If there is a more storied urban neighborhood than Harlem in the US of A, I am not aware of it. Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, New Orlean’s The French Quarter, San Francisco’s North Beach, Los Angeles’s Chinatown, Chicago’s Bronzeville—none of these represent the kind of placeness that America’s Black Mecca embodies. Now come two books— both revealing a plethora of what may be seen as magical qualities that attach to Harlem.
Harlem is Nowhwere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little Brown) by a writer, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts,whom her publisher in a fit of unbridled exuberance, claims is “a brilliant new voice who, like other significant chroniclers of places-Joan Didion on California, or Jamaica Kincaid on Antigua-captures the very essence of her subject.” If this claim is at all true lets, by all means, strike up the orchestra. Rhodes -Pitt of, course lives in Harlem and counterpoints the public history with the oral testimony and profiles of the wide swath of black humanity that calls Harlem home. The book’s ultra brief trailer and the author’s choice of a Flannery O Connor
The Writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location
and least we forget, a provocative title are some telling clues that Ms Rhodes -Pitt might have some of that Kincaid /Didion mojo going for her. Worth a look see, absolutely. Or to quote my child’s mother, “Totally.”
The Studio Museum in Harlem celebrated the fabled black enclave with an 2010 exhibition curated by it’s director,Thelma Golden, and photography historian Deborah Willis. The complementary monograph Harlem: A Century in Images (Rizzoli), that serves as the exhibition’s catalogue anthologizes some of the great 20th century photographers —Gordon Parks, James VanDerZee, Eve Arnold, Alice Attie, Cornell Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Dawoud Bey, Chester Higgins, Jr., Helen Levitt, Aaron Siskind, Bruce Davidson, Roy DeCarava, Leonard Freed, Carl Van Vechten, and Weegee and iconic images of Malcolm X addressing a crowd, Diana Ross and James Brown shedding their public masks, Joe Louis, surrounded by cheering Harlemites, and the great poet Langston Hughes. And in addition to the well reproduced images, there are, if you need to read about them, critical essays illuminating those photographs.