Each February, many readers come to the library to check out the latest titles on Black history. Don’t read history books? No worries! Whether you enjoy historical or literary fiction, thrillers or fantasy, romance or mysteries, here are some recent books that immerse us in the lived experiences of Black Americans throughout our history.
By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register, by Piper Huguley.
This captivating novel relates the true story of a forgotten fashion designer who overcame the indignities of the Jim Crow South to dress high society. Then, at the height of her career, just days before the posh nuptuals of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier, a flood in Lowe’s shop ruins several dresses, including the bride’s.
A Woman of Endurance, by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa.
Even surviving the endless brutalities confronting enslaved forced laborers of Puerto Rico’s El Paraiso sugar cane plantation was more than many could hope. For Pola, surviving was just the beginning. A harrowing story of chattel slavery in the Caribbean.
Empty Vows, by Mary Monroe.
In this sequel to Monroe’s Mrs. Wiggins, generous and kind hearted widow Jessie Tucker decides it is high time she had someone to look after her, setting her sights on newly widowed Hubert Wiggins, an upstanding leader in Lexington, Alabama with secrets of his own. Intrigue and romance in midcentury South.
Anywhere You Run, by Wanda M. Morris.
As simmering racial violence burts into flame in the summer of 1964, sisters Violet and Marigold Richards have no choice but to flee their Jackson, Mississippi home. This meticulously researched historical thriller brings the everyday terrors of the “Freedom Summer” for those who were not yet truly free.
Black Cloud Rising, by David Wright Faladé.
The Black freedmen of the African Brigade risked worse than death fighting for the Union and to free the enslaved during the American Civil War. Among their ranks, Richard Etheridge moves toward an uncertain future, while enduring present indignities that feel an awful lot like the supposed past.
The Monsters We Defy, by Leslye Penelope.
For residents of Washington D.C.’s Black community in the 1920’s, life – to quote Langson Hughes – “ain’t been no crystal stair.” Small wonder, then, that they should turn to magic to right the more than occassional wrong. Vivid historical fantasy, deeply rooted in fact.
One Shot Harry, by Gary Phillips.
Hardboiled LA Photojournalist Harry Ingram suspects an auto accident involving an old Korean War buddy is anything but accidental, following a trail of corruption and white supremacist backlash to the Civil Rights movement, and the upcoming visit of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
We’ve got some amazing author programs and community events planned for February, from Lambda Award-winning novelist Annalee Newitz to Bonnie Garmus, author of the bestselling novel “Lessons in Chemistry”. The Fifth Avenue Theatre is also back with a Sondheim show talk and the South Park Branch is hosting a movie screening with former Washington State poet Claudia Castro Luna.
Many events require registration, but all Library events are free and open to the public. Find information and registration through the event links below or at spl.org/Calendar.
Annalee Newitz With Misha Stone — “The Terraformers”:From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m, Friday, Feb. 3, at Third Place Books, Ravenna. Science journalist, podcaster and Lambda Award-winning novelist Annalee Newitz will discuss their highly anticipated sci-fi epic, “The Terraformers,” a science fiction epic for our times — and a love letter to our future. Newitz will be in conversation with Misha Stone, Reader Services librarian and Vice-Chair of the Clarion West Writers Workshop board.
Ladies Musical Club Concert:From noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8 at the Central Library. The Ladies Musical Club concert this month features solo piano works and songs for soprano, including performances by Tiina Ritalahti (soprano), Joan Lundquist (piano) and Joyce Gibb (piano).
Virtual It’s About Time Writers’ Reading Series:From 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9. Online. Join us for this virtual event hosted by the Ballard Branch, featuring Amanda Hartzell, Sylvia Pollack, and Jared Leising. New and experienced writers are always welcome to read for a three-minute open mic.
Show Talks With the 5th Avenue Theatre – The Genius of Sondheim: From 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11. Central Library, Level 1 – Microsoft Auditorium. In this special musical tribute to one of “the most revered and influential composer-lyricists” in Broadway history, artistic director Emeritus of the Fifth Avenue Theatre David Armstrong will share fascinating insights into Sondheim’s life, times, and career. This event will also include musical performances by guest artists.
