Actresses to read Hughes, Naylor in Sunderland

  • Sunderland Public Library Staff Photo/Domenic Poli


  • Lia Russell-Self CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Lia Russell-Self PENTTI KIMARI

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2019 7:24:57 AM

SUNDERLAND – Gloria Naylor’s debut novel “The Women of Brewster Place” begins with a poem by Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes.

Guests at the Sunderland Short Story Series on Saturday will be treated to works of both African-American authors as actresses Lia Russell-Self and Nicole M. Young help the public library celebrate Black History Month. Russell-Self reads Hughes’ “One Friday Morning” and Young is slated to read “Kiswana Browne,” taken from “The Women of Brewster Place.”

Russell-Self and Young met last year as part of a show they performed in December and that show’s director recommended they reach out to Aaron Falbel, head of adult services at the Sunderland library. Falbel told The Recorder the two selected stories that ypify the African-American experience in the United States, adding “One Friday Morning” got him “choked up.”

Russell-Self, a 23-year-old who uses the pronouns they/their, said they are honored to read a work by Langston Hughes, adding that sharing the event with Young is “definitely icing on the cake.”

“One Friday Morning,” Russell-Self explained, is about a black girl living in the northern United States.

A resident of Austerlitz, N.Y., which they said is 7 minutes from the Massachusetts state line, Russell-Self said they identify with the story that is familiar to many African-Americans.

“I’m excited to do it,” said Russell-Self, who studied theatrical studies and creative writing at Bard College of Simon’s Rock.

Young, of Holyoke, said “Kiswana Browne” was assigned to her because “Aaron thought I would be a really good fit for the story.”

She said she is looking forward to publicly reading a work by an African-American author because the Pioneer Valley is predominantly white, or as she called it, monochromatic.

“What I love about this is it exposes us to authors that we maybe have never heard of,” Young said.

She said she has a master’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and she has not heard much about Naylor, though she remembers watching “The Women of Brewster Place” miniseries with Oprah Winfrey in 1989.

Falbel said the short story series is in its third season and has been quite successful.

“Our audience size has been growing. It’s sort of like story hours for grown-ups. Everybody loves stories, but why should children have all the fun?” he said. “The use of actors really enhances the drama and the engagement. “The actors really know how to draw people in to the dramatic and emotional aspects of the story.

“It’s one thing to read a story; it’s another to perform it as actors know how to do,” he added.

He said works by African-American authors are particularly important due to the political and cultural climate in 2019, citing specifically the scandals involving the resurfacing of photographs of Virginia politicians in blackface years ago.

“Racial insensitivity still exists,” he said.

The Feb. 16 event is set to begin at 3 p.m.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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