Bartlett’s an­thol­ogy of black quotes to cover range of ex­pe­ri­ence, emo­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY HIL­LEL ITALIE

NEW YORK For the de­but of Bartlett’s an­thol­ogy of black quo­ta­tions, ed­i­tor Retha Pow­ers wanted to cap­ture the per­sonal, the po­lit­i­cal and the artis­tic.

“When you think about black his­tory, you think about touch points like slav­ery, colo­nial­ism, apartheid,” Ms. Pow­ers says. “Those are heavy and dif­fi­cult topics. But there are also lives be­ing led and poetry be­ing cre­ated and plays be­ing writ­ten. I wanted to be able to show all of that, the will to cre­ate a cul­ture and a life.”

“Bartlett’s Fa­mil­iar Black Quo­ta­tions” has the most com­pre­hen­sive of sub­ti­tles: “5,000 Years of Lit­er­a­ture, Lyrics, Po­ems, Pas­sages, Phrases, and Proverbs from Voices Around the World.” It reaches back to an­cient times and oral cul­tures and con­tin­ues right up to rap, Mal­colm Glad­well and Pres­i­dent Obama.

In a fore­word for the re­cently pub­lished book, the au­thor and critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes that com­pi­la­tions of black quo­ta­tions date back to the 19th cen­tury and that the “field has pro­lif­er­ated with a mar­velous ar­ray of ti­tles.” But, he adds, none of the ref­er­ence works com­pares with “the scope of Retha Pow­ers’ col­lec­tion.”

The 764-page book in­cludes lyrics by Robert John­son, Smokey Robin­son and Jay Z; the hu­mor of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Ed­die Mur­phy; the ora­tory of the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jack­son; and prose and poetry from Ralph El­li­son, Toni Mor­ri­son and Maya An­gelou. Mr. Gates him­self gets a few ci­ta­tions.

Ms. Pow­ers says the idea for the new Bartlett’s be­gan about seven years ago. She was ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the Qual­ity Pa­per­back Book Club and was hav­ing lunch with Lit­tle, Brown and Co. ed­i­tor Deb­o­rah Baker (who has since left the com­pany).

They were dis­cussing up­com­ing books when Ms. Baker men­tioned that a vol­ume of black quo­ta­tions was planned and won­dered if Ms. Pow­ers had sug­ges­tions for who could put it to­gether.

“I wanted to say ‘Me!’ but felt it wasn’t quite ap­pro­pri­ate to put my­self for­ward,” Ms. Pow­ers ex­plains. “Some days later she called me and said, ‘I know I asked if you knew any­one, but would you want to do it?’ And I jumped at the chance.”

Mr. Obama’s sec­tion cov­ers 10 pages and fea­tures ex­cerpts from his mem­oir “Dreams from My Fa­ther,” his cam­paign slo­gan “Yes, we can!,” his cel­e­brated keynote speech at the 2004 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion and high­lights from his two in­au­gu­ral ad­dresses. Ms. Pow­ers in­cludes prob­lem­atic mo­ments, too, whether the “God damn Amer­ica” ser­mon by Mr. Obama’s long­time pas­tor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Mr. Obama’s ob­ser­va­tion dur­ing a fundraiser speech that some peo­ple strug­gling eco­nom­i­cally “cling to guns or re­li­gion.”

“I def­i­nitely wanted to stay in the Bartlett’s tra­di­tion of cap­tur­ing what has been the most im­pact­ful, and some­times there are those warts every­body has,” Ms. Pow­ers says.

Not all of the en­tries orig­i­nate with blacks. The an­thol­ogy fea­tures 40 pages of Bib­li­cal pas­sages, which Ms. Pow­ers says were im­por­tant to in­clude be­cause they “were a re­ally im­por­tant tool to­ward imag­in­ing a life out­side of slav­ery.”

“It was ex­tremely im­por­tant to me to cap­ture a range of ex­pe­ri­ences and emo­tions,” Ms. Pow­ers says. “We look to quo­ta­tions to dis­till life as it ex­ists in to­tal, and that in­cludes what it was and how it feels.”

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