(All links on book titles will take you directly to the Goodreads page for that title. I love keeping track of what I’ve read on Goodreads, but if you want a full synopsis (without spoilers) you can also find that there. If you choose to purchase selected book, Goodreads will have an Amazon link available, but I would also encourage you to search instead for the book from your favorite local, indie, thrifted bookseller option if that is something you want to do!)
It’s been a troubling, frustrating few weeks in national news. After the murder of George Floyd, our nation has reacted with both peaceful protests and reports of violence. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked a revolution; something about this wave of the Black Lives Matter movement feels genuinely different, and I’d like to briefly explain why.
My husband and I were in the car discussing our thoughts and feelings about modern prejudice and systemic racism, when it finally occurred to me why this feels different: it seems that White people (even in my dominantly White community) are taking personal ownership for their education on matters relating to racial equality and prejudice, and it’s inspiring to see it. Introspection is occurring, and I think hearts have to change before any other lasting change can occur.
I am WELL aware that this isn’t the time for me to make some bold, personal claim to full understanding when it comes to racial equality. I am a privileged White woman of Middle America, and the best thing I can do right now is educate myself. The lack of knowledge I have when it comes to Black history is honestly pitiful. I looked at my reading trends from the past three years and they are as follows:
- 2019: 10% of total books read were written by BIPOC
- 2018: 20% of total books read were written by BIPOC
- 2017: 19% of total books read were written by BIPOC
It’s not enough, and I’m trying to remedy that by ensuring that my future reading habits don’t follow the same trend.
If there’s anything I do believe about education, it is that we live in an age where you can find information and learn if you are willing to LOOK. I cannot feel the generational pain that Black Americans (or the greater, global BIPOC communities) have, but I can learn more about Black history, nationally and globally; I can read their works and hear their perspectives. I can view their art. I can follow their leaders and listen to their wisdom. I can share resources that will help educate others and support Black voices by doing so.
In light of this, I’m doing what I can right now to minimize my own voice and share Black voices. Embarrassingly, I don’t know that I recognized the lack of representation Black authors (and POC authors in general) receive in the reading world until now. I think maybe this is a time where I show my support by redirecting you to those who know better than I. Below, you will find a list of resources that can help us learn– whether they be fiction or non, these books and materials have done more to help me understand Black history than any formal education has.
Please know that this is in no way a comprehensive list, and I don’t mean for it to be. These are simply books that I have read and found very influential and educational in my personal journey toward empathy. There is constantly more work to be done and recognition to be given to Black voices in literature, and I’m going to do my best to intentionally spend more time reading works by POC voices; it’s necessary and essential that I read perspectives of people who are different from me, and I need to do better. Enough of my words, let’s get to the list.
Fiction and Novels:
- The entirety of Toni Morrison’s catalog, namely:
- The Bluest Eye (all of Morrison’s works pack a punch, but this in particular shattered me)
- Song of Solomon
- Jacqueline Woodson and her many great works, including:
- Red at the Bone (This is fantastic on audio.)
- Another Brooklyn
- Brown Girl Dreaming (I loved this one so much I bought it as an audiobook, as well. It’s fantastic both ways.)
- The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead (This one is TOUGH. It’s hard to read, but so necessary and impactful. Many others loved The Underground Railroad [it’s also good], but if we are only choosing one of Whitehead’s works, this would be my pick.)
- An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
- Whiskey & Ribbons, Leesa Cross-Smith (I LOVE THIS BOOK. I hardly saw it receive any hype, and I think it deserved it.)
- Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (This one is African-specific. I also read Girls at War and Other Stories in college; it’s quite good, as well.)
- Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward (FANTASTIC book.)
- The Mothers, Brit Bennett (This was SUCH a good book. Honestly, I can’t brag about it enough.)
- What We Lose, Zinzi Clemmons (I read this as an ARC a few years ago. It’s fantastic, but it’s also wholly original and has a really interesting structure and style.)
- Kindred, Octavia Butler
- Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (When I think about a book that has made me think most deeply and strongly about Black history, this is it. Even though it’s fiction. If, from this list of so many great works, I was only able to recommend one, it would be this one.)
- The Color Purple, Alice Walker
- The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray
Nonfiction and Memoir*:
- We’re Going to Need More Wine, Gabrielle Union
- Born a Crime, Trevor Noah (I think this book is outstanding. I’ve read excerpts to my students and urged anyone and everyone to read it because it’s just that good.)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (Also, Mom and Me and Mom, also by Angelou)
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson
- Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson**
*Most of these are books I read on audio (everything but the works by Angelou). I can say that they were all really well-done, and I would recommend each of them on audio if that is a way you are comfortable reading.
** If you are particularly interested in Bryan Stevenson and supporting his work, you can find more information at https://eji.org/.
- The Sobbing School, Joshua Bennett
- On the Bus with Rosa Parks, Rita Dove
- Lace Bone Beast, N.L. Shompole
- Head Off and Split, Nikky Finney
- The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
Additional Links and Resources
Now, I know that this is list of works isn’t even close to covering all the necessary bases. If you are looking for more, additional resources (and I think you should; I will be!), you might consider one of the links below:
“43 of the Best Books by Black Authors You Should Read in Your Lifetime,” McKenzie Jean-Philippe
Cream and Sugar Book Club Recommendations
Schomburg Center Black Liberation Reading List
This thread of tweets from Victoria Alexander (her full guide can be found here).
I am very unequipped to provide recommendations for diverse children’s books, but here is a fantastic resource from Embrace Race.
From The New York Times: “People are Marching Against Racism. They’re Also Reading About It.”
Also from The New York Times: “An Antiracist Reading List”
This article from Huffington Post sharing books specifically written recently: “50 Amazing Books by Black Authors from the Past 5 Years”
I am prayerfully working toward dismantling the white privilege and fragility in my own heart, and this is a starting point. Please, in the comments below leave recommendations of your own! What texts have you found most influential and educational in relation to race and prejudice?
Until next time, happy reading.