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African-American books draw diverse crowd

BOYNTON BEACH: They were black, white, Caribbean, Jewish, Protestant, young and old.

United in a love of reading, they sat down at the Boynton Beach City Library Saturday afternoon to talk about the story of a black girl who prays for blue eyes. For the first meeting of the African-American Book Club this year, about 20 members joined in conversation about Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye.

With questions from Oprah's Book Club to guide the discussion, the group explored the story through Morrison's writing techniques -- then probed a world of other issues. Racism. Violence. Beauty. Women's liberation. Victimization. Anger.

Welcoming disagreement, group members shared ideas about the meaning of Morrison's multilayered story of an 11-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by her father.

The African-American Book Club has been tackling complicated texts like Morrison's for five years. The group was started by popular demand when readers wanted Dorothy Walker to start a club to augment her monthly book reviews in The Village Beat, a now-defunct newspaper about the black community in south Palm Beach County.

"The mission is to learn more about our culture, appreciate our culture and share it with others," Walker said.

Judging from what club members say, it seems to be working. Barbara Gottlieb, 69, who lives west of Boca Raton, said she's learned a lot in the past five years. The bottom-line lesson, she said, is that everyone's the same, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

"I've learned they're people like all of us," said Gottlieb, who is Jewish. "They have food and songs, like we all do. They want the best for their families, like we all do. We all basically hope for the same thing."

Betty Jones, 74, of Delray Beach, said she joined to get away from the "boob tube." And because she likes to read and hear different ideas.

While reading The Bluest Eye, little things struck Jones, who is black. The book was set in Ohio in 1941, and though Jones was growing up in Florida at the time, she recognized the soap the characters used and how they straightened and curled their hair with newspaper.

Marguerite Elskoe joined after moving to Delray Beach last winter because she wanted to see what black people are expressing in literature.

"The books are written by African-Americans, and I'm African-American," she said. "I like to see their slant on life."

The African-American Book Club meets the first Saturday of each month at the Boynton Beach City Library, 208 Seacrest Blvd.

By Patty Pensa
Staff Writer

September 2, 2001

For more information call Walker at 561-364-0138.

Patty Pensa can be reached at or 561-243-6609.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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