What They’re Reading: Sharia Benn, Founder, President, and Executive Artistic Director, Sankofa African American Theatre Company
For Sharia Benn, Baltimore’s fabled Enoch Pratt Free Library and its architecturally spectacular branches were her libraries. She recalls the smell of the books, the quiet and the booths where she could listen to albums. Sometimes, she would read grown-up books that she didn’t understand, “but they were pretty.”
Through books, she would “transcend my physical environment. They took me places that I didn’t even know existed. I met people in these books, and they became my friends.”
On March 17, Benn will present Voices of F.E.W.: The Life and Legacy of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper for a Library at Your Place virtual program.
What are you reading? I read about 20 books at a time. I have things I read for work [in insurance underwriting]. Then I have things I read for the theater, looking at plays and ideas to help my writing and build a season. Right now, I am reading Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall. I’m also reading Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble. It captured me because of the title.
Why those books? Hood Feminism is a call, a challenge, a recognition of the blind spot that the current feminists have when it comes to Black women – that they do not really include them, even today. There’s no careful thought about Black women in the things that the feminist movement is advocating for and their responses to the plight of Black women. Algorithms looks at how search engines and social media perpetuate racism and negative stereotypes and biases, mainly against women of color.
What does The Library mean to you and your work? I still see libraries as safe places. Libraries mirror what we do on stage. At Sankofa, we use stories and oral histories to tell stories and open minds. You open a book, you read it, and it opens your mind. A library houses all of that. It is a safe place, going beyond physical safety. Safety in knowing the truth, and safety in knowledge. That’s what libraries are. They are places where the community can go.