bookstore named after Emma Goldman), Red Emma’s, had a fantastic tent and lineup of speakers and selection of books for sale. We were lucky enough to catch a standing-room-only event featuring Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, who recently set up shop at American University.
Kendi is such a thrilling speaker and writer – he’s so brilliant and yet explains his ideas in clear and simple terms. It was funny and a bit awkward to hear grad students asking their questions in their academic jargon (lots of paradigm shifts mentioned, and I think I heard “hegemony” thrown around a bit too) and then hear Kendi respond with his simple, razor-sharp answers. He was very generous with his time and thoughtful in all of his responses, and Baltimore was very appreciative of his presence at our book festival.
I was sorry to have missed several of the writers of a new anthology called Baltimore Revisited, but fortunately Red Emma’s had the book for sale during Kendi’s talk, so I was able to buy it. Brian also spotted a book called Octavia’s Brood, a collection of science fiction stories inspired by social justice movements (and clearly written by many writers that trace their lineage back to Octavia Butler). I couldn’t pass that up either! I look forward to reading the stories and discovering new writers in the process.
And, two days later, Baltimoreans were lucky enough to welcome Lonnie Bunch, the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (but more well known as the founder of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture), who was interviewed by Bill Whitaker from CBS. I was very impressed that Baltimore Office of Promotion of the Arts was able to book both of these men for the festival. Lonnie Bunch was promoting his book “A Fool’s Errand.”
Their interview was thrilling to hear – Dr. Bunch’s stories of founding the NMAAHC were sometimes hilarious, but more often moving and emotional. He spoke about obtaining Chuck Berry’s guitar on which he wrote Maybellene from the man himself (who was suspicious of Dr. Bunch because “you work for the government”).
He told of befriending Emmett Till’s mother in Chicago and later honoring the memory of both Emmitt and Mamie Till-Mobley by committing to displaying Till’s casket at the NMAAHC (“I’ve carried the memory of my son for 50 years. It’s time for you to carry him.”). He spoke about the thrill of finding artifacts they did not know existed, like Nat Turner’s bible or photographs of Harriett Tubman. It was a wonderful night in Baltimore, and the audience responded with a standing ovation for both Bill Whitaker and Dr. Bunch!