LeFoster reading to children during a storytime
A diverse group of rapt toddlers focus their attention on LeFoster Williams. It’s storytime at North Portland Library during a crisp fall morning. With each turn of the page, one child runs up to him to see close-up which creature’s identity will be revealed beyond its ears. They sing with him. They stretch and exclaim as their excitement builds. For the toddlers, it’s a typical storytime. For the library, it affirms an organizational priority.

As a library assistant at North Portland Library and a member of the Black Cultural Library Advocates (BCLA) staff group at Multnomah County Library, LeFoster is helping the library champion equity and inclusion. The BCLA group, from LeFoster’s perspective, is a positive and safe space for him to collaborate with his colleagues. The team members coordinate work on programming and outreach and share experiences, including microaggressions in the workplace or leveraging contacts and resources from their personal networks. To him, the library’s executive-level support of this group helps amplify their work to make positive changes in how the library serves Multnomah County’s Black community.

And there is much work yet to be done. Oregon has a well-documented past and a systemic foundation of exclusion and racism. Public libraries, too, have a troubling legacy of excluding Black communities and focusing services and resources on white, more affluent communities. For most of its history, Multnomah County Library’s workforce was not diverse or representative of the community it serves. That began to change in 1998, when the library started offering materials and service in Spanish. Since then, the library has added materials and service in Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Somali. That focus has come through placing “Knowledge, Skills and Abilities” (KSA) competency designations on certain positions. In 2007, the library established the Black Cultural Competency KSA, which is now a feature of 24 staff positions at the library, including all members of the BCLA.

A Portland native, LeFoster has seen dramatic changes to Northeast Portland and Multnomah County affecting the Black community. In spite of many Black families’ eastward migration to “the numbers” in East County, he says “North Portland Library is still the Black branch.” He points to that branch’s unique collection, which includes the Black Resources Collection, the Black Pacific Northwest Collection and a robust selection of urban fiction, which he has been devouring as of late.

When he’s connecting with people outside the library, the first reaction LeFoster often observes is surprise. “They hire people like you?” younger people often ask. A Black man with dreads working at the library isn't what they expect. Then, the next question: “Do you get paid or volunteer?” He assures them it’s a real job and says “they hire people like you, too!”

When he’s off work, LeFoster is a champion for the library with friends and family. He says that there’s a lack of awareness about the library as a Black resource. “A lot of people are worried about fees,” he says. “They don’t know that library cards are free. I want to show them that the library is welcoming for all people.”

LeFoster is deeply involved with his community. Outside of work, he is active with this brother, Christopher, in connecting with young people. Together, they make music, which he says is his main passion in life. The brothers also travel to high schools to work with Black student union groups. They discuss issues like personal development, Black pride and figures who changed the world, like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.

“When I was young, I had people who looked out for me. Some young people today don’t have that,” LeFoster says. “I want to give back. I want society to look at Black youth differently. I want youth to know that they have to let people know they are somebody, through the way they carry themselves — through their character and personality.”

Author Nova Ren Suma
Nova Ren Suma is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Walls Around Us, which was an Edgar Award finalist. She also wrote Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone and is co-creator of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology. Her most recent book is A Room Away From the Wolves. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from the Hudson Valley, she spent most of her adult life in New York City and now lives in Philadelphia. She'll be at the Portland Book Festival on November 10. We asked her a few questions in anticipation of the festival.

 

Where do you look for inspiration for the supernatural and paranormal elements in your books?

I’m not sure I go looking for ghostly and strange inspiration for my stories — it just keeps on finding me. I honestly don’t like to be scared in my usual everyday life and would prefer to keep the creeping otherworldly fears and scares on the page only, but if you have an eye open to it, you’ll find supernatural inspiration everywhere. Almost as if it follows some of us. For example, while away for a reading last week I discovered that I was booked into the most haunted hotel in the city I was visiting — and I hadn’t even asked for it! With trepidation, and also because I couldn’t help myself, I Googled to find out the history of the hotel and discovered that a haunting disturbance happened on the 14th floor … which, you guessed it, was the floor my room was on. I had trouble falling asleep, so anxious I’d experience something. But when I woke up in the morning, completely unscathed and having seen nothing, I was kind of disappointed, too. Now a little idea from that hotel has entered my mind, and I can’t seem to shake it. See how I didn’t go looking for it and it found me anyway?

