Black History Month In Books
-(February is Black History Month but this display stays up year round)
First off, let’s be clear, without Black History there would not be American History.
Dedicating just a month to the contributions of Black Americans seems inadequate at best. Nevertheless, given the opportunity, we’re always thrilled to highlights some favorite and impactful books! Below is a list of classics you may recognize as well as more recent and noteworthy titles receiving praise, all by black authors:
These are the books you likely read in school. But don’t let that deter you from picking them up again – or for the first time! Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison, especially for me, are masters of prose and both titles are regular contenders for the elusive Great American Novel.
“One of the most incredible writers I’ve ever read. Often criminally overlooked when he should be in the same breath with the often cited titans of American literature – Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. There’s just not enough words of praise to heap onto Ellison’s work. The man could write a sentence. Also check out Juneteenth.” -Matt!
The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood,” and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.
The new edition from Restless Books!
Restless Classics presents The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois’ seminal work of sociology, with searing insights into America’s complex, corrosive obsession with race and the African-American conscience. Reconsidered for the era of Obama and #blacklivesmatter, the new edition includes an incisive introduction from rising cultural critic Vann R. Newkirk II and stunning illustrations by the artist Steve Prince.
In fourteen chapters that move fluidly between historical and sociological essays, song and poetry, personal recollection and fiction, The Souls of Black Folk frames “the color line” as the central problem of the twentieth century and tries to answer the question, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?”
“This book is a guidebook to being human. Love, pain, abuse, redemption, death, hope — Hurston captures all of them in pitch-perfect, lush dialect, and with heartbreaking, soul-growing empathy.” – Katie P.
First published in 1937, here is Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved story of Jani Crawford, a proud, independent black woman and her evolving selfhood through three marriages-a classic that is recognized as one of the most important American novels of the 20th century.
“Before he was 40, Wright dominated literary America, publishing four books in seven years, each a triumph in its genre. His first novel, Native Son (1940), sold at the rate of 2,000 copies a day, making Wright the first bestselling black writer in the country’s history.” – New York Times
Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright’s powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
The 2016 National Book Award Winners
The National Book Award Winners last year for Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Young People’s Literature represent some of the best literature America has to offer and are all relevant to both today’s climate and Black History.
If you didn’t read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad when Oprah told you to this summer, now is the time.
“Like other novels about human history’s heaviest crimes, The Underground Railroad is a study of the soul in extremities. Cora, the steel-willed protagonist, escapes the hard labor and sadistic punishments of an early 19th-century Georgia plantation into a life lived perpetually on the run. If slavery was a trap, her hard-won “freedom” is little better than that of a hunted animal.” – Bethany.
This is Whitehead at its best and is a moving, poignant book as relevant now as ever.
Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped From the Beginning tells the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history.In shedding much needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose the man in the process, gives us reason to hope. It is urgent and important, and is the perfect National Book Award winner for right now.
With the final volume of the MARCH trilogy, Congressman John Lewis and his co-authors are finally getting the recognition they deserve for telling the story of the Civil Rights movement through a graphic novel. The trilogy as a whole chronicles the movement and John Lewis’s life and is perfect for communicating this powerful story to kids everywhere.
Fantastic New Fiction
“Both heart warming and heart wrenching, I was glued to the pages of Homegoing. Gyasi’s tale of a family split apart is told through many generations of characters, each with a unique voice. I felt connected to each as their stories wove together to form a powerful novel I won’t forget.” – Consuelo
“Y’all. The hype for this book is 100% deserved.” – Demi
“The story of Nadia, Audrey and Luke is a classic one – a boy meets girl story of the choices we make, the secrets we keep, and the relationships that won’t let us go. Brit Bennett’s debut hooked me from page one. She’s an incredibly talented storyteller. I can’t wait to start selling this one!” – E.J.
“I read The Mothers at a very particular moment in my life, and I feel like if it had been any other time, it would have meant something entirely different to me. And that’s the beauty of this novel. While the big secret is revealed up front, I hesitate to say too much about the plot because I think the way the story unfolds will reach its audience, and especially women, in various ways. It’s a study of motherhood and womanhood in all its complexities and layers. Bennett is a writer I look forward to following after this thoughtful debut.” – Consuelo
“I was astounded at the very first page of this breathtaking novel. Exploring themes of discovery and loss, it packs a powerful punch with its sharp honesty and melodic prose. I will cherish it alongside my all-time favorites.” – Consuelo
Running into a long ago friend, sets memory in motion for August, a woman who once lived in a Brooklyn where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t anymore. For August and her girls, Brooklyn was a place where they believed as they walked the streets and confided in each other, that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where men reached for them in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted their nights and mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars.
“Roxane Gay is the perfect writer to capture all of the emotions of the year — she doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and both her Twitter feed and her essays are insightful and laugh-out-loud funny. She is never afraid to call people out, and says exactly what I am feeling whether it’s about celebrity deaths, reality TV, or the election.
Difficult Women, as a coworker said to me, is about both difficult women and women who are in difficult situations. Perhaps it is the dedication of the book itself that says it best: “For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature.” These women do not apologize for who they are, nor should they. The stories feature all kinds of modern women, each as vivid and compelling as the last, and we watch as they transform in front of our eyes and face their problems.” – Abby
Also Fantastic New Non-Fiction
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
The life story of Coretta Scott King—wife of Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), and singular twentieth-century American civil and human rights activist—as told fully for the first time, toward the end of her life, to Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds.
Coretta’s is a love story, a family saga, and the memoir of an extraordinary black woman in twentieth-century America, a brave leader who, in the face of terrorism and violent hatred, stood committed, proud, forgiving, nonviolent, and hopeful every day of her life.
From racial profiling to police brutality, microagressions to Black incarceration, this book unpacks some of the struggles Black Americans face every day and confronts one of the most central questions of our time. What does it mean to be Black in America?
While the title of this book looks back at Baldwin’s work, award-winning writer Jesmyn Ward curates and introduces an anthology of short nonfiction to engage the question of race in the United States today. She has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and voices, a mix of established and emerging writers, who shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future.
“‘Explaining your life to a world that doesn’t care to listen is often more draining than living in it,’ is the central thesis of Phoebe Robinson’s first book. I have so many complicated feelings about this book. On the one hand, I hate that another black person has to explain black experience to white people. Of course we need to welcome to all experiences. But at the same time, I want Robinson to spend her time living her fullest life–being funny and getting the opportunity to showcase her hard-earned talent, instead of lecturing to white people about the history of black hair or critiquing casting calls for women and POC or writing an open letter directly to the next female President. But as I sank further into the book, I could tell that living her fullest life is exactly what Robinson is doing. She fills this pseudo memoir with her individual flavor of humor–both the racial commentary and her personal stories offer an intimate insight into Robinson’s mind: a place you’re going to want to grab a white wine or a nice rosé and tuck in, because this is your new home, girl.” – Jan
I had to hold back from including a James Baldwin book earlier. This latest book, released with the documentary, is the most recent, but all his work is sharply relevant. A brilliant wordsmith and communicator, check out his speech in a debate with William Buckley in 1965.
Each line of narration in Raoul Peck’s remarkable film I Am Not Your Negro is taken directly from Baldwin’s writings, letters, and interviews, or video clips featuring him. The film’s starting point is the most famous book Baldwin never wrote: in his final years, he had begun work on a book about Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. His deeply personal notes for the project have never been published before. Peck’s film uses them to jump through time, juxtaposing Baldwin’s private words (magnificently read by Samuel L. Jackson) with his public statements, and assembling still images and historical clips that bring to life the fraught history of American racism.