Virtual Writers Read:From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12. Online. Presented in partnership with the African-American Writers’ Alliance, this monthly reading series features an open mic and selected author readings from local writers who read from their diverse repertoires of poetry, short stories, novels and essays.
“Pelo Malo” with Claudia Castro Luna and Milvia Berenice Pacheco Salvatierra:From 6:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., Friday, Feb. 17 at the South Park Branch. Join us for a Spanish-language screening and discussion of the film“Pelo Malo,” facilitated by guest curator and former Washington State poet Claudia Castro Luna and Milvia Berenice Pacheco Salvatierra of Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle. This event is supported by The Seattle Public Library Foundation and the Gary and Connie Kunis Foundation. Ven a ver la proyección y discusión de la película en español “Pelo Malo”, facilitada por la curadora invitada Claudia Castro Luna y Milvia Berenice Pacheco Salvatierra del Movimiento Afrolatino Seattle.
Bonnie Garmus presents “Lessons in Chemistry”:From 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23. Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium. Bonnie Garmus will discuss her national bestselling debut novel “Lessons in Chemistry,” which tells the story of Elizabeth Zott, “a formidable, unapologetic and inspiring” (Parade Magazine) scientist in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show. The event will include a public signing and audience Q&A.
Lily Yu discusses “On Fragile Waves”:From 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, February 25 at the Central Library. Join us for a reading and conversation with E. Lily Yu, winner of the 2022 Washington State Book Award for Fiction. “Devastating and perfect” is how the New York Times Book Review described “On Fragile Waves,”the haunting story of a family of dreamers and tale-tellers looking for home in an unwelcoming world. Yu will be in conversation with Jenna Zarzycki, a librarian with the King County Library System and a Washington State Book Award judge.
Mask use is strongly encouraged and additional safety precautions are in place: Library staff are fully vaccinated, the Library offers free masks and hand sanitizer to patrons at sanitation stations, and all Library locations have high-quality ventilation and air filtration.
Higo 10 Cents Store, owned by the Murakami family and a social hub in Seattle’s Japantown, has a long and fascinating community and family history. Meet Me at Higo welcomes younger generations to connect with and explore what it means to be Japanese American. Today, Higo 10 Cents Store (or Higo Variety Store) is KOBO at Higo and is still located at 604 South Jackson in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
From February 1st through March 26th, the Central Library Gallery is hosting Meet Me at Higo, a traveling exhibition by the Wing Luke Museum. Visitors will immerse themselves in archival photographs, journals and letters from the Murakami family—the original proprietors—as well as goods such as ceramics, toys, and textiles sold there through the 20th century until it closed its doors in the early 2000s when Masa, the last surviving member of the Murakami family, retired.
Founded before 1910 (dates are variously given as 1907 and 1909 depending on the source), Higo 10 Cents Store, which was later renamed Higo Variety Store, became a center for Japanese Americans who came to the Pacific Northwest to as migrant works in the railroad, agriculture, and fishing industries. The Japanese population grew into a neighborhood called Nihonmachi (Japantown or J-Town), a hub of culture and community located in the International District-Chinatown, less than a mile from the Central Library. At Nihonmachi’s heart was Higo, a central point of connection for the community, providing imported and local goods that local residents relied on to make their homes feel familiar and comfortable as well as a place for people to meet and connect.
On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which created an “exclusion zone” based on xenophobic and racist hostility towards Japanese Americans in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The order authorized brutality towards and surveillance and arrests of community members, subsequently escalated to forced relocation of Japanese Americans within the exclusion zone by April of 1942. An estimated 126,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps. The Murakami family was interned at Minidoka concentration camp.
Once the Murakami Family was able to return to Seattle and their store, they found it untouched, in large part thanks to concerned neighbors, and were eventually able to reopen. As more people were released from incarceration, Higo became a meeting place for a shattered community to come find news of lost or missing family members, refurnish or reclaim lost items, and reconnect with community.
