The Work of Freedom: Individual and Communal

The African American historical journey is characterized by a commitment to engaging in the work of freedom, while remaining focused on service of self and community. Each rung on liberation’s ladder has been forged by a collective handhold which grasps elusive promises and boldly builds toward tomorrow.

The selected works in this series tell the story of the significance of both solitary and communal moments of reflection and transformation. Careful examination of these pieces advances the perspective that the lessons of freedom have been reborn throughout African American history and that those lessons have served to nourish each succeeding challenge.

J. California Cooper’s novel, Family, portrays the anguish, courage, triumph and tenacity of one family whose struggles with the horror of slavery reflect the collective experience of the African American will to endure and succeed. Cooper carefully illustrates many complex layers of the institution of captivity through a structure which portrays those who were in power and those who were disenfranchised.

In a rare series of journeys between the twentieth century and the nineteenth century Octavia Butler explores the realities of slavery through the vehicle of science fiction. She carefully guides us through the emotional turmoil of the institution known as slavery through a modern day lens. The result creates a unique perspective that envelopes the reader in a need for freedom and reconciliation.

This theme is part of the Let’s Talk About It: Picturing America series. Other themes in this series include Land of Opportunity, Making Tracks, Objects of Art, and Places in the Heart.

Book List

  • Family by J. California Cooper
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Selection of poetry:
    • “America” by Langston Hughes
    • “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon” by Gwendolyn Brooks
    • “Tornado Child” by Kwame Dawes
    • “the times” by Lucille Clifton
    • “Double Dutch” by Gregory Pardlo
    • “Looking for Bodies” by Patricia Smith
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler

Related Picturing America Images

  • 17A—The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence
  • 17-B—The Dove by Romare Bearden
  • 19-B—Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965 by James Karales
  • 20-B—Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear

Program Brochure

Quraysh Ali Lansana, Director, Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing; Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing, Chicago State University. Developed in collaboration with Emily Hooper Lansana Theater and Literary Arts Curriculum Supervisor, Chicago Public Schools.

Download the scholar's essay and recommended reading list (PDF). Please note: The American Library Association is the copyright owner of this essay and annotations. The credit lines embedded in the program materials and/or sponsor and funder logos must remain on all published (print and web) materials derived from these materials.

How-To Discussion Programming Guides

Developed to aid participants in “The Millennium Project for Public Libraries,” this how-to guide (PDF) provides basic information about developing and promoting book discussion programs.

When planning a “Let's Talk About It” program, you may wish to consult the planner's manual (PDF) for general how-to information about program format, selecting a scholar, promoting your series, evaluation, and more.