New Woodbridge resident Rev. Antona Brent Smith brought her literature and marketing business with her from St. Louis. That company, Tayé Foster Bradshaw Group, LLC, is the name of her marketing business and her pen name. Her late father called her Tayé; Foster and Bradshaw are family names on her maternal side.
Perhaps the part of the business that brings her the most joy is her summer reading program for black middle and high school students, the Hurston and Hughes Literary Circle.
“I love books and I’m a writer,” she said. “I spent my childhood in libraries and my whole house is filled with books. I believe in the power of stories to impact lives.”
Rev. Smith began the 10-week summer reading program to ensure that black students saw themselves represented in literature. At the time, she recalled, her local school district said “To Kill a Mockingbird” represented diversity. “They were not placing equal weight or emphasis on the canon of black writers and kids were feeling this, and I thought, ‘this is something I can do.’”
Since she began the program in 2009 it has become significantly easier to find books she feels will be relevant to the students.
Every year she chooses 10 books with a mixture of current young adult novels, poetry and essays, classic fiction and nonfiction. “I don’t require them to read all 10 books in 10 weeks – that’s a big ask. But I want to introduce them to different styles of writing and help them find something that speaks to them.” Each week they discuss the book, its message and how it relates to their life. She also encourages them to write about the books.
Last summer the program went virtual and included students from all over the country. “We discussed the pandemic and George Floyd and the stories gave us a vehicle, a tool for them to navigate and work through all these social and cultural issues.”
This year’s program will be virtual again. Normally the program is held in coffee shops, parks and libraries.
The program, which will run June 1 – Aug. 3, is not a remedial program. Some students join because they’re interested in learning more; others join because their parents want them to improve their skills.
Rev. Smith is married to Dr. Dwyane Smith, the new CEO of Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Their youngest daughter, Keziah, is a junior at Amity Regional High School.
Visit hurstonandhughesliterarycircle.com/ to learn more, see this year’s list of books and to register for the program and for additional information contact firstname.lastname@example.org