Lit Chat with Alexander Smalls, GRAMMY, Tony & James Beard Award Winner

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Jacksonville Public Library is excited to host Lit Chat on Thursday, February 11 at 6 p.m. with Alexander Smalls. Alexander is a James Beard Award winner, Grammy Award winner, Tony Award winner, restauranteur, and author. Alexander chats with Ulysses Owens Jr. about everything from his family roots, his music, cooking, and using talents to give a voice to the people of the African diaspora. Alexander is the co-owner of the celebrated Harlem jazz club Minton’s. As the former chef/owner of Café Beulah, Sweet Ophelia’s, Shoebox Café, and The Cecil, Alexander has received great acclaim in the restaurant scene - including cooking at the James Beard house and being named one of Zagat’s 19 NYC Restaurant Power Players. Check out two of Alexander’s cookbooks in the library’s collection, Between Heaven and Harlem and Meals, Music, and Muses Recipes from My African American Kitchen.

The moderator for the Lit Chat is Ulysses Owens Jr., an artist “who takes a backseat to no one” – The New York Times – describes his remarkable ascent as one of today’s premier drummers, or perhaps, his evolution as a producer, composer, educator, and entrepreneur. Both humble in person and imposing behind a kit, he is a graduate of the inaugural Jazz Studies Program at The Juilliard School and a two-time Grammy® Award winner. Ulysses is also a native of Jacksonville and is the artist director of Don’t Miss A Beat, a local non-profit helping at giving hope to children through the arts. 

This evening is bound to leave you feeling a connection to the meals, music, and muses. Register now for your seat at the table.

READ: Alexander Smalls states in his book Meals, Music, and Muses, “It has been my life’s work to explore and exalt the food of the African diaspora- the unsung culinary heroes whose innovative farming techniques laid the agrarian economic foundation for America as we know it today.”

Here is a shortlist of memoirs from African-American chefs found in our collection.

My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir by Jessica B. Harris

Notes From A Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty


Alexander Smalls won a Grammy and a Tony award for Porgy and Bess’s cast recording with the Houston Grand Opera. Check-out Alexander’s rendition of It Ain’t Necessarily So – Houston Grand Opera on YouTube. Additionally, check-out Hoopla’s collection of Porgy and Bess. Here are two from the collection: Gershwin: Porgy and Bess, and Porgy and Bess


Alexander Smalls and Ulysses Owens Jr. make a difference in their immediate community and on a grander scale.

Don’t Miss A Beat (DMAB), founded in 2008 by Ulysses Owens Jr. and his family, inspires kids through the experience of art, music, theater, and dance, and engages kids by enhancing education through interactive participation. DMAB nurtures self-reliant families through support and training and connects communities through civic and environmental responsibility.

Alexander Smalls is a mentor to chefs around the country. He worked with a mentee, J.J. Johnson, on his cookbook Between Heaven and Harlem. In an interview with Latria Graham of Garden and Gun magazine, Alexander describes himself as “ a culinary activist for the African diaspora - people of color who essentially had been pushed out and suppressed in the storyline of America’s great culinary tradition. But at the heart of it all, I’m an artist, a raconteur. I love telling stories, no matter the medium.”

What's a cause or group are you an activist for? Talk with your family and friends about how you can make a difference. And don’t forget to join the chat with Alexander and Ulysses on February 11, 2021, at 6 p.m.

Get a Library Card

Jacksonville Public Library Card image


Want the book hook up?

Image representing the Book Hook Up newsletter sign up at the Jacksonville Public Library

Sign up to get the hottest titles in your favorite genres sent right to your inbox each month

Blog Archive