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CCNY’s Retha Powers Edits Book of Black Quotations

Cover of "Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations"

‘Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations’ is first volume of its kind

Retha Powers, acting assistant director of City College's publishing certificate program, has edited the first book to catalog more than 5,000 years of quotations attributed to black people. "Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations: 5,000 Years of Literature, Lyrics, Poems, Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs from Voices Around the World," published by Little, Brown and Co., goes on sale November 19.

The 720-page volume contains 5,000 quotes that date as far back as the time of Ancient Egypt and go through American slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Right Era and Apartheid to the present day. Its passages come from authors, artists, scientists, theologian, activists, politicians and others. Sources include the Bible, Aesop's Fables, Nelson Mandela, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barak Obama, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Bob Marley and Jay Z.

"I'm the kind of person who compulsively writes down quotations," Ms. Powers said. "An editor with Little, Brown, which publishes Bartlett's, thought I'd be perfect to produce this, and I jumped at the opportunity."

The project was expected to be finished in three years, but it took her seven years to complete. Ms. Powers conducted much of her research at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, about a mile east of the City College campus.

One of the better-known quotations in the book is "Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse," from the 1947 novel "Knock on Any Door," written by Willard Motley. In addition, several song lyrics credited to Elvis Presley were actually written by Otis Blackwell, including "Don't Be Cruel," "Return to Sender" and "All Shook Up." 

In the foreword, historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called the book "an impressively researched and documented collection of the finest thought produced by writers throughout the African Diaspora." In addition to being a reference tool, the book will appeal to quote aficionados, researchers and history buffs.

Ms. Powers, a publishing professional for more than 20 years, previously served as editor of the anthology "Black Silk: A Collection of African American Erotica" (Warner Books, 2002) and co-editor of "This is My Best: Great Writers Share Their Favorite Work." (Chronicle Books, 2005) In addition, she has had articles and essays published in "Essence," "Ms.," "The New York Times Magazine" and "Glamour."

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. More than 16,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture; the School of Education; the Grove School of Engineering; the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, and the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. U.S. News, Princeton Review and Forbes all rank City College among the best colleges and universities in the United States.



Ellis Simon
p: 212.650.6460