Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflecting on the Life of Lawrence Guyot

Civil Rights Legend Was a Recent HCWDC Program Panelist

By: Priya Dadlani

Lawrence Guyot, who endured violent beatings as a young civil rights worker during the early 1960’s fighting for black suffrage, died November 23 at his home in Mount Rainier, MD. Guyot 73, had long battled illness.

Lawrence Guyot, Image Credit: wamu.org
Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi on July 17, 1939, Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. grew up with his father who was a contractor. Guyot attended Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. This historically black college had a few white faculty members but welcomed white students to attend. He graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology in 1963. While still in college he became concerned with human rights and equality so he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and traveled around Mississippi drumming up support for the civil rights cause through meetings and conventions.

During his fight for black suffrage Guyot was defied, incarcerated and beaten as he led fellow members of SNCC and other  student volunteers from around the country in helping African Americans in Mississippi vote. He then gained publicity and pushed more blacks to fight for their suffrage when he began serving as chairman of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This party was formed to replace the all-white state Democratic Party. Although it didn’t succeed in its primary goal, the party’s efforts paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The physical violence Guyot endured did not deter him or defeat him, and today he is known for his unwavering dedication to his cause. While incarcerated at the Mississippi penitentiary Parchman Farm, he was brutally beaten and went on a 17-day hunger strike during which he lost 100 pounds.  “It was a question of defiance,” Guyot said during an interview with NPR in 2011. “We were not going to let them have complete control over us.”
                Later in life, Guyot was pro same-sex marriage when it was illegal everywhere in the United States. Many times he reflected on the fact that he married a white woman when interracial marriage was illegal in some states, and he gave tremendously inspiring speeches on the meaning and the goal of the civil rights movement. In 2011, Guyot again lent his wisdom and experience to the public as a panelist for a 2011 Humanitini program on gentrification.

Although Lawrence Guyot has passed on, his perseverance and dedication to civil rights and human equality will never be forgotten. He has been, and will always be a true inspiration to people all over the world, fighting for a cause.  “There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you,” he said in 2004. “As Churchill said, there’s nothing more exhilarating than to have been shot at — and missed.” 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

DC Public Library Reads Reading Lolita in Tehran

Blogger Priya Dadlani Wraps DCPL's 2012 City-Wide Read

By Priya Dadlani

This year, the DC Public Library city-wide reading program, DC READS, showcased the novel Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Published in 2003, this novel was on the New York Times bestseller list for 100 weeks and was later translated into thirty-two languages. It is a memoir of the author who travelled back to Iran, her birth place, during the height of the 1979 Revolution where she routinely faced cultural conflicts. Nafisi reflects on how she taught at the University of Tehran, but was later expelled due to her refusal to wear the veil at work. She also lived in Iran through the Iran-Iraq war and later returned to teaching at the University of Allameh Tabatabei. Her personal story is beautifully woven together with the stories of her book club members, seven of her female students, who met weekly at her house to discuss forbidden works of Western literature including the controversial Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

The DC Public Library DC Reads program kicked off on October 15th and offered an array of exciting public programs through November 15th.  Programs included book club discussions on Reading Lolita in Tehran at the Chevy Chase Library, and Carver 2000 Senior Mansion, located at 4800 East Capitol Street NE. On November 13th, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the Great Hall, Elisabeth Mehl Greene's chamber opera brought a musical perspective to Azar Nafisi's novel with performances by Natalie Barrens, Carolyn Black-Sotir and Michael Langlois.

On November 15th the Takoma Park Library held an Adult Book Group for a discussion on Reading Lolita in Tehran, followed by another discussion on the novel Lolita by Nabokov. There were no shortage of opportunities to discuss Nafisi’s work, but Takoma Park offered participants the chance to have a conversation about the novel that inspired it.

 Nafisi’s novel is famous for its captivating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from the perspective of a woman scholar in Tehran; a rare glimpse of extraordinary courage in an extraordinary situation. 

The Humanities Council will sponsor DC’s next city-wide read, Live to Read, this Spring! This year’s selection will be Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham!