Percy L. Julian


Percy L. Julian Photo:Nytimes

He’s one of the most influential chemists this country has ever known. He’s a self made millionaire and humanitarian.  Yet, many people have never heard of him. Percy Lavon Julian is THE MAN when it comes to the chemical synthesis of plant-based drugs. He was the first to synthesis Physostigmine. He synthesized the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols. His work led to the creation of cortisone, even birth control pills! These are just a few of his contributions to the world of medicine. What he does with a yam is incredible! But don’t take our word for it, find out for yourself.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library:  Forgotten Genius (DVD)

Patricia Bath

Patrica Bath Photo:Blackliberalboomer

She’s amazing. She attends Howard University School of Medicine, New York and Columbia universities. She believes everyone has a “Right to Sight.” She invents the Laserphaco Probe and procedure to improve cataract surgery results. She’s the first African American woman doctor to patent a medical invention. She’s the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. She’s the first woman on faculty at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute. Again, she’s amazing!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Firsts, 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events by Jessie Carney Smith

Gerald A. Lawson

Gerald A Lawson Photo: museumofplay

If you play Playstation or Xbox or any other gaming console and enjoy video games, you have Gerald A. Lawson to thank. A self-taught engineer who never graduates from college, Lawson is the founding father of the modern-day video game. He creates the first home gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges.  Lawson met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak pre-Apple. In fact, regarding Jobs and Wozniak, Lawson is quoted as saying, “I was not impressed with them—either one of them, actually.” This is one amazing story. Discover more.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: African American Firsts in Science & Technology by Webster, Raymond B.


Calling all artists in grades 6-12 and their parents, caregivers & educators! 

2014 Teen Summer Reading Art Contest WinnerTeen Summer Reading Art Contest Winner 2013Teen Summer Reading Art Contest Winner 2012

If you've played the Summer Reading game or been a volunteer for the program, you know that a LOT of people participate. So if your art is chosen to illustrate the teen gameboard, a LOT of people will see it! (Above are the winning entries from 2014, 2013, and 2012.) And if you submit the winning artwork, you'll also win a $100 gift certificate to Collage: mixed media art supplies and creative classes!

Download the entry form in PDF and submit your artwork by March 29th. The theme is superheroes. Good luck!


Summer Reading is made possible, in part, by The Library Foundation.

Molly Williams

Molly Williams Photo: the44diaries

Molly Williams is the first recorded woman firefighter. Her story goes a little something like this. The year is 1815. A slave for a New York merchant, Molly works as a cook in the Oceanus Engine Company in New York City. At the Oceanus firehouse, she is known as volunteer 11. Molly works with as much dedication and strength as any of the men firefighters. Her dedication and strength are put to the test during a horrible blizzard. Want to know more? Get the book at Multnomah County Library! And if you like this story, read about Dinae Mines.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Molly, by Golly: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Fire Fighter by Ochiltree, Diane 

Her bookjacketThe 2015 books are starting to arrive and I zipped through my first psychological thriller of the new year. Harriet Lane’s Her sucked me right in with a deceptively ordinary story of two mothers (though if you prefer to read about parents who dote on their children, you'd best skip this book). What a fabulously entertaining, suspenseful, well-written book. The story centers on the build-up of revenge plotted by one of the characters towards the completely oblivious other.

Told in alternating chapters by the two main characters, the interplay of reality and perception is pretty chilling. It’s sort of The Bad Seed with middle aged women. Her is a story that builds from the misunderstandings and disappointments in our lives and the twist lies in the overlooking of those matters.

I’m ready to be pulled into more psychological suspense novels in the coming year; here are a few that I'm eagerly anticipating. I hope they turn out to be as unpredictable and surprising as Her.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan Photo: Atlantafreespeech

He had a knack for fixing things. He improved the function of sewing machines and owned a sewing machine store, a tailoring shop and a country club. He invented and patented the three-position traffic light (still in use today) and the safety hood, later known as the gas mask. He and his brother used the safety hood to save the lives of city workers from a poison-filled tunnel. The U.S. Army saved the lives of many soldiers using Morgan’s safety hood. It doesn’t end there. He started a newspaper called the Cleveland Call to address racial injustice. Oh, his formal education didn’t extend beyond elementary school. That’s right, Morgan didn’t attend school beyond 6th grade!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Scientists, Healers and Inventors by Hudson, Wade




"My sadness, my story, my wantoness, my skipping
My wish and my despair, my erasure, my plantation, my chocolate
My thoughtlessness, my gracelessness, my courage and my crying
My pockets, my homework
Like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number
Oh yeah."

