February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month and though I try to constantly read more diversely I encourage you to inject cultures different than your own into your read. I will mention books that I’ve both read and books that I really want to read because they’ve come highly recommended. This is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, memoir and essay, historical fiction and fantasy – there’s something for everyone regardless of your taste.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s.
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – Nonfiction essay-style account of Baldwin’s confrontation of the black man in America in civil-rights era, read this when I was 20 and it changed my life. I have to reread this one to make a full review but know that James Baldwin is my favorite writer just because of this book and my goal this year is to read another book by him. He checks serious diversity boxes as he was also openly gay.
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty – A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.
- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill – Abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom―and of the knowledge she needs to get home. Sold to an indigo trader who recognizes her intelligence, Aminata is torn from her husband and child and thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War.
- The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince – a short and quick read of the life of a West Indian slave and her confrontation of British slavery. My full review here.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society.
- We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo – in this era of immigrant crisis this is an excellent read that covers both a black girl growing up in Detroit and her story of her migration from Zimbabwe. My full review here.
- Another Country by James fucking Baldwin – Published in 1962, this is an emotionally intense novel of love, hatred, race and liberal America in the 1960s. Set in Greenwhich Village, Harlem and France, ANOTHER COUNTRY tells the story of the suicide of jazz-musician Rufus Scott and the friends who search for an understanding of his life and death, discovering uncomfortable truths about themselves along the way.
- Purple Hibiscus by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie – Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter.
- We Should All Be Feminist by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – A short 50 page essay that confronts the patriarchy and the solutions that we as a society are responsible to implement in coming generations. My full review here.
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.
- Kindred by Octavia E. Butler – The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland.
- Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis – In these newly collected essays, interviews, and speeches, world-renowned activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. Reflecting on the importance of black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism for today’s struggles, Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today’s struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine.
- They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery – A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it. Conducting hundreds of interviews during the course of over one year reporting on the ground, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; and then back to Ferguson to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.