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Art&Seek Q&A: Emma Rodgers

by Betsy Lewis 17 Sep 2009 7:10 AM

Miss Emma was the force behind Black Images Book Bazaar for three decades and now devotes all of her time to a long list of lucky North Texas nonprofits. On Saturday, a grand bash will be held in honor of her 65th birthday. Meet Emma Rodgers in this week’s Art&Seek Q&A.


Miss Emma-400Emma Rodgers ran Black Images Book Bazaar for 30 years.  Since its closing in 2007, she has kept busy as a full-time volunteer, working with causes such as the African American Male Achievement Bowl (to be held next year), Rites of Passage Program for Girls, Inc (leading tours to Ghana), the Irma P. Hall Theater Festival for middle and high school students, and the African American Museum in Fair Park. And that’s just a sampler. She even has an award named for her, the EMMA, honoring writers of Black romantic fiction.

On Saturday, TeCo Theatrical Productions will host a blow out bash at the Bishop Arts Theater Center to celebrate Miss Emma’s 65th birthday. The event is sold out, but you can wish Miss Emma an early happy birthday with this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:

Art&Seek: Your life has had such a positive impact on the careers of countless authors – have you ever been tempted to write a book yourself?

Emma Rodgers: Sure, if I could stop volunteering. My daughter-in-law Kenya says I need to learn how to say no. When I came on the board of TeCo in March 2009, I said that it was the last new organization I would volunteer with. Then David Robinson Jr. with DCCCD, creator of the African American Male Achievement Bowl, contacted me about serving on the steering committee. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to infuse the competition with some of my burning questions. For example, there are only four canopy walkways in the world – name the countries each of these are found in; or, Argentina is named after what chemical element?

A&S: What is your all-time favorite book?

E. R.: My all time favorite book is always the book I’m reading. Now I’m reading Douglass’ Women, a novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes about American hero, abolitionist, former slave Frederick Douglass and his two women who loved him – his black wife and his white mistress.

A&S: If given the power and resources, what changes would you make to improve the current state of the African American literary community in North Texas?

E. R.: I would establish a foundation or work with a foundation that is committed to literacy and other organizations such as Project Manhood that works with students. This organization would work with established organizations (sororities, fraternal organizations, churches) that have a youth component to organize book clubs, take the children to the Dallas Children’s Theater, exhibitions at museums like the “George Washington Carver: An Extraordinary Man with a Mighty Vision” at the African American Museum in Fair Park.

If I had the resources, my next project would be to fund a “Reading to the Womb” series. We would be stationed in county hospitals, at Head Start Centers, early childhood development centers on college campuses, and church and community preschools. In other words, places where you are likely to find pregnant women. We would establish some kind of reward system, like Earning by Learning for the parent.

A&S: If you could speak for one minute to the 15-year-old Emma – yourself, 50 years ago – what would you tell her?

In a power speed minute – like those disclaimers that are made at the end of a product that has 20 side effects:

You have to ask the right questions – this pearl of wisdom is inspired by Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. All that glitters in not gold – the moral of the story in Zora Neale Hurston’s novella The Gilded Six-Bits. My happiness is mine – the converse of what a Toni Morrison character said in Sula. The character said, “My loneliness is mine” – which means I’m responsible for my loneliness and conversely I’m responsible for my happiness. Nothing in life is free – you pay a price now or later. Everything is not as it appears – look for a deeper meaning, look beyond the surface, peel the onion back. Take care of your temple – eat right, plenty of fruits and vegetables, make water your beverage of choice, don’t drink coffee or smoke, consume only legal substances, exercise and walk.

Read the newspaper, and listen to the radio. I’m an NPR junkie. My 41-year-old son listens to NPR because that’s all he heard growing up. Now to get the 22-year-old to model her mother’s behavior regarding the radio will be a coup. But I must say that she does have 90.1 programmed in her car, so we are moving in the right direction. Her godmother, Sybil, also has it programmed in her car radio, so that when we are out and about I can listen to NPR. I have it programmed in my husband’s car also.

Know your directions – north, east, south, west. Always have a pen and paper in your purse, backpack, car. Use your initiative. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. Take charge when you see that something needs to be done. Don’t take everything personally. It’s a big world – everybody is not looking or thinking about you. Don’t let anyone limit your ability to grow. Life is what you make it.

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.

  • Margie Walker

    Happy Birthday, Ms. Rodgers! I’m delighted to see that you’re still teaching, reminding us that we already know “everything under the sun” and pushing us in the direction we claim to want to go. I hope you have many more years to share your wisdom and nudge us on the right track when we veer off, and provide us another reason to celebrate.

  • i.j.Lewis

    Yes,make sure you always have something to write with because no matter how many times you lose an address,there is always the last resort,send a stamped self address envelope for the address again,because the 3rd time is the charm,right Ms. Emma. Inner