"Oh how your flesh and blood became the word"

Cupid Psyche 85 album cover image

By 1985, Scritti Politti's Green Gartside had fully emerged from the peripheries of the UK's indie post-punk sleeper cells into quasi-global pop brilliance.  But appearances are often deceiving and although Cupid & Psyche '85 was a top 50 LP in the States, "Perfect Way" a number 11 US single, and Green a bonafide pop pin-up for 8 months or so, it's also well-known to many of Gartside's avid disciples that Cupid & Psyche '85 was meant to operate on multiple frequencies.

Cupid & Psyche '85 is celebrated as one of the UK's most successful manifestations of pop entryism and for a couple of months that year, it seemed as though Green's cherubic smirk was on the cover of every other teen/pop music magazine.  But long-time Scritti fans knew that Green's origins came out of the late 1970s UK student/squat scene - bravely committed to a radical and austere project of DIY collectives, demystification and music that rigorously confronted its own reasons for existing (see Scritti's Early collection).  Early song titles like "Hegemony," "Messthetics," and "Doubt Beat" presumably speak for themselves. After a (now mythic and perhaps exaggeratedly apocryphal) nervous breakdown, illness, and extended convalesence, Green turned his back on "the ghetto of the Independent scene" and focused his intelligence and acumen on doing music "properly" - which (hopefully) meant hits.  Cue "The 'Sweetest Girl'" - a mellifluous, almost vertiginous, incantation to the ghostly subject of millions of pop songs.  It was a major step forward and, while not the hit Green hoped for, it was a brilliant first shot into the pop citadel.

By 1983, Green/Scritti had signed with Virgin Records and relocated to NYC - where he began to construct the individual elements that would eventually constitute Cupid & Psyche '85.  First single "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" rolled out in February 1984 and "Absolute,""Hypnotize," and "The Word Girl" followed - each single a carefully crafted, expensive, subtle dislocation of the norm.  Green never fully abandoned his commitment to rupture, to tracking the voids that fuel everyday emotions, the endless loops of logic that underpin our notions of "how things are."  His project attempted to embed deconstructive petroleum jelly in the dark recesses of "hyper-saccharine sweetness" with a strange bounce to the ounce.  He worked with some of the best, biggest, and priciest hit-makers in the industry and it all finally paid off in late 1985 when "Perfect Way" (only a moderate hit in the UK) nearly broke the US Top 10.

Of course this begged a major question for anyone invested in Green's purported project - when does pop entryism become tautology?  When a song - no matter how potentially subversive - transcends its origins of production to become, first and foremost, a glittering object - is
there still a project beyond entry into a value-commodity stream?  Reading interviews with Green circa 1983-85, it's clear that, despite his intial sense of excited purpose, he regularly wrestled with this contradiction.  And one might even argue that it ultimately did him in (as a pop star, at least).  Cupid & Psyche '85  was followed in 1988 by Provision - a modest commercial success, but tracked by many as an enervated doppelganger of C&P  85  (though "Boom! There She Was" is a classic Scritti hypno-pop white star). 

Green eventually "retired" from the music business, only to return in 1999 with Anomie & Bonhomie, a strange though compelling fission of guitar pop, airtight gloss and hip-hop, and then again in 2006 with the understated but gorgeous White Bread, Black Beer.

Scritti Politti - "Doubt Beat" (1979)


Scritti Politti - "The 'Sweetest Girl'" (1981)


Scritti Politti - "Lions After Slumber" (1982)


Scritti Politti - "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" (1984)


Scritti Politti - "Perfect Way" (1985)

Scritti Politti - "Boom! There She Was" (1988)

Scritti Politti - "Umm" (1999)

Scritti Politti - "Boom Boom Bap" (2006)


When I had a college radio show, I often played spoken word pieces by William Burroughs.  His odd cadence and bizarre subject matter made the strangeness of 3 a.m. that much more strange.  I’d broadcast the pieces into the dark quiet of the night, ghostly fog in the evergreens and the occasional glowing possum eyes outside the studio window.  After the heady description of a heroin high or alien sex, I’d follow up with something loud, dissonant and experimental.  That’s what student loans are made of.

A black and white picture of William Burroughs.  In the backgroud is a hat on a hook and an exit sign.William Burroughs instigated the Beat Generation and embodied the movement’s proclivity for drugs.  His book Junky basically made drug use glamorous.  When he lived in New York, his house (The Bunker) was like a supermarket for narcotics.  Burroughs was incredibly prolific and kept writing and speaking until his death in 1997.  His work influenced Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and more.  Punk and heavy metal owe him a debt.  He was open about sex and his own homosexuality in an age of repression.

For his 100th birthday, the BBC made a documentary about his work, life, and legacy.  For his 101st, This American Life rebroadcasted it.  It’s an unsentimental and fascinating hour of radio.  Take a listen.


I know it’s February 2015 already, but I have one last “best of” list to share.  These titles might not have made the more famous year-end lists, but they are some of my favorite books published in 2014 from across the pond.

