Exclusive interview with author "Farah Jasmine Griffin"
For readers who might not be familiar with your work and contributions to the study of African American literature and history, can you describe your career, background and education?
I am the author of five scholarly books and editor or co-editor of several influential volumes as well, including Who Set You Flowin': The African American Migration Narrative (1995), If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, (2001), and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics (2013). At Columbia University, where I have taught since 2001, I helped to found the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, and I served as the Department's inaugural Chair. In addition to my scholarly writing, I also have worked in collaboration with the highly accomplished musician and composer, the late Geri Allen, and Emmy-Award winning actor and director, S. Epatha Merkenson to create two theatrical productions: Great Jazz Ladies of the Apollo and Conversations with Mary Lou, based on the life and music of Mary Lou Williams. Great Jazz Ladies premiered at the legendary Apollo Theater in 2013; Conversations with Mary Lou premiered at Harlem Stage in 2014. Conversations with Mary Lou was also staged at The Kennedy Center in 2016, and excerpts have been performed in a number of venues.
Can you briefly describe what your latest book “Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature” is about?
Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature is a daughter's tribute to her beloved, late father, a scholar/teacher's insight into centuries of writing by Black Americans, and a writer's appreciation for the books and people that shaped her.
Will anyone who is interested in Black life and literature be able to dive in and digest the information presented? (is this book for everyone?)
Anyone interested in Black life and literature and American history and culture will be able to digest the information presented. This is a book for everyone who likes to read.
Why did you feel it was important to publish this book now?
At this stage in my career as a teacher, writer, and scholar I wanted to share what I have learned and observed in a lifetime of reading that thinking about African American literature and culture. I strongly believe that what I share in the book are valuable lessons that inform our understanding of contemporary issues and debates whether they be political or cultural
What would you like readers to take away from Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature”?
I hope that readers learn from and enjoy the stories I tell and take away a desire to read some of the books about which I write. I hope they will be inspired by my own passion for the material I present and discuss in the book.