A Columbia University professor’s brief but dramatic take on black life and literature

Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University:

I lost my father when I was 9 years old.

The circumstances of his death are somewhat traumatic. He returned home complaining of a headache. We called the police. They debated whether or not to take him to the hospital. They said it was Friday night and he was probably drunk. He was not.

Eventually, they relented and took him to Philadelphia General Hospital. But he is dead. And I never saw him again. But I think I also started that night looking for him in all the books he left behind. So it also gave me the gift of looking for answers in books.

My dad was my first teacher and he shared his love of learning with any youngster who sat long enough to listen. And I think you can see a direct line from my dad who taught me right down to my classroom experiences.

My father loved the language of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He felt they contained ideals about human freedom that the United States had failed to live up to, especially with respect to black Americans.

The title of my book, “Read Until You Understand,” actually comes from a note my dad left for me in one of the many books he had. There was a book called “Black Struggle”. And at the beginning of this book, on the title page, he said, “Read this until you understand. You may not understand it at first, but read it until you understand. .”

I started writing “Read Until You Understand” during the 2016 presidential election. There were so many things going on that worried me about democracy. And I thought black writers, in particular, might have something to teach Americans about the values ​​of democracy and the ways we have often failed to uphold them.

My book is about a lot of things. It’s a love story for a community that welcomed my mother and me after the death of my father. It is a testimony to the dynamism and power of my father’s example. It is also a love letter to books, reading and literature.

I also hope that the book will allow people to cherish their own stories, their own quiet, ordinary, everyday experiences which, if looked at deeply, are the source of their own profound wisdom.

My name is Farah Jasmine Griffin, and this is my brief but dramatic take on black life and literature.


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