Elizabeth is Missing book jacketElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey was billed as a psychological suspense novel, but it definitely wasn’t an edge of the seat thriller. It was an interesting exploration of aging and how disconcerting and frightening memory loss can be.  I was completely engrossed in Maud’s story and felt like I had a better sense of what the elderly go through when their minds begin to fail them.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about Jonathan Coe??? Apparently, he’s been writing novels for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I read Expo 58 book jacketone.  Expo 58 is a funny, yet serious book about a minor civil servant’s experience overseeing Britain’s pub, The Britannia, at the 1958 World’s Fair in Belgium.  Brussels is full of beautiful Expo hostesses, visiting dignitaries and Russians who may or may not be who they say they are.  Thomas Foley has no idea what he’s getting himself into when he leaves his wife and baby behind in England for six months in Belgium.

And speaking of Belgians, there’s a new Poirot! Agatha Christie died years ago and her detective supposedly had his last case in Curtain, but suddenly Hercule Poirot is back to solve another mystery in The Monogram Murders.  Sophie Hannah has done a bang-up job recreating one of the world’s most famous literary detectives.  And the plot is pretty good too.

These are just three of my favorite British books of 2014.  See my list for six more.

Portland, Oregon

February 7th, 2015

Historical Black Debutante

Photo: Oregon Historical Society


This theme wouldn't be complete without focusing on Portland's Black Community. Despite living under the harsh burden of discrimination, racism, exclusionary laws etc. Portland's Black community continued to grow and thrive. In 1883, The Northern Pacific Railways brings jobs and more African Americans to the region leading the way for a burgeoning Black, middle class. At this time, most of Portland's Black community reside in NW Portland. The community has four churches, The Rutherford Haberdashery and many Black owned Businesses. Some years later, the community has grown to include three Black newspapers, a hotel, postal clerk, shoe clerk, attorneys, stenographers, a dentist and a doctor! it's an amazing history! Check it out here, here, and here!

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: African Americans of Portland by Oregon Black Pioneers and The Ebony Princesses of the Portland Rose Festival 1967-1982 by Morris, Lenora C.

Septima Poinsette Clark


Septima Poinsette Clark

Photo Credit: www.brothermalcolm.cnet


Septima Poinsette Clark was an advocate and educator of civics education long before it became popular.  As a teacher and member of the NAACP, she pushed issues of education and equal rights. When the State of South Carolina placed a ban on NAACP membership, Septima refused to obey and lost her job and pension as a result. She, along with her cousin, started the first citizenship school to educate Black citizens in reading and writing, election procedures and government. Her name may not be so familiar, but those in the fight for Civil Rights knew exactly who she was! In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged her when receiving his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize award.


Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County: Lighting the Way by Schiff, Karenna Gore

Abominable Snowman Movie AdYetis sounded so much scarier when I was a kid. There was only one yeti, The Abominable Snowman, (the terror of the Himalayas!) His malicious smile was complemented by nails long enough to pierce a person’s heart.  These days, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and yetis are still popular, but they’ve been rehabilitated. Two recent books for children show the loveable side of yetis. In fact, I found I found them to be yeti-sized funny!Yeti Files cover

Kevin Sherry’s The Yeti Files overflows with illustrations of yeti Blizz Richard’s home in the big trees, complete with an “epic tire swing,”a “zippy zip line,” and a “highly polished fireman’s pole.” Blizz is a happy-go-lucky guy, except for his need to keep hidden. And keeping hidden when you’re that big is hard work! Especially when your cousins are careless...and your friend, Bigfoot, is missing. The Yeti files is a great choice for kids who are moving up from easy readers into chapter books.The Abominables cover

Eva Ibbotson’s yetis in The Abominables are also happy-go-lucky creatures. A little girl named Agatha gets lost in the Himalyas and discovers a small group of yetis living peacefully together. They shelter and feed her and adopt her as one of their own. In turn she teaches them all she knows about civilization and lives with them into her old age. But when the yetis’ lives are threatened, Agatha comes up with a plan to ship them to England. This dangerous plan that involves keeping yetis quiet, calm and hidden in a refrigerator truck and soon becomes a series of near misses and misunderstandings.

For more laugh-out loud funny reads for kids reading chapters, try the attached lists.

Depiction of Minerva by Elihu Vedder (1836-1923)Maybe there is a story you learned from your parents, or your teachers, that explains the world to you. Maybe they learned it from their parents, from their teachers. We don’t always think about these stories as stories, but we don’t always think about them as facts, either - they’re bigger than that. They just are.

We certainly don’t think of these stories/facts/truths as myths, but the ancient cultures whose mythologies we study and amuse ourselves with - the Greeks, the Norse, and all the many other cultures who may have been less dominant but who were no less creative and human - probably didn’t think of their foundational stories as myths, either. Mythology is a name we give to something of the past, but maybe right now we are creating, and recreating, new stories that will be the mythologies of the future.

