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Nichelle Hayes shares her vision for library’s Center for African-American Literature and Culture

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This fall, Indianapolis will have a new space dedicated to literary and creative achievement in the Black community. In October, Central Library will open a new Center for African-American Literature and Culture, giving the public an opportunity to learn about Black history and take part in community-oriented events that celebrate the African-American experience. Funded as part of a $3.1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the center will be a space dedicated to the work of African-American writers, including the work of local authors.

Publishing industry gatekeepers have often considered books by African-Americans unmarketable to white readers. Authors who decide to self-publish their work often find it difficult for their books to find their way onto the shelves of a library. The Center for African-American Literature and Culture aims to share the stories of local and/or self-published authors in its new collection, though exact numbers regarding how many books in the collection will be from local authors are currently unknown.

Nichelle Hayes, librarian and member of the library’s African-American History Committee, has been appointed program specialist of the Center. Hayes is anticipating the Center’s grand opening in seven months and is hard at work planning and preparing.

“Right now we are working on the collection development plan. We are also working on changing the space so we can have more interactive areas. By October, we will have 10,000 new volumes in the space. Our core will be local authors, and we will spotlight some people who are self-published,” said Hayes.

Hayes, a native of Indianapolis, had a love for reading at a young age and often took part in the library’s summer reading programs as a child. Hayes considers herself a lifelong learner with a passion to share knowledge with the community.

“We would like people who are not part of the African diaspora to learn about the rich culture of Africans all over the world, and here in the city. We would like for young people to know they can do anything they have an interest in doing, and we would like the materials in this Center to reflect that,” said Hayes.

The Center for African-American Literature and Culture will be located in the 3,990-square-foot Robert B. Annis West Reading Room at Central Library. Its targeted opening will correspond with the 100th anniversary celebration of Central Library. In addition to offering the community 10,000 new pieces of literature, Hayes would like to host author fairs, forums, art exhibits, poet visit and writers workshops.

Her vision for the Center is for it to become a meeting place for the Black community.

“We hope it will become a third place, not work or home, but a third place to gather and talk with others, study, think and deepen our understanding. We know that books are transformative and very powerful, but in addition to books we also want to have dynamic programing. We are hoping to create dialogue and offer programing for children and teens. Part of what we want to do is shed a light on things that aren’t necessarily spotlighted. Sometimes what we (Black people) have done is hard to find (information about) and not always spotlighted. I would like people to say if I want to dig deeper, then I come to the Center.”

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