Book club joins Baltimore area literati


August 29, 1999|By Christina Bittner | Christina Bittner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MEMBERS OF the Pumphrey-based Ebony Eyes Book Club are making their mark on the Baltimore area's literary scene. In addition to playing host for appearances by authors at their meetings and at local bookstores, they have been asked to serve as the focus group for author Van Whitfield's new book.

Members will also be volunteering at the Baltimore Book Fair in September.

The club was organized six months ago by Pumphrey sisters Lisa HammAck and Pamela Jones for women to explore the works of African-American writers.

"Books by black authors are plentiful," HammAck said, "but most people don't know about them. Black authors write science fiction, romance, histories, genres. These are great books, but the publishers don't publicize them."

HammAck scours local bookstores and studies book reviews in magazines and newspapers to find them. She will make a list of titles that look interesting and ask bookstore owners to order them. The books become part of her personal collection, and potential subjects for the club.

The 30-member group comes together once a month for a lively discussion of a selected book. "It's a great social time; it relieves stress. Last month, we discussed the works of author Valerie Wilson Wesley. Her main character is Tamara Hale, a private investigator and a former police officer," HammAck said.

One of the club's members is a Baltimore police officer who was able to point out all of the research that the author had to do to make to book believable.

The meetings at members' homes are so popular that their families are becoming interested in joining. "We formed the club for women, but the husbands are reading the books also. We are considering opening three of our meetings up so the husbands can come too; then we will work on a group for the children."

For the club's first year, HammAck selected all of the books. The meeting's discussions are initiated by a questionnaire developed by HammAck that members refer to while reading the book.

"One question is, `If the author was here, what would you ask him?' We focus on character development, story line and word usage," HammAck said.

In May, Ebony Eyes was fortunate to have author Van Whitfield attend a meeting. He is the author of "Beeperless Remote" and "Something's Wrong with Your Scale."

Whitfield was so impressed by the members' insights into his work that he asked them to be the focus group for his next novel.

HammAck contacts authors via e-mail and invites them to attend Ebony Eyes meetings.

"With Mr. Whitfield, I sent the e-mail, and the next day he responded that he would come," HammAck said. "I couldn't believe it. He's located in Landover, but I didn't expect an answer so soon."

She said the authors are excited to hear that people are reading and enjoying their works. Authors have been so impressed by the quality of the discussions that the club is receiving advance copies of new publications.

For anyone considering forming a book discussion club, HammAck suggests finding out what friends may be interested, then have an organizational meeting to select a regular meeting time. Next, decide on the first few books that will be discussed.

"Get a feel for the people who will be involved. Encourage them to bring new titles and refer books to the members. Then you can vote on them for future discussion," she said.

Information: Send an e-mail to

Ready for the Millennium?

Planning for New Year's Eve 1999? Celebrate with the Sons of American Legion Post 34, which invites the public to ring in the millennium at its party.

The celebration will begin at 8 p.m. Dec. 31. A donation of $25 will include a steak dinner, beer, soda and setups. Music will be provided by Scorpion DJs.

Reservations must be made in advance.

American Legion Post 34 is at 5526 Belle Grove Road.

Information: 410-789-9682.

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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