Books related to Black history have been banned in libraries and schools in multiple states amid debates over critical race theory.
Teton County Library, however, is encouraging readers to check out books that tackle issues such as race and Black rights. In honor of Black History Month, library staff are displaying a selection of works by Black authors.
Curator Leah Shlachter said that Black History Month is an opportunity to have critical conversations in a time when these books are hotly contested. She came into the KHOL studio to tell us how she selected the showcased titles.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. It was recorded on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Leah Shlachter: I wanted to bring contemporary writers, and I wanted to bring classic writers like Richard Wright and Maya Angelou—books that people are familiar with and also books they may not have heard of. I deliberately chose authors that Teton County Library has brought here in the past. So, we brought poet Claudia Rankine, and I put her book “Citizen” out there.
We also had Tiana Clark, who is a poet, and her collection “I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood” is featured on our display. She was our last in-person presenter right before COVID shut everything down. We were investigating power from all different angles, and her topic was trauma and writing. And so it was kind of appropriate to have her right before we went into this huge period of collective trauma.
Hanna Merzbach/KHOL: Do you have a personal favorite out of the collection?
Shlachter: I do really like bell hooks’ “Communion: The Female Search for Love.” I thought that was a really wonderful feminist take on friendship and love. I read that several years ago, and it sticks with me. There are so many books that we could have included, and I could have included a lot of our collection that we have, but there just wasn’t enough space.
A lot of critical race theory is getting challenged in high schools. So, some of the books that are heavily challenged and being accused of teaching critical race theory—like “The 1619 Project”, which was curated by Nikole Hannah-Jones with The New York Times and Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “How to Be an Antiracist” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me”—these are all books that some politicians are trying to ban from high school reading classes. So, these are on display for anybody to read and get themselves more context into American history.
KHOL: Why is it so important to be displaying these kinds of books in the library and putting them in front of community members?
Shlachter: I think it’s important to keep these books available for people to read so that we have an accurate depiction on American history and what is our history, and to have books not written just about African Americans, but by African Americans.
These histories don’t show up just in February for Black History Month. These are everyday issues for everyone. So, these materials are available for people to check out all year long.
KHOL: The nationally renowned author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates is scheduled to speak at the library in April for your annual Page to the Podium event. What should we expect from this?
Shlachter: Ta-Nehisi is scheduled to do a 10-minute reading. We initially booked him in 2019, so right before the pandemic. So, it’s been a long time coming, and we’re excited to finally bring him. So, I’m excited to have critical conversations in Jackson and push the work forward for equity and equality in terms of race and to come together as a community to talk about what our responsibilities are to each other at this point in American history.