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By Megan Parish

February is Black History Month. This is a great time to read some books by and about African-Americans. The hashtag #ReadingBlackout was created by “booktuber” Denise D. Cooper. Check out these recommendations to have your own #ReadingBlackout:

Nonfiction

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Widely heralded as a “masterful” (Washington Post) and “essential” (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past. (Summary from Barnes & Noble)

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Americans like to insist that we are living in a postracial, color-blind society. In fact, racist thought is alive and well; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious. And as historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas in this country have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America. As Kendi provocatively illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited.

Someone Has Led This Child to Believe by Regina Louise

Someone Has Led This Child to Believe is the powerful follow-up to Somebody’s Someone, Regina Louise’s harsh, often brutal, but always compelling (Booklist) debut memoir about growing up in the US foster-care system. Louise once again plumbs her experience as one of society’s abandoned children in telling how she triumphantly emerged from the abuses and injustices of the system to not only survive but to flourish. In her new book, Louise focuses her story on what happens after the events outlined in Somebody’s Someone. The story picks up during her beleaguered adolescent years and her eventual departure from the system as she aged out and tried, against all odds, to pursue her dream of a college education. The story of her adult life culminates with her being reunited with the woman to whom she’d been closest during her fragmented childhood-and whose own long effort to adopt Louise finally came to fruition after the publication of Somebody’s Someone.

Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker

Chronicles the African American renaissance in Pittsburgh from the 1920s through the 1950s, assessing how it rivaled Harlem and Chicago as a site of black culture and influence.

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown

Manchild in the Promised Land is indeed one of the most remarkable autobiographies of our time. This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown’s childhood as a hardened, streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem has been heralded as the definitive account of everyday life for the first generation of African Americans raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and 1950s. When the book was first published in 1965, it was praised for its realistic portrayal of Harlem — the children, young people, hardworking parents; the hustlers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and numbers runners; the police; the violence, sex, and humor. The book continues to resonate generations later, not only because of its fierce and dignified anger, not only because the struggles of urban youth are as deeply felt today as they were in Brown’s time, but also because the book is affirmative and inspiring. Here is the story about the one who “made it,” the boy who kept landing on his feet and became a man. (Summary from Goodreads)

Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson

From New York Times bestselling author and star of 2 Dope Queens, Phoebe Robinson, comes a new, hilarious, and timely essay collection on gender, race, dating, and a world that seems to always be a self-starting Dumpster fire. Wouldn’t it be great if life came with an instruction manual? Of course, but like access to Michael B. Jordan’s house, none of us are getting any. Thankfully, Phoebe Robinson is ready to share everything she’s experienced in hopes that if you can laugh at her topsy-turvy life, you can laugh at your own. Written in her trademark unfiltered and singularly witty style, Robinson’s latest essay collection is a call to arms. She tackles a wide range of topics, such as giving feminism a tough love talk in hopes it can become more intersectional; telling society’s beauty standards to kick rocks; and demanding that toxic masculinity close its mouth and legs (enough with the manspreading already!), and get out of the way so true progress can happen.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

For Ta-Nehisi Coates, history has always been personal. At every stage of his life, he’s sought in his explorations of history answers to the mysteries that surrounded him–most urgently, why he, and other black people he knew, seemed to live in fear … In [this book], Coates takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings–moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s ‘long war on black people,’ or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police.

Adult Fiction

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy, the living embodiment of the New South, are settling into the routine of their life together when Roy is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. An insightful look into the lives of people who are bound and separated by forces beyond their control.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (BTW – Jacqueline Woodson is part of the 2019 SPEAK series)

For August, running into a long-ago friend sets in motion resonant memories and transports her to a time and a place she thought she had mislaid: 1970s Brooklyn, where friendship was everything. August, Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi shared confidences as they ambled their neighborhood streets, a place where the girls believed that they were amazingly beautiful, brilliantly talented, with a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful promise there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where mothers disappeared, where fathers found religion, and where madness was a mere sunset away. Woodson heartbreakingly illuminates the formative period when a child meets adulthood — when precious innocence meets the all-too-real perils of growing up.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life–and love–without the burden of his crown.

Wild Seed (Patternmaster #1) by Octavia E. Butler

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals. (Summary from Goodreads)

Well-Read Black Girl edited by Glory Edim

An inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl, on the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature. Remember that moment when you first encountered a character who seemed to be written just for you? That feeling of belonging remains with readers the rest of their lives–but not everyone regularly sees themselves on the pages of a book. In this timely anthology, Glory Edim brings together original essays by some of our best black women writers to shine a light on how important it is that we all–regardless of gender, race, religion, or ability–have the opportunity to find ourselves in literature. Contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lynn Nottage, Jacqueline Woodson, Gabourey Sidibe, Morgan Jerkins, Tayari Jones, Rebecca Walker, and Barbara Smith. Whether it’s learning about the complexities of femalehood from Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, finding a new type of love in The Color Purple, or using mythology to craft an alternative black future, the subjects of each essay remind us why we turn to books in times of both struggle and relaxation. As she has done with her book club-turned-online community Well-Read Black Girl, in this anthology Glory Edim has created a space in which black women’s writing and knowledge and life experiences are lifted up, to be shared with all readers who value the power of a story to help us understand the world and ourselves.

Young Adult Fiction

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Harlem. Ever since her body grew into curves, Xiomara Batista has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. She pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers– especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. Mami is determined to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, and Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America 

A collection of short stories explore what it is like to be young and black, centering on the experiences of black teenagers and emphasizing that one person’s experiences, reality, and personal identity are different than someone else.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Seventeen-year-old Zélie, her older brother Tzain, and rogue princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are ruthlessly pursued by the crown prince, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

When sixteen-year-old Bri, an aspiring rapper, pours her anger and frustration into her first song, she finds herself at the center of a controversy.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

When her friend Monday Charles goes missing and Monday’s mother refuses to give her a straight answer, Claudia digs into her disappearance.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (Jason Reynolds was part of 2018’s SPEAK. He also recommended some books for young adults.)

Soon after his mother’s death, Matt takes a job at a funeral home in his tough Brooklyn neighborhood and, while attending and assisting with funerals, begins to accept her death and his responsibilities as a man.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (Jay Coles will also be part of 2019’s SPEAK.)

When Marvin Johnson’s twin brother, Tyler, is shot and killed by a police officer, Marvin must fight injustice to learn the true meaning of freedom.

Children’s

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading–anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely. When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father–by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. Praise for Jacqueline Woodson: Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story, but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Piano-prodigy Isabella, eleven, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole, especially as racial tensions affect her school, her parents both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore about an ordinary girl who must use her extraordinary bravery, and a bit of magic, to save her island home from jumbies, the scary spirits that haunt the forest. Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they? When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and to save her island home.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen black boys including historical figure Emmett Till.

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott

In Brooklyn, nine-year-old Jax joins Ma, a curmudgeonly witch who lives in his building, on a quest to deliver three baby dragons to a magical world, and along the way discovers his true calling.

March Vol. 1 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

March is a vivid first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

 

Megan Parish
Experience Facilitator

Megan Parish


Megan is a horror, YA book, and cat enthusiast. She received her Bachelors degree in English literature.

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