Even though Higo Variety Store is closed, you can still visit it today in a new incarnation in the same location. Now called Kobo at Higo, it boasts a gallery space which displays work from artists of Japanese heritage and sells imported and local goods. The owners have lovingly preserved the interior as it was, and curates historical unsold items that were once part of Higo’s inventory. They work closely with the Wing Luke Museum and historians to honor the legacy of Higo as a beloved meeting place for Japanese Americans through the tumultuous 20th Century.
We invite you to come and meet Higo, and discover an intimate slice of Seattle’s 20th century Japanese American history through the eyes a remarkable family by visiting us this February and March in the gallery located on 8th floor of the Central Library.
Now a nonprofit, BOBE started as a collaboration of organizations and individuals to support, educate, inspire and elevate businesses that are owned by underserved business owners in Washington State.
As a Library community partner, BOBE members offer their business and finance expertise to the broader community through Library programs and elsewhere.
In honor of the symposium, we’d like to take you behind the scenes to meet one of BOBE’s leaders. Tierra Bonds, owner of Take Charge Credit Consulting and BOBE board member, has a passion for service, entrepreneurship and providing education that aligns with BOBE’s mission.
“BOBE’s purpose is very similar to the mission of my company, which is to provide necessary resources, support and education to underserved Black business owners and individuals in an effort to reduce the racial wealth gap,” says Tierra. “BOBE meets this mission with a focus on entrepreneurship and Take Charge does so with a focus on credit.”
In this Q&A, Tierra shares her connection to BOBE, the story behind her credit business and how she’s partnering with the Library to Business program to provide credit repair and education to the people who need it most.
You’ve been very involved with Black-Owned Business Excellence as a board member and member of the planning team. How did you get involved with BOBE and how does its mission connect to your business?
I attended BOBE’s Second Annual Symposium and was taken away with the support that was available for not only small businesses, but specifically Black-owned businesses. As a business owner, I had never felt that level of support elsewhere. I started attending BOBE meetings, thanks to an invite from The Seattle Public Library’s Jay Lyman [who manages the Library to Business program]. Shortly after, I was asked to become a board member.
BOBE’s purpose is very similar to mine, which is to provide necessary resources, support and education to underserved Black business owners. BOBE meets this mission with a focus on entrepreneurship and Take Charge does so with a focus on credit.
What are you most looking forward to in the annual BOBE symposium?
I am really looking forward to the educational workshops because I always learn valuable information that I can immediately implement into my business. This year, we added a focus on nonprofits based on feedback from the community and have three nonprofit management workshops, which I am looking forward to because starting a foundation is an idea of mine as a means to further provide credit repair to the underserved while eliminating the money barrier.
How did you start Take Charge Credit Consulting and why the focus on credit?
I started Take Charge Credit Consulting in 2017. Prior to that, I was working at the Department of Corrections and. I loved the work that I did but it felt limited in how much I could help people in the community. Because of the limitations with freedom, income, and ability to make a difference in the world, I became interested in starting a business and began researching different options. Credit consulting stood out as a feasible and much-needed service because I noticed that many of the existing credit companies came off as unethical and untrustworthy. It became my mission to be the credit resource for my community since credit wasn’t something that we were taught in school.
Black-Owned Business Excellence workshop
How has Take Charge evolved during that time?
Initially I started the business to help people in my network understand the credit process and repair their credit. I now have clients all over the U.S., although the majority are in Seattle and Tacoma. Recently, I began learning and understanding about systematic racism and racial disparities and how much of a role that credit plays in the racial wealth gap. To build wealth two common ways are entrepreneurship and home ownership. In both of those scenarios, credit is often necessary. Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by lower credit scores compared to other racial demographics and, as a result, have less access to the credit they need to achieve entrepreneurship and homeownership.
And when they do have access, they are paying much more. For a recent article I wrote for the South Seattle Emerald, I had reached out to industry experts to get a real-life example of how this credit gap plays a role when building wealth.
