“Richard Wright and the Library Card,” by William Miller

The March 5, 2023 message at Durham Friends Meeting was “Richard Wright and the Library Card,” a children’s book by William Miller and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Jeanne Baker Stinson read the book this morning. It is one of the books being distributed to school teachers in this area through our Social Justice Enrichment Project. She began with this message:

This morning I’m here to share with you one in a series of books from the Durham Meeting Social Justice Books Project.  I’m honored to be a member of this committee, to be a part of this important work, and I thank Margaret Leitch Copland for finding this book.

Richard Wright and the Library Card is a fictionalized version of an incident in Richard Wright’s life that he later wrote about in his autobiography, Black Boy.  As you all know, Richard Wright went on to be a best-selling author – writing about the often brutal and dehumanizing experience of being a Black boy, and then man, in America.  In this book he pursues his dream of gaining access to books and stories with persistence and agency and is transformed by this experience.

In my everyday life I teach first/second grade – so I read a lot of picture books. Picture Books are a powerful art form – the combination of visual art with a relatively small number of very carefully chosen words often results in a work that is more than the sum of its parts and worthy of rereading, discussion, and contemplation.

Since we don’t have time for repeated readings here, I’m going to direct your attention to a couple of things that you might not notice the first time through.

  • Notice how Richard already believed in the power of story – thus his pursuit – but is transformed in ways even he didn’t expect.
  • In addition – keep your eyes on Jim.  Jim plays a very minor and even reluctant role in Richard’s quest and yet he is changed as well.

I’m sure there’s a message here for us.

You can see and hear a reading of the book here.


In opening worship before the reading, Renee Cote read a Maya Angelou poem.

Still I Rise


You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.  Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Drawn from the Poetry Foundation website.

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