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Book fair founder says lit firm exclusion was racially motivated

The inaugural E-Town Community Literacy Fest is scheduled for 10 am Saturday, Sept. 17 at the ETHS tennis courts. Credit: Pixabay

A Black children’s author previously invited to be a vendor at an upcoming literacy festival organized by Evanston Township High School will no longer participate in the event after meeting with ETHS administrators, he told the RoundTable this week.

Darryl Harvey, the children’s author and founder of the Chicago Black Authors Network, created the Black Child Book Fair in 2019 after hearing complaints from Black parents about the lack of Black youth representation in children’s and young adult books.

“I did a little research on that, and it turns out that in mainstream children’s books, Black children are only represented 10% of the time,” Harvey said in a phone call with the RoundTable.

“I found that to be a little disturbing, and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I create a book fair for Black children and see how it turns out?’”

Children’s author Darryl Harvey. Credit: harveywritersgroup.com

The book fair, which centers on Black authors and books with Black characters and stories, has turned out to be a success for Harvey, who is now taking the idea to communities across the country.

He said he held his largest event yet in February at Malcolm X College in Chicago, where ETHS teacher Traci Brown-Powell approached him about bringing the fair to Evanston.

Harvey had already been selling books at the Custer Street Fair for a number of years, so he thought the fair at ETHS would be a great experience. Initially, the school planned a literacy fest for the end of June and invited Harvey to be a vendor, although that event was ultimately canceled due to scheduling conflicts, ETHS administrators said.

But the academic support and literacy team at the high school eventually organized the upcoming first annual “E-Town Community Literacy Fest,” scheduled for 10 am Saturday, Sept. 17 at the ETHS tennis courts at Dodge Avenue and Lake Street. Harvey met with Director of Academic Supports Jerry Succes to discuss plans for the event and Harvey’s participation.

During that recent meeting, Success expressed hesitation about using the “Black Child Book Fair” name for the festival, according to Harvey. A few days later, Succes emailed Harvey notifying him the high school would not be using him as a vendor at the event.

Harvey said he believes he was not included in the event because he centers the stories and experiences of Black children in his book fairs.

“It’s very disheartening that African-Americans, in their positions that they have, are in the way of progress,” he said. “Black culture is prevalent anyway, but you’re going to hurt your students by not allowing Black culture to represent itself. That’s not cool.”

But Succes and Associate Principal for Literacy and Instruction Kiwana Brown told the RoundTable that their decision was “not a controversy at all” but rather was motivated by the fact that the event was always going to be named the E-Town Community Literacy Fest. They said they did not want to rebrand the event under Harvey’s Black Child Book Fair moniker.

Brown and Succes, who are both Black, did not directly address Harvey’s claim that his exclusion from the literacy fest was racially motivated. They designed the event in partnership with other educators in the literacy department at ETHS, they said, and they made their own decisions on the vendors they would feature and the books they would have available.

“We have great representation from other companies and businesses that will be [there]. We have books that we are purchasing that are conducive to our environment, English books and Spanish versions, as well, for our Latino families,” Succes said. “And we have read-along books that we are doing from Young, Black & Lit, and those focus on African-American families and African-American authors.”

The literacy fest is set to take place from 10 am to 2 pm on Sept. 17, and it will feature food, games, raffle prizes and free books for everyone, according to Brown.

“We’re just really excited about having this event for the community and really showing the community that literacy is one of the priorities of this district,” Brown said. “It’s one way that we support our children and our families in the Evanston community as a whole.”

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