A Seattle mortgage lender ran two pricing scenarios for 30-year mortgages for a $625,000 home in south Seattle (the median home cost for the zip code at that time). A person with a credit score of 677 (the average credit score for Blacks) could secure a loan with an interest rate of 4.125% and a monthly payment of $2,877.61. A buyer with a credit score of 734 (the average credit score for whites) could get a loan with an interest rate of 3.5% and a monthly payment of $2,666.20. Calculating over the life of the loan, the Black family would pay an extra pay an additional $2,536.92 a year in interest or $76,107.60 over the life of the loan.
If that $2,536.92 a year is invested in an investment account over that same 30 years at a modest 1.5% interest rate, it turns into $110,000, further widening the racial wealth gap.
I now have a deeper mission for Take Charge Consulting. Credit is a tool that we can use to reduce the racial wealth gap and by providing credit repair and credit education to underserved communities we are making progress. In order to address the racial wealth gap, we have to address the racial credit gap.
You’ve used The Seattle Public Library’s business services. Can you tell us more about that?
I originally became connected with The Seattle Public Library’s Library to Business program after learning about the services from a colleague. I was in the process of expanding our collaborations with a focus on partnering with organizations to provide credit education and credit repair to underserved communities. I was able to use the Library’s market research services through one-on-one consults to identify which organizations would create beneficial partnerships. I was also able to benefit from the Library’s free one-on-one legal consults with UW Entrepreneurial Law Clinic to provide direction in new areas of my business.
You have partnered with the Library to teach credit workshops and offer one-on-one credit consults. You’ve also said that your own experiences with credit have made you more relatable to people you’ve worked with through the Library and clients.
I wish that I didn’t have experiences with bad credit because bad credit is expensive and I could be further in life without those challenges.
However, those experiences allowed me to really understand where my clients are and provide viable solutions for them. Being able to relate to my clients allows them to open up to me more, which is helpful so that we can get down to the root cause.
Why is credit so tough to talk about?
The stigma that comes with bad credit is something that I would like to change. There are so many different reasons for poor credit, like medical debt, a loss of a job, reduced income, lack of knowledge, and an event like 2020. It’s not fair for us to judge ourselves or others for bad credit. Instead we should be sharing resources and making a decision to take charge and do what we can to fix it. Our work can be that light at the end, guiding people out of their situation and helping release any shame, guilt or embarrassment around it.
We all know that Seattle is fantastic, but only fantasy readers know just how much so. Seattle not-quite-as-we-know-it has appeared in many fantasy novels. Urban fantasy fans will be familiar with Kat Richardson’s classic Greywalker series, in which psychic sleuth Harper Blaine solves crimes along the natural and supernatural faultline that passes right through our fair city. Readers of epic fantasy will recall that Terry Brooks’ trilogy of prequels – starting with Armageddon’s Children – revealed the origins of the Tolkeinesque realms of Shannara to be a struggle between elves and humans in a post-apocalyptic Seattle beset by plague and devastation. Here are some more recent Seattle-based fantasies for you to try:
Marion Deeds’ Comeuppance Served Cold takes us back to Jazz Age Seattle, where a band of misfit magickers struggle to ply their curious trades in a charmed dockside speakeasy while evading the watchful eye of the Commissioner of Magi, even as the chaperone he has hired to mind his errant daughter prepares to rob him blind. Magical Seattle on the brink of the Great Depression makes a marvelously gritty backdrop for this intriguing fantasy caper. More, please!
Amidst the sideshow flim-flam of Seattle’s 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, telekinetic Wilhelm and gifted illusionist Jack find love, and the youths join forces to overcome the nefarious guardians who are manipulating them to their own greedy ends. Shaun David Hutchinson’s Before We Disappear is an irresistible mix of Seattle history, mystery, and romance.
The titular Souljacker of Yasmin Galenorn’s paranormal romance thriller is an errant tattoo-artist vampire wreaking havoc in the Blood Night district of Seattle. Human police aren’t interested, so succubus Lily Bound teams up with chaos demon Archer to restore order after a weretiger is mysteriously slain in Lily’s sex salon.