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Author Janet Cheatham Bell On Writing and Agency

Janet Cheatham Bell

Indiana author Janet Cheatham Bell's most recent collection of essays is Not All Poor People are Black and Other Things We Need to Think More About. Bell's been publishing books for years. The book is divided into three sections: "Discovering Personal Power," "Seeking Spiritual Power," and "Using Communal Power". It is in that last section that the titular essay appears.

Bell says, "In that essay, I basically talk about the assumptions that we carry in this society and have carried for many, many years about groups of people. And those assumptions become the way we think about groups of people, and consequentially, they stand in the way of getting to know one another."

This lesson was learned first-hand. Bell recounts that she used to put all white people in the same group, but after working in offices that were primarily white, she noticed some of her assumptions were incorrect.

Those assumptions? "All white people have money; all white people have power; all white people can do whatever they want because they don't have racism impeding them," Bell concedes. In time, however, "I discovered those things weren't true…Wow. [laughter] And those were very liberating things to understand."

A History In Literature

Bell's sonthe comedian W. Kamau Bellspoke about his mother on Fresh Air in 2013:

"She worked in the textbook industry and she self-published her own books of famous black quotations because in the 80's there were no compendiums of African American quotations. There are now because of her example."

Janet Cheatham Bell elaborates, "I sold over 90,000 copies of the two little books of quotations, and that got the attention of the powers that be and a major publisher purchased the publishing rights."

Bell has published many more books of quotations, one memoir, and two books of essays. Her latest book focuses on opportunity and agency.

See Bell Speak

On February 5, Bell will be reading from the book as a kick-off to Black History Month in the Bloomington City Hall Council Chambers. Bell will be joined at the event by author Audrey McCluskey and Elkhart Deputy Mayor Arvis Dawson. The event kicks off a series of Black History Month Programs for the City of Bloomington.

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