No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
“You can’t walk straight on a crooked line. You do you’ll break your leg. How can you walk straight in a crooked system?” Lewis Michaux was born to do things his own way. When a white banker told him to sell fried chicken, not books, because “Negroes don’t read,” Lewis took five books and one hundred dollars and built a bookstore. It soon became the intellectual center of Harlem, a refuge for everyone from Muhammad Ali to Malcolm X. In No Crystal Stair, Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines meticulous research with a storyteller’s flair to document the life and times of her great-uncle Lewis Michaux, an extraordinary literacy pioneer of the Civil Rights era. “My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I’m taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could never sell books to black people are eating crow. I’d say my seeds grew pretty damn well. And not just the book business. It’s the more important business of moving our people forward that has real meaning.”
Primary Source Pairing:
In the Author’s Notes, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson writes “I did my best to tell Lewis’s story using facts where I could, filling gaps with informed speculation, making this a work of fiction.” Historical fiction allows the reader to peer into a time of history and experience it first hand. No Crystal Stair is a hybrid of historical fiction as there are primary source materials throughout the book that support and further the plot of this book. Readers have the opportunity to do primary source analysis almost at the turn of every page. Invite readers to use the NoCrystalStair_ReadersBookmark to guide their analysis as they read. The primary sources within the text provide a deeper understanding of the life and times of the bookseller, the Professor, and the revolutionary Lewis Michaux.
Questions for Discussion:
- Examine the primary source.
- What do you notice first?
- What is happening in the image?
- What does the document tell you?
- Find something small but interesting.
- How does this primary source help you understand Lewis Michaux?
- What questions does this primary source answer? What questions do you still have?
Related Primary Source Pairing:
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore