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tv   Discussion on the Legacies of Amistad and Zora Neale Hurston  CSPAN  November 15, 2021 6:35am-7:30am EST

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of itself, so many of the things we are talking about, they won't go away in fact they will remain transient but we will be doing it in an atmosphere in which we can actually talk about real problems instead of continuing to fight hopeless wars. >> i think george and heather are going to sign books. why don't you give a round of applause. [applause] thank you all so much. [applause] the brooklyn book festival continues now on booktv. >> good evening, welcome afternoon, almost evening. the associate director of the exhibition of the schomburg center for research into black culture for those who don't know
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the schomburg center is dedicated to the collection, preservation and interpretation of the experiences. we are a public archive all you need is your library card to access collections like james baldwin, maya angelou in many folks. i'm excited to join tracy and jennifer and lucy for this conversation today because much of what almost god is about is what the schomburg is about, unearthing and ensuring that black voices are included in society. that they are published and telling their stories through their own lens so we will just get started but first i want to acknowledge this moment and say we are appreciative that you've decided to join. i'm realizing i am still acclimated to getting out in the world so everybody out here comfortable being here today, thank you brooklyn festival. [applause] this conversation really is a
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continuation of one that lee started as a part of the schomburg virtual literary festival around freedom to publish where we had a conversation with the doctor of the third world press and chris jackson who is at one world infant. it's about the power of the publishing houses that were started independently to ensure the voices were heard, and then bought or acquired which i feel like is a rare thing and it sort of holds that space by itself. tracy, can you tell us a little bit about the history and also your journey to this imprint? >> thank you, novella. i'm glad to be here to see all of you beautiful people. i'm the editorial director at iam honored to be running this
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imprint. it means a lot to me and it has for a long time. way back, some of the first books i was reading. i came to amistad -- this year is our anniversary, so i'm proud to announce that. [applause] and jennifer baker joined us this year, which i am so thrilled about. and very dear to my heart, we worked on black detroit together. [applause] to be sitting here with lucy and her students is just phenomenal. i feel like i can feel her spirit and energy. working with the trust has been
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amazing. really a key to work with the trust. as a matter of fact, we have the new book coming in january, which is a collection of the essays which is called you don't know us negroes and other essays, so you might want to check it out. i see people with a little bit of a smirk because that definitely embodies the humor with a title like that. i started out in publishing the year formed that was 1987 and started out at the feminist press. that's when charles, who was a genius, so novella told me to make sure i tell stories rather than give one word answers which is my norm so let me know if i go on too much.
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charles was an amazing man, the first black person to be hired in the publishing and editorial and this was in the 1950s believe it or not. charles went on to work at doubleday where he started and when he left to go to howard university to work on the press, he left several books in which toni morrison, who was just arriving. i loved the continuity in publishing. one person turning over to another. charles went to the press and then decided he was going to start amistad books. he launched the imprint with a collection of essays, which was
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an anthology of some of the great thinkers and people who were legends today and of those were people who were not often published back in the 1980s. to me, 85 years ago in the 1980s doesn't seem that long ago, and it's amazing what a short history black publishing has come about what a powerful history that we have. and so then i will stop and talk about something else later. [laughter] >> yes, you will talk about something else. i do have a question, sort of how amistad fits into the world, you had third world press, the press started by paul coates. but amistad first was an independent press, then it went to harbor. how does it operate differently than, say, some of these independent presses? >> so, amistad was an
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independent press, and it was started with funding by arthur, the tennis legend, and essence magazine, which i think is phenomenal. then he would work with other publishers such as warner books, but they were offering distribution books and penguin, penguin,they were offering distn deals as well. the distribution deal would mean the publishing house didn't exactly fit within the physical building and with a major publisher would do is distribute the books through baker and taylor and outlets such as that. then charles got more in the door at warner and acquired amistad books which charles worked inside the building at
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harpercollins and 1999 like i said that's about the time i started for about a year at that point. charles came over and asked me to come over and help them run it and i turned them down because i just started a new job and i didn't know that that's something you could do, start a new job and turn around and quite a few months later. i would see him from time to time and he was just wicked smart and very creative and entrepreneurial. amistad probably wouldn't be around today. and so, when harbor took in
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amistad, if that is the proper language, probably not, had the honor to mutually build each other up and learn from each other, that's when that happened. it provides additional resources that a lot of independent publishing houses didn't necessarily have on their own. i want to bring you into the conversation because you have been there less than a year altering covid. >> seeing what people look like again. [laughter]
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you've been advocating in the children's book space so i'm curious about what are you looking for as an editor, what do you feel is your mandate and what have you acquired that excites you in your new role? >> i have a mostly production background i've been in publishing since 2002, 2003 and so it's very interesting to be on the acquisition side now. i love it because i think if i were to leave production, which i did, this would be the only place i would leave for. tracy is a fantastic men to her and there is a lot between the two of us in terms of understanding what it is because
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a friend of mine even said they read edward jones and then they looked at the spine and decided this is amistad. they published black people, without even looking it up, just knowing instinctively from the name and understanding the heritage and what the name means, you understand what i would hope you would understand the importance of what the name has established for 35 years and then look into the catalog and see what that evolution as well and so for me, i don't know that there was a mandate. i know when i was talking about coming on, i was like i don't want to buy a lot of books. i bought 12 books in six months. i don't know how that happened. [laughter] and it speaks to that and like the varying perspectives into andsubjectivity that is inherenn publishing, but when you
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understand and care so much about the culture, you also care about what is being said, that isn't kind of i don't want to say necessarily placating, but because we are in this colonial state, where i would think we are trying to de- colonize our results and understanding who we've been talking to, that when you reach out to be an editor of color that is doing that same work because it is continual work, you might recognize i am speaking to white people, because i'm like i don't understand why you're explaining boxspring is to me i don't understand. but there's certain things in culture and culture is varied and layered, but understanding there are certain things i don't need to explain to you if we are on the same bandwidth, because we understand and respect culture. then also, google. when i was going to school, google wasn't a thing. netscape was a thing. it wasn't very good.
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>> yes. remember aol chat. we can go into it. that's a whole other panel. it's inherent for me about recognizing authors that are black inherently but i've also acquired work by a filipina golfer and recognized speaking to that particular author was brilliant that isn't disparate from the black culture. like we can come together on those things and recognize i can be a good editor for you and you can be a good writer for me and we are inherently learning from each other so that is the sent's disability i wanted to bring. it made the most sense for me in terms of where i was going next in my career and where i would feel comfortable. we had a wonderful assistant that started this year. they are young and hungry and
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eager and we all have a great sensibility. leaning towards a woman's perspective, recognizing you know, intersections, non-binary identities, making sure we are not perpetuating the issues that are perpetuated by white supremacy in itself, but again that is ongoing work for me as an individual and i think for us. at the stuff that i've acquired have been memoirs about the state about community is for the people who visit incarcerated loved ones. it's looking at the commercial humanistic novels about someone really wanting to save black people and that doesn't work out so well as you might imagine. it's poetry, you know like not first-time poets, they've been around. it's inherently just upwardly mobile and constant community
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building. and that centers on what we are talking about. it's brought so many of us in the community together and i know that when i first read, i didn't get it. i first read her in high school. i want to preface that the reason i wouldn't necessarily pair huckleberry finn and back together for a 16-year-old figure out what they are trying to read and love the babysitters club. i am not there yet as a reader and so reading huckleberry finn and seeing that kind of perpetuation of just the dialect that was being written, then not understanding the brilliance that she was bringing and the sociological background as she had, because then to me it was looking on par and it's not so i had to read her in undergraduate school and after graduate school
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to grow as a reader and understand the brilliance that was there and the inherent racism. if that is what i had to do and it's not to totally dismiss the educational system because i recognize there is so much going on and i got a lot out of it, but it's the additional education that you need to understand someone and to be also a part of that legacy and to see how much tracy has built up and loved and has been eager to bring up the new book and have her reenter the consciousness in a solid way like past three or four years i don't think it would have happened without a book coming out of some sort. so that is attributed to amistad and the trust and the legacy and one that i'm very proud to be part of. a. >> thank you. [applause] we are going to come back to
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this because i've been reading the essay. it was printed and is something she wrote inside of that, can you cope without subtlety. i want to bring you into the conversation because as a journalist you also mentioned edward p jones, and he wrote in his acknowledgment i'm very grateful to my editor who many of you all may know an editor in chief, but i'm very grateful to my editor who may well have believed from the first word so i'm curious how do you come to amistad and publishing this work which is so specific and now having been to detroit for the first time this summer to sort of have even a better
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understanding of what you are writing about, can you talk a little bit about that? >> there is for black women sitting here with me and responsible for me being here. first of all, one of them is 101-years-old and detroit. that would be my mom. she talked to me this morning and we had our sunday sermon and i quiz her sometimes to see how clear she is. i say in the bible there are two books in the bible in which god is not mentioned. what are they and she quickly responds song of songs. she was just as clear as ever. the other is my wife who's been
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challenged by some medical procedures otherwise she would be here with me but she's an outstanding author, writer, editor. i don't get anything out of the house without her stamp of approval. a very fine individual, and i love her so much. the third woman is marie brown, my agent. tomorrow is her birthday so we give a shout out to maria out there, who's been my editor for the last almost 40 years now she's been with me. it's very productive including the most recent endeavor that we did, black detroit, along with that fifth woman. tracy and i were talking about her earlier with my history it
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started with charles harris. i remember i just arrived in new york to live for the third time. the first goes all the way back to when i was in the village with people like allen ginsberg and peter and ted jones and any number of other musicians who was a part of the whole greenwich village crowd. then i came back and stayed for about six months from 78 to 79. in 1985, i arrived here after struggling to write a novel in margarita off the coast of venezuela. that never materialized but i made it back to new york, and
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that was 1985. one year later i was at marie's house in charles harris was there. we had a discussion about his dream of putting this will amistad thing together, so we talked about the word, and i told him how much i was in touch with amistad, being the spanish word for friendship, and of course when the film came out, i had already been pretty much grilled on the history of that mutiny of the 1839 and the whole film that followed after that. at that time we talked about it and figured we need to have a publication out there that all opened opportunities for aspiring black writers so i said maybe there is an opportunity for me but i've already been hooked up with a number of other press out there.
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tracy and i, we bonded because first of all, she's a michigander. for me in a real sense it started with don davis. we were struggling with the whole biography of sugar ray robinson. she was a strict editor. i have 500 pages i turned in and she was exercised about 250 of them so you understand how a writer cringes at that. i said it's perfectly all right
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because the 250 pages that she knocked out, i could use for the next book. so she gives me a service in the one ascends and has gone on to bigger and better things. she's with bon appétit now? my goodness. so she is riding high. [laughter] deservedly so. i started with the idea of having for black women here with me, and for black women responsible and i'm looking out at the crowd and i see so many. it's important because we need you as we push hard into the arena it is a struggle that we
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have raised going all the way back to hurston. we can talk about all of her books and it would exhaust the time we have together here. but certainly looking at that and how they had stopped that book for all those years, and now they have it available. it connects with amistad in the sense that when that slave ship was taken over and they spared their lives of the people who have enslaved them because they were navigators and wanted them to move them up and down the coast to get them back of course they were tricked.
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what they did is moving up and down the coast and they were captured and moved into the trials and the film captures that a very well, but the important things about language, there's no understanding of english. one had a glimmer but then you had linguistic impasse and a similar kind of situation saying i will be true to the speaker. she will capture the whole language, and i think that is a consistency that is important in terms of the authenticity that you capture that individual and
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convey as much as you possibly can. so much is lost in translation when you do that, but that's a remarkable story that was done on the last slave ship coming in. as i turn the microphone over i am sure that she can elaborate on that in a very authentic way. thank you. >> i would say that you are doing the same thing. unearthing this history, and i think that there is a way that in our imaginations we have a detroit, and what you do is bring it to the community and help us to navigate what the possibilities are today. i mentioned this at the beginning. it's here on the plaza and the office will be signing books.
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the anthology and then we have the wonderful books. if you've never read the story, it is incredible. you need it in your life, take my word for it. i feel like that was part of the specialty was deciding that the way that folks spoke they didn't need to be cleaned up in such a way folks felt like it's being published so she wrote in the same way the literature arts are
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supposed to hold up the american nature, with only the exceptional and client picture of life in america so this is a challenge and i want to know from you what do you think the role is of the black literature and us navigating. >> this is the first time out of my house, march, 2020. [applause] >> thank you. from connecticut, two and a half hour drive. i'd like to start right where hers ended and speak about as a
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social scientist. most people refer as a novelist. she's not. she's an anthropologist to inform all the other work she does for folktales, the children's stories, the songs, she was a cultural anthropologist and so the importance of the languages when we talk about culture we talk about two things, material and non-material things that some are more difficult and bewildering. you've got the simple beliefs and values, attitudes and norms of a group of people. when we talk about culture we are talking about the way of life of a group of people.
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one of the things that she found important was the idea that she was a multiculturalist vet shook off what you have for the group that you belong to and trade it in to belong to a book that if somebody says is better than you. she took it as a mission to say that there are multiple ways and that they should coexist. throughout her life, she decided to capture and spread the
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cultural linguistics of the people of the diaspora that it needed to be captured before integration ruined it. so she went down to the fieldwork. emotional work. you live with and submerge your self into what you want to study and report on. every day. remember the time that she was capturing this information is a cold cultural anthropologist, at that time there was no reporting. she had to absorb it, live it and then in the quiet solitude,
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she would sit and purged it out on the paper and she could show you how we are alike and different but parallel. she did cultural universal work and to say what games do they play in this area, what songs do they sing, what are the rituals for marriage, childbirth, playing, cooking, celebration, holidays? we all have them no matter what cultural group you belong to. depending on the culture that you are in, [inaudible] took rudimentary every day ways of life and turned the world and exposed a cover. it's not a better or worse it's
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just a different. she might say it's better but the work that she did was to capture those elements of black life, to show the value that there is and if we take from other people's culture we may be able to solve some of our problems with somebody else's cultural element. there's a lot that goes on culturally. the acknowledgment that there are other ways and we can lay these out to hold up the mantle
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of humankind. she was concerned with capturing the way of life of her people and raising their values because what you don't know, you make up. but once you know it becomes extremely difficult even though we are in a time when all that is make believe we know the importance of the work foundation only because it is still under attack. it's still under attack. if it were not important it would have gone by the wayside but they are trying to kill us and not give value to it and it won't go away.
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their eyes were watching and when i went to high school [inaudible] but it's now part of what they call the canon. i don't care if you were in kansas, california, new york part of that may be shakespeare, foster, hemingway, hurston. there needs to be a voice that represents a multitude of things. women, people of color, anthropologists. there's something for everyone and if you really want to find out who this is, if you want more than anyone else in print.
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how many have read it? [laughter] thank you. do you see that first and second, those of you that haven't read it, i am enticing you. you look at the way she uses the language. how many of you saw the matrix? in the matrix, you are in, out, depending if you have a hole in your head, your hair is short, you're watching god. it's dialect. if it's janie talking about things as she is living them, it's a different tone. if you look at the matrix, you
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see that a duality. if you look at harry potter -- how many grown folks like harry potter [inaudible] because it speaks to children with what they know, their realm of experience, but it also speaks to the adults. i'm a grandmother. i have four grandchildren, 11, seven, four and two. and i take them to see these pixar movies and this and that we watch at home and stuff. i love the ability, because i think it is a fine skill to be able to use a message for children with the same duality that you talk to adults. we have to sit there in the movie and watch it with them but there's something in it for us. if you look at wally -- when i taught sociology, we watched it.
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then they got it. it's the environmental dilemma disaster that is literally at our doorsteps right now. >> can we talk about a little bit of the project that is going on at amistad now with the repackaging of these works, the novel, the folklore? i think it is incredible that you've come up with this way of peering contemporary artists. one of my pet peeves is nowadays you see a book cover and it looks like another book cover and for me when i look at a book it is a way for me to remember what it looks like. that might be of interest to
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other people, whereas to me it's just in my mind like i can't differentiate between that book versus that book about what you are doing with this particular is giving each of these books a new life. can you talk a little bit about doing this work because i think it also resonates with everything that lucy is saying and just the different identities. we can tell you multitudes. it's all these other kind of conversations we have languages for different parts of ourselves into different parts of our lives and i feel like you are doing something similar. >> did you want to go first? >> when i first read this book and you are right we need to bring this across so the generations have different senses of the appeal. when i read this book i was
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9-years-old in the attic of my house in brooklyn new york and i found an old book upstairs in my father's box of stuff that i wasn't supposed to be in. i wanted to find out what she had to say so i read the book in about three days and i'm named after my grandmother. when you see it in the 80s it's for the message of the
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80s and with every generation there is a new flyer, but you also may need to reread it because as you say we are different people every time. it meant this to me and then the lived experiences now gives you something been there, done that. it's important that we freshen them up and bring them back out, but as i started saying september, 1937, how much of 1937 is still important today? is still relevant today? it stays relevant know how matter how much things change. >> we are going to talk about
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the covering. in 2018 after we published which i also highly recommend, alice walker took us to florida and we went to the grave. it was the first time that alice walker had been there since she went in 1976 i believe it was and so while we were there, you know, we were praying and quietly i was asking for her to speak to me, let me know what she wants and how she wants me to do things and so shortly thereafter, that's when i came up with the idea that in repackaging the books they should be done by african-american artists and surely that was from her. then like last week i was looking at the history makers and charles harris because i
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want to make sure he's part of our 35th anniversary and one of the things he said as he wanted to make sure all of the books were done by african-american artists so during his lifetime they primarily were but not since he left the press officially and so, it's nice to bring that back with that vision and what we've done is asked artists because we want our literature you know, how powerful we were when we were together. now we are all separated in some kind of way, so we are trying to bring it back as she would want based on her words and her love of her people. we have an artist package it and then inside on the back flap
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there's a bio of why this word he spoke to him and what it means to have his work on the covers so we have different artists, different backgrounds and we presented them with the titles and they all decided which ones they wanted to work on. you see the majority but we do have three it shows the creativity, ingenuity and that is what she would have wanted. [applause] we have about five minutes left, and i want to make sure everybody heard some of these books are available here but
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also there's going to be a box set with all of them it is done in a beautiful box designed by charlie. so look out on january 7th for the promotion you may get a chance to receive one of those for our ladies at this point, i
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think it's important that you have an opportunity to get your voice out there because so often it is muffled, stifled, you don't hear what goes on and the struggle for them to get published. it's an ongoing situation so it's good to see. not only as a writer, anthropologist but as an individual who was willing to take a position from social, cultural political issues of the day and to be transformative you take those things and graph them
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into novels, there are some lessons that we can distill from that. >> so which one are you going to recommend? [laughter] more than anything, let's let jennifer go ahead. i would recommend her short story honestly. i first read the original complete story that had henry louis gates and then is released an extended version with a foreword that i think we all adored and was amazing. i just love the short stories because she keeps them short. they actually are short and there is such a variety. you hear from white people,
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children, adults, men, from the collective. it's a great learning tool i think just to see the variety not just of what she did, but what you can do. >> straight lit with a crooked stick. i would have to recommend that is the academic side of me. the significance of this book and the information that it brings to society is critical because it is solitary. now, charles johnson, middle passage fascinating, wonderful information from the time we got it from, but nothing gets down to it like barracuda we know
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about the middle passage but what about being hunted, being caged, waiting for months in a cage at the shore with a ship that will take you from your homeland to someplace else you don't know where? then to go through all of that and the only documentation first-hand account we have of what it was like in the colonies with the maroons and the running away and what it was like to get back on another ship to wind up perhaps in new orleans stepping off the ship onto the auction block. what it was like to live through the precarious social institution of slavery to have a family, to have a wife,
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children, to see them all die. to get no chance, even after the end of that institution, to get no chance with dignity to live your life. but you go away and die at the hands of the police, still. the more things change, the more things stay the same. we just have to make sure that we don't lose track of the truth because just because the history doesn't mean it's not the truth. just because it is bitter in your mouth and sticks in your throat doesn't mean that it's not the truth. so it may be uncomfortable, but it tells the tale that everyone needs to know to find out one of
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the furthest starts that is now the african-american way of life. thank you. >> that was a microphone drop. [laughter] >> i'm a teacher. for sure. [laughter] thank you. >> i love every time i read it it brings tears to my eyes. i mean, what you lived through, phenomenal. so also like that breathtaking and emotional read and then funny stuff like the short story about a man who was fooling around on his wife and then his friends tell him we see your wife walking around town with
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and ask. i love her range. one of my favorites with death traps on the road. i love the way she writes it and if you are ever doing a memoir, you should read it. i know not everything is completely accurate, but she tells a fabulous story, and her life was a fabulous story and i feel honored for amistad to be on our team and thank you, everyone. congratulations. thank you all for joining us and closing out the festival with us. if you would like signed copies for anybody that purchases it will go over to that table as well. i would welcome the following amistad on instagram. that's where you might learn [inaudible] and i do believe that is it.
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thank you for coming. please bring your name card to the signing table and if you would like to learn more about the center please join us at have a good evening. thank you. [applause] >> you can watch our coverage of the brooklyn booke festival and many other festivals anytime at ♪ >> weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturdaykt american histoy tv documents america's stories, and on sundays booktv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more including charter communications. >> broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested
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billions building infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communications, along with these television companies, supports c-span2 as a public service. >> during a recent virtual event, hudson institute senior fellow arthur herman discussed how the vikings and their scandinavian descendants shaped history. here's a portion of that discussion. >> it's really the women who become the most charismatic and the most powerful, the most effective rulers all through the history of sand knave ya. -- scandinavia. what's amazing too is although the viking age and the post-viking age produced some great rulers,


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