Literary Sala Honors Black History Month


By Cynthia Simmons

Shortly after I moved to San Miguel, I joined a book club, a dozen well-read women who knew little or nothing of the work by the Black writers I grew up reading. Most years, my annual book selection for the club was a Black author. I read books by writers of other ethnicities but I wanted to introduce these women to some of my favorites—Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, arguably the star of the Harlem Renaissance; Kindred by Octavia Butler, the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship; and Song of Solomon and God Help the Child, both by Toni Morrison, who is absolutely my favorite author and who has won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Nobel Prize for literature.

This year, I thought I’d like to introduce the San Miguel community to some of these writers. I approached Susan Page about adding a Black History event to the Literary Sala’s February calendar, Black Voices, a reading of works by authors from the African diaspora. She said yes. Maia Williams, co-director of the Literary Sala and Writers Conference, and I chose a date. Then I had an oh-my-God-what-have-I-done moment. How would I decide what to read from more than 300 years of work?

Should I select a period? Maybe the 1920s’ Harlem Renaissance, the first time there was interest in Black writers, when Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, and dozens of others were published. Or should I highlight the powerful male voices that emerged during the Civil Rights era—Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin? I could read from the works of Pulitzer Prize winners. Just last year, there were four in letters and drama—poet Tyehimba Jess, critic Hilton Als, playwright Lynn Nottage, and fiction writer Colson Whitehead.

Finally I decided to do what in college is termed a survey course—i.e. start in 1890 with poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who wrote in verse and in dialect, and end with a selection from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book Between the World and Me. Then select a prominent writer or two in most of the other decades.

Kissiah Young and Harold James will join me in interpreting these authors’ words. Kissiah is a writer who is on retreat in San Miguel while she writes a spiritual memoir about leaving her American life for a ten-month sojourn in Mexico. Kissiah holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. Actor/director Harold Dean James, a San Francisco native, lived in New York City for thirty-five years before he moved to San Miguel a little over two years ago. Harold has performed on Broadway and in more than one hundred plays in New York, California, and San Miguel.

Join us at Hotel Aldea on February 28 at 5pm.

For more than 25 years, Cynthia Simmons worked as an actor, primarily on stage, in Atlanta and New York City. She has toured internationally with Sally of Monticello, her one-woman show about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.


San Miguel Literary Sala presents:

Black Voices

Wed, Feb 28, 5–7pm

Hotel Aldea, Ancha de San Antonio 15

50 pesos for Literary Sala members

100 pesos for non-members


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