Monday, August 25, 2008

Little Black Sambo goes to university

Leave it to Gerald Early to dream up an academic symposium devoted to Little Black Sambo!

Gerald is a rare bird: a professor at a high-profile institution of higher learning (Washington University) who embraces pop culture without shame or pandering. He has written books about boxing and jazz. He has spoken about jazz and baseball on Ken Burns documentaries. He took over leadership of an academic center (The International Writers Center) founded by the legendary William H. Gass, reframed it as The Center for the Humanities, and promptly donated a bunch of comic books and toys to its library.

And, now, he brings the world "Little Black Sambo: Race, Children's Literature, and a Century of Controversy," a coproduction with Washington University Libraries, which is also curating an exhibit of books to accompany the Sept. 12-13 symposium and publishing a companion catalog.

Among other things, this event will bring to St. Louis a perhaps unprecedented concentration of black folks who write and draw books for children: Jerry Pinkney (who drew Sam and the Tigers, a retelling of the Sambo story), Floyd Cooper (who has done books about every African-American notable and his brother), and Eleanora E. Tate (a homegirl from Canton, Missouri who teaches at two places most of us didn't know existed: the Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, Connecticut and the School of Graduate Studies Masters Program Writing for Children and Teenagers at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota).

I'll be there, and I look forward to reporting a preview story in The St. Louis American before any of these interesting folks are welcomed to town. I'd recommend attending the symposium just to get your hands on the free catalog - Anne Posega and Washington Unversity Libraries produce fabulously beautiful publications.

We discussed this stuff today at a board meeting for The Center of the Humanities, held at the august Whittemore House on campus. We'll see if my fellow average joe board member Joe Pollack gets a food review out of the sandwiches and fried sweet potatoes we munched on while we all gave Gerald feedback on the symposium and a dozen other cool things we have coming up at the center.


Image from a marvelous online children's book about Sambo - drawn by children, that is - posted on some German website.