I thought it would be interesting to see what books, music and movies came to mind for the Multnomah County My Librarians when they heard the word “mythology.” The results, gathered in a reading list called Multcolib My Librarian: Myth picks, are wildly varied. There are traditional Southwest and Northwest folktales (La Llorona and Paul Bunyan, respectively), reimaginings of ancient stories (The Song of Achilles), ballet scores and a comic book with golems in World War II (Breath of Bones). There are mythologies of the distant past (Homer’s Iliad) and nascent American mythologies of the 20th century (Chandler’s Continental Op).

What does mythology mean to you? What books (or movies, music, poetry) would you add to our list?

Black Wall Street

February 5, 2015

Black Wall Street Memorial

Photo Credit:


The year is 1921 and Tulsa, Oklahoma is booming!  As one of the most affluent Black communities in the country, Tulsa boasts of 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, jewelry stores, 2 movie theaters and 2 newspapers. There’s a postal substation, a branch of the Y.M.C.A, a hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, private airplanes and bus systems.


Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County: Reconstructing the Dreamland by Brophy, Alfred L.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

Hiram Rhodes Revels

Congressman Hiram Rhodes Revel 1827-1901

Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first Black American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Revels served from 1869 to 1871. A Republican from Mississippi, Revels was born free to free parents and attended school during a time when educating Black children was illegal. During the Civil War he recruited Black regiments. He was a preacher, educator and civil rights advocate.

Further exploration:,-Hiram-Rhodes-%28R000166%29/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress by Swain, Carol M.

Chester A. Arthur photoYou remember Chester A. Arthur, right? Twenty-first president of the United States. Served from 1881 until 1885 following the assassination of James Garfield. Not really? Don’t feel too bad -- you’re in good company.

Several years ago, I set out to memorize all 43 (now 44) presidents in order, along with the years they served. I thought it would be an interesting brain exercise and a great alternative to counting sheep when I couldn’t sleep. However, I soon found that if I neglected reviewing the list from time-to-time, I would forget some of the lesser known figures like Arthur, Taft and Pierce.

Now, this phenomenon of forgetting the presidents has actually been documented in two studies on cultural memory published in the journal Science and reported in the New York Times! The long and short of the studies is that most people can identify five or six recent presidents; the founding father presidents like Washington, Adams and Jefferson; and a small number who were at the helm during huge events in our nation’s history such as Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.Image of Presidential Seal

Maybe committing the list to memory isn’t important to you, but maybe you are interested in learning more about some of our chief executives through time. Here here are some great resources


Siqueiros Mural

I came back from my yearly trip to Mexico recently: it’s always refreshing to walk around the city of Cuernavaca where I’m from, visiting historical sites as I do year after year. This city is privileged to host the work of two great Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera painted the history of the city at El Palacio de Cortés or the Palace of Cortés and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural ”The March of Humanity” is found at La Tallera cultural center. If you want to know more about this kind art, follow me!

Muralism was practiced long ago when indigenous groups painted their ideas and important events in big displays on the sides of ceremonial and burial buildings. The splendid Maya murals of Bonampak are a simple example of this kind of art.

This artistic manifestation gained more importance in Mexico during the 20th century. The first murals were created in 1921 and the last were created in 1955, when murals lost the essence of an articulated artistic movement. There were several artists who brought a diversity of aesthetics and political influences; at times the artists' were severely criticized and censured, and even destroyed, as happened with one Diego Revera's murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

The movement is characterized by the artists' great need to express the social and political events of their times using huge platforms. In the murals, Mexicans have the opportunity to appreciate the content of their own reality and identity. The Mexican Revolution, political radicalism as an international proposal, agrarian reform, and oil expropriation inspired nationalistic artists who presented the reality of a Mexican society so devastated by these events. A group of muralist artists created the movement using the walls of important public buildings as canvases, to exalt the art and rescue indigenous and popular traditions. The three great figures of this artistic era were Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Would you like to learn more about this great art movement? Take a look at the video lecture on Maya murals below, or explore my list for further reading.


Rivera's mural




African Americans in the Civil War

United States Black Regiment Photo:Wikipedia



Have you heard of African American troops who fought in the Civil War? The 1863 Militia Act created the Bureau of Colored Troops to ensure participation of African American men in the Union Army and Navy. All-Black regiments were formed in Massachusetts, South Carolina and elsewhere. Keep in mind, although fighting for the Union, Black and white regiments were segregated. In all, an estimated 180,000 African American men fought in the Union Army and 20,000 served in the Union Navy.

Further Exploration:

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black, Blue & Gray: African Americans in the Civil War by Haskins, James and Slaves to Soldiers by Black, Wallace B.