As the days of our annual effort to celebrate Black History wind down, I offer a reading list derived from my February tweets. Idealist that I am, I suppose I hope you will make a habit of searching for and then relishing the rich cultural traditions that our American educational system has often minimized or erased.
Don’t be the victim of an incomplete education. I spent nearly 24 years getting educated, and I would have missed so much of the literature and history that now shape my vision of community, heighten my awareness of the breadth of human experience, and humble me at the stunning beauty of the resilient human soul, had I not finally, in Graduate School at the University of Miami, been exposed to brilliant voices of color. I fell in love with their words and stories, and I invite you to discover the beauty and brilliance that captured my imagination and respect. These voices have, in fact, shaped the places we call home, and it is time we recognize and delight in them. Enjoy!
Clair of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Haitian, now Miamian whose poetic prose crafts a story about the devastation of poverty, the trauma and hope of adoption, & the choices we make for the people we love. Gorgeous book!
Omeros by Derek Walcott
Saint Lucian Nobel Prize winning poet who offers a postcolonial, African, diasporic reworking of Homer in this epic poem. Caribbean poetry at its best!
A Gathering of Old Men By Ernest Gaines
Gaines grew up in Louisiana & writes better than anyone about the importance of community in our efforts to tell our own stories. For Gaines, confessing the way we participate in oppression brings healing.
An American Marriage By Tayori Jones
A remarkable novel that tracks the devastation of incarceration on a family system, the conflicting legacies our families leave us, & the ambivalent journey we all must take to claim (or even understand) agency.
I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem By Maryse Conde
Telling the backstory of a West Indian woman mentioned in the historical record & imagined first in Miller’s The Crucible, this novel troubles the history of the Americas from a postcolonial point of view.
Feminist Manifesto By Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
A Nigerian writer who also lives in the US, Adichie offers stunning clarity into how we find our normal, & how we manage our national, class, gendered & political identities.
Passing By Nella Larsen
Written out of the Harlem Renaissance about the Harlem Renaissance, Larsen writes of friendship & loyalty, the temptation to perform our race, and the fluid nature of identity. A beautiful, heartbreaking book.
Feeding the Ghosts By Fred D’Aguiar
A Guyanese poet, novelist and playwright, D’Aguiar’s novel reveals the excruciating acts of resistance that empowered the victims of the middle passage. Haunting & empowering, it stays with you.
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man By James Weldon Johnson
Johnson captures the rich creativity and cosmopolitanism of the Harlem Renaissance, all on a backdrop of racial ambiguity, power dynamics and cultural appropriation. Fantastic.
To Pimp a Butterfly By Kendrick Lamar
Pulitzer Prize Winning poet who deconstructs the American experience in stunning ways. Lamar elevates and explores the fluid nature of identity construction in the search for agency.
Between the World and Me
Black Panther By Ta-nehisi Coates
Wielding comic book power, long form cultural critique (the Atlantic) & the memoir as a force for contextualizing historical erasure, Toni Morrison calls him “required reading.” So, yeah.
Cane By Jean Toomer
Toomer’s only novel is remarkable for his fearlessness in content & form. He raises questions about the possibilities & realities of black lives in various parts of the country, showing the gap between the dream & the reality.
The Underground Railroad By Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s novel sears images of abuse and courageous sacrifice into our American collective consciousness, calling us back to a history we erased through his liberal imagination.
I’m Still Here By Austin Channing Brown
A prophetic witness to the indignities of carrying one’s blackness into nearly all-white spaces, Brown narrates her life, revealing deep wells of resistance & calling everyone to sit at a new table.
The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas
Thomas burst onto the literary scene, shaping the shared experience of a generation of young people seeking to reach across lines of difference as they understand what it means to grow up knowing BlackLivesMatter.
Blake, or the Huts of America By Martin Delaney
Written across the African diaspora in the Americas, Delaney articulates a vision for resisting racialized oppression through black nationalism. Politically intuitive, he shapes a generation.
The Women Of Brewster Place By Gloria Naylor
Naylor describes and celebrates black women, celebrating the places they belong, the homes they create and the power they display. Beautiful texts.
See, Now, Then
Autobiography of my Mother By Jamaica Kincaid
Antiguan born, Kincaid writes better than anyone on the ongoing erasure of African diasporic peoples, of the complicated mobilities/voices left in colonialism’s wake.
Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison
Ellison’s iconic text makes room in the American canon for the voices and bodies of those whose presence shape & form a nation who refuses to acknowledge their existence. DuBois’ musings come to life here.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Salvage the Bones By Jesmyn Ward
Ward crafts tales about generations and the places that shaped them, about families who survive at great cost, about systems that destroy us. She reminds me of Faulkner...
The Bluest Eye
Sula By Toni Morrison
Too many to list & too necessary to describe, Morrison writes so compellingly that literature in America had to readjust, not just to make room, but to place her stories in the center.
The Awkward Thoughts Of W Kamau Bell By Kamau Bell
Hilarious and pitch perfect, Bell describes what it means to create art as a defiant act of communal meaning making in an age of independent arrogance. You will laugh and cry, and wonder.
Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? By Beverly D Tatum
She gave sociological roots to a necessary reality: in the best hope for integration we all have to find a way to belong. The updated introduction is CRUCIAL.
Notes of a Native Son
Go Tell it on the Mountain By James Baldwin
Baldwin epitomized the beauty of Black cosmopolitanism, as black cultural appreciation rose in America, the West Indies, and France among others. Gorgeous writing.
Life on Mars By Tracy K Smith
Our National Poet Laureate, Smith is an artist, a mom, a poet, a philosopher, a prophet, and a pro. Her voice is shaping our time, in real time.
On Beauty By Zadie Smith
Everything she writes is worth reading. Her way with words is so gorgeous that one could be forgiven for overlooking the astounding insights about humanity she layers into each page. She is the best writer going...
Selected Poems By Langston Hughes
His way of capturing the angst, the pride, the grief, the beauty, the longing, the being...of black folks in America...simply can't be matched. He's better than you remember.
Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi
Capturing the migratory paths of a family, Gyasi layers intra-African journeys on top of the Middle Passage, then explores diasporic wanderings across America as figures discover & create meaningful contexts for life.
Bonus pics (because February is too short!)!
The Color Purple By Alice Walker
The Dragon Can't Dance By Earl Lovelace
Black Skin, White Masks By Frantz Fanon
Brown Girl, Brownstones and Praisesong for the Widow By Paule Marshall
The Piano Lesson By August Wilson