 

How do you stay connected with your teen audience when teen culture constantly evolves?

My last year in high school, I was voted “Most Individualistic” for the yearbook… which is just another way of saying I was weird. I think these are the teen readers my books connect to most of all: the teen readers who know they’re different, who don’t fit in, and who want stories that don’t fit so easily into a box either. The wonderfully weird and unique teen readers—my books are meant for them. And that crosses all generations.

 

What books are on your nightstand?  

There is a teetering tower of books beside my blue reading chair, some of which I’ve started, and some of which I long to start. They include: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Hunger by Roxane Gay, Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera, The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin, and a YA short story anthology edited by Lamar Giles called Fresh Ink. But very top on the pile is the latest issue of Tin House magazine, on the theme of “Poison,” which landed in my mailbox yesterday.

 

What’s the most exciting part of the work you do?  

I started off writing stories only for myself — I never imagined so many people would read them. When I sit down and think about that, really think about that, it terrifies me the way it would have if I’d actually seen a ghost in that hotel room on the 14th floor last week. But it also thrills me at the same time. Late last night I got a personal, heartfelt email from someone who loved one of my books, and has read it over and over. They said it saved them at a difficult point in the past. I haven’t been able to reply yet because it moved me so much. The most exciting thing in the world is writing a book that could mean that much to someone else.

 

What are you looking forward to at the Portland Book Festival?

I’ve been wanting to attend the Portland Book Festival since I became a published author, back when it was still called Wordstock, so this feels like a long-held dream finally come true. I’m excited for my own panel with Elizabeth Acevedo and Brendan Kiely, because I think it will be such a great conversation, but also top on my list is to just be in the audience soaking in the wisdom of some of my favorite writers, including Alexander Chee, Eileen Myles, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

 

 

We honor National Native American Heritage Month with events for kids and adults.

Abstract image of dreamcatcher

For kids and families

Dream Catcher Weaving

Learn the history and mystery behind the dream catcher while weaving your own to take home.

Saturday, November 3, 1:30–3:30 pm
Albina Library

Sunday, November 4, 2:30–4:30 pm
Rockwood Library

Wednesday, November 7, 5–7 pm
Gresham Library

Monday, November 12, 2–4 pm
Capitol Hill Library

Native American Indian Storytelling and Drumming

Listen to stories, songs and drumming from the Kalapuya people of the Willamette Valley.

Friday, November 9, 4–5:30 pm
Fairview-Columbia Library

Saturday, November 10, 11 am–12:30 pm
St. Johns Library

Thursday, December 20, 10:30 am–12 pm
North Portland Library

Native American Jewelry Making

Learn to use traditional items such as bone beads and leather to create jewelry. Make a beaded necklace, a choker necklace or beaded earrings.

Saturday, November 10, 2–3:30 pm
Midland Library

Tuesday, November 20, 4–6 pm
Fairview-Columbia

For adults

PDX (Pretty Damn X-traordinary) Native Film Night

This special event showcases the diversity, perspectives and stories of Native peoples from across the Northern Continent with a documentary film, panel discussion and short films.

Thursday, November 1, 7–10:30 pm
Hollywood Theatre
4122 NE Sandy Blvd

Edible Native American Plants

Learn about traditional Native American food plants like huckleberry, cedar and sweetgrass, as well as plants used for basketry and medicine.

Various dates and libraries.

Ethnobotany of Kalapuya

Learn about traditional plants (ethnobotany) and cultural heritage of the local Kalapuya and Chinook tribes and how to make a traditional tule duck decoy.

Sunday, November 11, 2–4 pm
Hollywood Library

A Shared City: Native Americans in Early Portland History

Portland historian Tracy Price talks about the recently uncovered and neglected part of Portland’s Native American history. See rare photos and hear early stories about Native Americans in Portland.

