Saturday 4 June 2011

The Freedom of a Library Card

     I took an African-American Literature Course at McMaster University when I was doing my undergrad program. One of the books we read, Native Son, was written by Richard Wright, a famous Black author. In the meantime I went on to graduate, attend Teacher's College, and get a fulltime job as a teacher.

     Years later, in our school library, I found a book called The Freedom of a Library Card. Curious, I opened it up only to discover that the story was based on the childhood of Richard Wright. Raised in Mississippi and Memphis, where Blacks were banned from taking books out of the library, Richard hungered for reading material. His mother did not have enough money to buy books and was forced to retrieve old newspapers from the garbage can so that her son could read the comic strips inside. Richard's father abandoned the family when he was only 4 or 5 years old, making their financial situation precarious. Another tragedy that marred his early years was the racist murder of his uncle when he was only 8 years old.

     When Richard reached his early teens, he was hired by a white man who did have a library card. His boss would send him to take out books on his behalf. Richard got the idea that he would take out his own books using his boss's card; his boss agreed. Whites would ridicule him when he took out titles like Oliver Twist and War and Peace, assuming that he didn't even know how to read. Richard devoured every book he could get his hands on and soon became a proficient reader.

     Reading led to writing. When Richard grew up he eventually moved to France where he continued to write, pumping out such classics as Black Boy and The Outsider. Now he is one of the most recognized names in Black literature, penning 16 books in his lifetime. And all because he refused to accept the word "no". Something most of us take for granted, who could imagine the power of a library card?

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