Tag Archives: African American literature

Red Rooster: A Taste of Harlem with a Chaser of Gospel Music

SONY DSCMy family and I enjoyed a tasty brunch on Sunday at Red Rooster in Harlem. Named after a legendary Harlem speakeasy, it’s one of chef Marcus Samuelson’s restaurants and has been a huge hit since it opened (on Lenox Ave between 125th and 126th) in 2010. While the food is stellar, the restaurant has higher goals: “We aim to play a role in the future of Harlem, by hiring our family of staff from within the community; inspiring better eating through neighborhood cooking classes; and buying from local purveyors.”

But there’s more at the Rooster.  We headed downstairs to Ginny’s Supper Club where they offer a Gospel Brunch every Sunday. For anyone who is interested in the literature, music and culture of the Harlem Renaissance , Ginny’s is a great place to get a little feel of what that era was like, whether you arrive on Sunday morning or any evening during the week. The Sunday morning entertainment is considerably more wholesome than in speakeasy days:  Gospel for Teens. Check out the group’s impressive and poignant story top-circlethat appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes a couple of years ago. Fortunately, we ate before the show started because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to sit still long enough to fit a forkful of food into our mouths with all the clapping, dancing, and those kids singing their hearts out.

For better or worse, this section of Harlem escaped much of the demolition of urban renewal and redevelopment, so a lot of the original gorgeous architecture along Lenox Avenue remains. After brunch, we walked down Lenox and into Central Park. This is a great excursion for anyone who would like to skip the typical mid-town tourist scene. And, if you’re thinking of heading to Harlem, take a look at any of the books listed below regarding the Harlem Renaissance and you’ll appreciate the neighborhood even more.

Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, the complex life of a young African American man in the South and later Harlem.  Winner of the National Book Award.

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes and Not Without Laughter, classic works from one of the most famous figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

David Lewis (ed.), The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. An anthology.

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on The Mountain, a semi-autobiographical story of a young African-American boy in 1930s Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Though her story takes place in Florida, Hurston was an important player in the Harlem literary scene.

Laban Carrick Hill, Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. This is actually aimed at young adults, but the book has been so critically acclaimed, it’s great for any age group.

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Go on Girl! This is one inspiring book club. Part One.

While some book groups struggle to meet regularly or to get everyone to read the book goongirlbookclubbefore they meet, others take the reading group concept to a whole new level.

In the course of doing research for my upcoming book, Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Groups, and Girls on Getaways, I was looking for book clubs that travel and do other interesting things together– beyond the typical meeting that includes book discussion, wine, and dessert, not necessarily in that order.  One of the most impressive groups I came across was the Go On Girl! Book Club.  They’re headquartered in New York but GOG has become a national organization with 30 chapters in the following 13 states.

Their mission: to encourage the literary pursuits of people of African descent. The group started with Lynda Johnson, Monique Greenwood, and Tracy Mitchell who all worked at Fairchild Publications as editors. Says Johnson, “Tracy and I were avid readers. She loved coming of age stories and I loved any and everything surrounding the Harlem Renaissance writers. Tracy and I were both reading the novel No Easy Place to Be by Steven Corbin and would discuss it over lunch. Monique heard our intense conversations and originally thought we were discussing real people. We told her she had to read the book; she did and joined our conversations. Based on our discussions Tracy suggested we get a small group of friends together and form a book club. It was during that first meeting that the foundation for GOG was set. Ironically, we had 12 women attend, all with different tastes in books.”

This formed Go On Girl! Book Club’s commitment to read 12 different genres a year, one for each month. They also decided to limit their group to 12 women to make for manageable book discussions. Eventually, various members of the group moved to other parts of the country and they established GOG chapters wherever they went, starting with Washington, D.C. and Chicago. They didn’t set out to form a national organization.  “Our growth happened very organically,” says Johnson.

But they eventually became women on a mission. “We chose to read writers from the African diaspora to support those authors and experience stories about ourselves. The publishing industry didn’t realize that a large black readership existed until the publication of Terry McMillan’s books. We quickly discovered so many wonderful black writers who weren’t getting recognition or support. We wanted to let them know that we realize they exist and are reading and discussing their books. We hosted book signings and readings for some of those authors and then decided to recognize them with our annual author awards weekend. We just wanted a platform for African American writers. There were so many great writers out there who we felt were following the tradition of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and a host of literary writers from the Harlem Renaissance but not getting the recognition they needed. We felt we could do that for them as a book club and discuss and enjoy some great stories at the same time.”

Ultimately, GOG became a national, non-profit reading organization.  They give out scholarships to encourage writing of stories about the black experience. “We decided to give a scholarship to an aspiring writer studying literature/communications and an unpublished writer struggling to be read. And, if that’s not enough, for the last 20 years, the GOG chapters have come together in a different location each year, to connect with each other and to host author awards that have been attended by some of the luminaries of the literary world including Walter Mosely, Bebe Moore Campbell, Terry McMillan, and many others.

Impressed?  Read more about the Go On Girl! book club in my next post.