Sunday, November 11, 3:45–4:45 pm
Rockwood Library

Native American Art of Oregon

Learn how Oregon’s tribes showed artistic expression via basketry, canoes, longhouses, beadwork, burial platforms and rock art.

Saturday, December 1, 3–4:30 pm
Capitol Hill Library

 

These events are made possible by The Library Foundation through support from The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Fund.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her debut novel is Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Rojas Contreras' essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, Guernica and Huffington Post, and she has received numerous fellowships and awards. She is also the book columnist for KQED Arts, the Bay Area's NPR affiliate. She'll be at the Portland Book Festival on November 10. We asked her a few questions in anticipation of the festival.

Your book Fruit of the Drunken Tree is about the experiences of two sisters growing up in a gated community in Bogotá, contrasted with the experiences of their live-in maid, a child who grew up in the slums. Why tell the story from the perspective of children?

Children have a naked way of understanding the world. When thinking of the universe of devastating things Colombians have to contend with—war, abuse, betrayal—I was interested in knowing what a naked understanding of those things could be. Is it possible for some Colombians to be mostly unaffected by the civil conflict because they are protected by their class, while others will experience the full brunt of violence also because of their class? That was the reality of Colombia in the 90s, and I wanted to write about what this reality was like for girls. 

One of the perks of being a librarian is recommending books, but sometimes we'd like to be on the receiving end. What's the one book you'd like to suggest for us and why?

How about three? Rita Bullwinkel's Belly Up because it gave me so much joy, Samantha Hunt's The Dark Dark because it reminded me that at any moment we may meet the delicious surreality riding beneath the surface of our lives, and If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim because it's an immigrant saga that packs a lot of heart.

What books are on your nightstand?   

I am reading Freeman's Power issue, and Elaine Castillo's America is Not the HeartBoth are indelible companions to me right now. 

What’s the most exciting part of the work you do?   

The most exciting part is an empty room, an endless supply of matcha, my blue bathrobe, my fingers on the keyboard, the blank page. 

What are you most looking forward to at the Portland Book Festival?

I am really looking forward to This is America: Race and Family. It has a knockout line up with Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nicole Chung and Luis Alberto Urrea. I am very excited to hear them speak. Also Lidia Yuknavitch (!) who is speaking with Aminder Dhaliwal, Ling Ma and Leni Zumas on the subject of women at the end of the world.

During the month of October, the following book groups are discussing books by Ursula K. Le Guin to celebrate what would have been her 89th birthday on October 21.

Read the book and join the discussion:

Cover of The Left Hand of Darkness
The Left Hand of Darkness

Gresham Library
Thursday, October 4, 2-3 pm

St. Johns Library
Tuesday, October 9, 1-2:30 pm

Kenton Library
Tuesday, October 16, 6:30-7:30 pm

Woodstock Library
Tuesday, October 16, 6:30-7:45 pm


Cover of The Late of Heaven
The Lathe of Heaven

Central Library
Thursday, October 4, 2:30-4 pm

Hillsdale Library
Tuesday, October 9, 6:30-7:30 pm

Gregory Heights Library
Monday, October 15, 6:30-7:30 pm

Rockwood Library
Friday, October 19, 10-11:30 am

Northwest Library
Tuesday, October 23, 6:30-7:45 pm


Cover of Lavinia
Lavinia

Midland Library
Wednesday, October 17, 1-2:15 pm


Cover of The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed

Hollywood Library
Thursday, October 18, 6:30-7:45 pm


A Wizard of Earthsea
A Wizard of Earthsea

Holgate Library
Saturday, October 20, 10:30 am-12 pm


Cover of No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters

Hollywood Library
Thursday, October 25, 6:30-7:30 pm


Check at your library to see whether a book group copy of the book is available during the month before each meeting.

Ursula K. Le Guin was a member of the Friends of the Library and Pageturners is supported by a generous grant from the Friends of the Library.

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