Here at Story Time Teen, we know that art is both political and powerful. That's the idea behind our Read & Resist series, which recommends three books and a non-profit organization, all centered around a current event or modern-day injustice.
Baltimore's been in the news a lot recently. The current administration's decision to target this city and its African-American representative, Elijah Cummings, echoed of Trump's other recent attacks on politicians of color. His use of the phrase "infested" was especially loaded.
We know that the President's view of Baltimore is tinted by his own racist political lens. So we wanted to offer another perspective on Charm City. To that end, we're recommending three books set in Baltimore and a local organization that you may want to consider supporting. These book recommendations seem especially fitting since one of Baltimore's nicknames is "The City That Reads."
Same, Baltimore. Same.
Book: The Beautiful Struggle
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Premise: Paul Coates was an enigmatic god to his sons: a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and new-age believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization. Most of all, he was a wily tactician whose mission was to carry his sons across the shoals of inner-city adolescence—and through the collapsing civilization of Baltimore in the Age of Crack—and into the safe arms of Howard University, where he worked so his children could attend for free.
Among his brood of seven, his main challenges were Ta-Nehisi, spacey and sensitive and almost comically miscalibrated for his environment, and Big Bill, charismatic and all-too-ready for the challenges of the streets. The Beautiful Struggle follows their divergent paths through this turbulent period, and their father’s steadfast efforts—assisted by mothers, teachers, and a body of myths, histories, and rituals conjured from the past to meet the needs of a troubled present—to keep them whole in a world that seemed bent on their destruction.
Memorable Quote: “I did not know then that this is what life is - just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you're swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.”
Book: Charm City
Author: Madison Smartt Bell
Premise: With a writer’s keen eye, a longtime resident’s familiarity, and his own sly wit, acclaimed novelist Madison Smartt Bell leads us on a walk through his adopted hometown of Baltimore, a city where crab cakes, Edgar Allan Poe, hair extensions, and John Waters movies somehow coexist. From its founding before the Revolutionary War to its place in popular culture—thanks to seminal films like Barry Levinson’s Diner, the television show Homicide, and bestselling books by George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman—Baltimore is America, and in Charm City, Bell brings its story to vivid life.
First revealing how Baltimore received some of its nicknames—including “Charm City”—Bell sets off from his neighborhood of Cedarcroft and finds his way across the city’s crossroads, joined periodically by a host of fellow Baltimoreans. Exploring Baltimore’s prominent role in history (it was here that Washington planned the battle of Yorktown and Francis Scott Key witnessed the “bombs bursting in air”), Bell takes us to such notable spots as the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill, as well as many of the undiscovered corners that give Baltimore its distinctive character. All the while, Charm City sheds deserved light onto a sometimes overlooked, occasionally eccentric, but always charming place.
Memorable Quote: “Three or four hundred years ago, the roads I’ve walked with my friends in Baltimore were bison trails, ‘bear-brakes’ ... or maybe just trackless, virgin forest.”
Book: A Spool Of Blue Thread
Author: Anne Tyler
Premise: “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . ” This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love with Red in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate an indefinable kind of specialness, but like all families, their stories reveal only part of the picture: Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s parents, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to the grandchildren carrying the Whitshank legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn house that has always been their anchor.
Memorable Quote: “The trouble with dying is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending.”
And, before we go, we want to highlight Baltimore's very own Art With A Heart organization, which provides over fourteen thousand art classes every year to some of Baltimore's most overlooked and vulnerable communities. They've completed over a hundred public art projects and work with everyone from students to homeless folks to seniors.
You can support them by clicking here.