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Explore Black history through these books

By Arman Saxena     2/13/24 10:34pm

Almost 100 years ago, in February 1926, African-American historian Carter G. Woodson launched what eventually became Black History Month. Black history is American history and the lives and stories of African-Americans are too often sidelined when people tell the story of the United States. Literature is essential in sharing the Black experience, and the following works will serve as a good introduction for anyone wanting to start learning more about Black history this February.

“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin

“The Fire Next Time” is composed of two of James Baldwin’s monumental essays: “My Dungeon Shook” and “Down at the Cross.” Baldwin, the man behind classics such as “Giovanni’s Room,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “If Beale Street Could Talk,” is one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, and “The Fire Next Time” is possibly his finest achievement. Weaving together themes of race relations and religion, this 1963 book sees Baldwin tackle the essential place of race in American history.

“A Taste of Power” by Elaine Brown

This memoir follows author Elaine Brown from her childhood growing up in North Philadelphia through a life of activism, culminating in her role as president of the Black Panther Party in the ‘70s. The book traverses everything from Brown’s relationship with party founder Huey P. Newton, her burgeoning feminist consciousness and her experiences with sexism in activist circles. It’s a detailed and deeply relevant work that has earned its place as a modern nonfiction classic.

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Heavily inspired by James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World and Me” was written as a letter to his son about the realities of being Black in the United States. This winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist is a deeply affecting and thought-provoking read that establishes the 48-year-old Coates as an author whose books will be must-reads for decades to come.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

Tackling several hundred years of history with an ensemble cast of characters, one may find it hard to believe that “Homegoing” is Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel. “Homegoing” follows the stories of the descendants of an Asante woman named Maame from mid-18th century Ghana to the contemporary United States. It’s a work that traverses much of Black history in the United States through the stories of one family.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

One of the 20th century’s most iconic novels, many bibliophiles have at least heard of Toni Morrison’s story of Sethe and the guilt that haunts her. This work is a classic for a reason and is a chilling tale that will linger long after you read its last page. With works like “The Bluest Eye,” “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved” — not to mention a presidential medal of freedom, a Nobel prize and a Pulitzer — Morrison has assembled one of the most acclaimed bibliographies of the last 50 years.

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon

When it comes to work examining the effects of colonialism on the colonized, Frantz Fanon should always be mentioned. Fanon was a Martinique-born psychiatrist and political philosopher whose name is almost synonymous with anti-colonial theory. “The Wretched of the Earth” analyzes the effects of imperialism and colonialism on the individual and collective mental health of the colonized. The emphasis on psychology makes this a fascinating read that provides an essential look at the aftermath of colonialism and decolonization.

“Open Water” by Caleb Azumah Nelson

"Open Water" by Caleb Azumah Nelson is a tender and intimate portrayal of love, art and identity among young Black British artists. Set against the backdrop of systemic racism and cultural differences, Nelson's novel captivates readers with its lyrical prose and poignant storytelling.

“Milk Blood Heat” by Dantiel W. Moniz

Drawing on the rich and diverse stories of Floridians, Dantiel W. Moniz’s “Milk Blood Heat” explores the complex themes of human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance and the elemental darkness in us all. This debut collection, written by Moniz as a reflection of her own experiences and observations, is a stunning and powerful work that won the PEN/Jean Stein Award and was shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize.

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