Poet Haki Madhubuti speaks in praise of libraries

November 5, 2011

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Among the belt-tightening measures Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed to ease Chicago’s budget woes were $11 million worth of cuts to city libraries. The proposed cuts included reduced hours for all library branches and over 350 staff layoffs.

His plan has not been well received. More than half of Chicago aldermen protested earlier this week by sending a letter to the mayor to express their displeasure. Cultural denizens have spoken out against the cuts, too.

As of late Friday, Emanuel responded by announcing plans to restore more than $3 million dollars to the CPL budget and reducing both the number of layoffs and the number of weeks libraries would face shorter hours.

Nevertheless, libraries will still see reduced staffing and reduced hours under his latest proposal. And in an era of Amazon, of Tivo, and of the Kindle, some ask "What good is a library?"

Try asking this question to poet Haki Madhubuti, if you dare.

Madhubuti, best known for his affiliation with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, is the founder of Third World Press, now the largest independent black-owned press in the country, and founder and director emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University.

At a recent reading sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council, he described how, as a child, he would hide in the libraries of Detroit and read and read. The cool, quiet spaces were a refuge from the harsh realities of his fatherless childhood and his mother’s early death. They were also the place where he went to discover the great works of literature that sparked his young imagination, works like Black Boy by Richard Wright.  

“What saved this boy,” he said, referring to himself in those precarious years, “was libraries.”

That’s nothing short of a life or death argument from one poet. Hear him make his case in the audio above, and decide for yourself.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Haki Madhubuti spoke at an event presented by the Illinois Humanities Council in October. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.