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BLACK HISTORY MONTH BOOKS: A Reading List for Your Bedside Stand... or anywhere else

Black history month 2023

By Yvonne DiVita, Master Book Builders -
Professional Book Development: Your Story, Your Book, Our Expertise. Building Authority and Legacy.

I felt a need to celebrate Black History Month with books. I know I cannot scratch the surface with a short list of books I recommend, but I feel strongly that getting you thinking about books and writings by black authors, is a start. This is a month of celebration but also a month to contemplate the history of black people in this country. A history that is both beautiful and terrifying. Full of joy and laughter, and tears and sorrow. It seems appropriate that we begin to learn more about it by reading.

If any of these books strike a chord with you, the author's names are links. I do not get a kickback. They are not affiliate links. I will say that in my search for books from black authors that I did not know of, that you might not know of, I discovered dozens that I want to read. I could not fit them all here, of course.

  1. Langston Hughes Not Without Laughter - Hughes was a poet but he gave us this award-winning novel about a black boy’s coming of age in Kansas, 1930.

It’s the story of Sandy Rogers, a young African American boy in small-town Kansas, and of his family--his mother, Annjee, a housekeeper for a wealthy white family; his irresponsible father, Jimboy, who plays the guitar and travels the country in search of employment; his strong-willed grandmother Hager, who clings to her faith; his Aunt Tempy, who marries a rich man; and his Aunt Harriet, who struggles to make it as a blues singer--Hughes gives the longings and lineaments of black life in the early twentieth century an important place in the history of racially divided America. 

  1. Ralph Ellison: The first African American to win the National Book Award for The Invisible Man.

You can glean the story just from the title. How invisible he must have felt, even in the 1950s, as a black man in America. I lived those years. I witnessed it. And yet, I never saw it. A black friend at school once said I was a hypocrite. I couldn’t fathom what she meant, but I know now. I supported my black friends at school, but I never met them outside of school. When I look back, I am surprised by it, but there it is. Sometimes the truth comes to you later, after the fact.

  1. Octavia Butler: In a genre known for being traditionally white and male, Octavia Butler broke new ground in science fiction as an African American woman. Born in California in 1947, Butler was an avid reader despite having dyslexia, was a storyteller by 4, and began writing at the age of 10. Drawn to science fiction because of its boundless possibilities for imagination, she was quickly frustrated by the lack of people she could identify with, so she decided to create her own.

Butler took the science fiction world by storm. Her evocative novels featuring race, sex, power and humanity were highly praised and attracted audiences beyond their genre. The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents are the books I have read. So relevant to today's chaotic world and a message, perhaps, to what could happen if we just sit back and let 'things' happen around us.

  1. Honoree Fanonne Jeffers: Author of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. An Oprah Book Club selection. A finalist for the Kirkus Prize for fiction among other awards.

The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Since childhood, Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Bearing the names of two formidable Black Americans—the revered choreographer Alvin Ailey and her great grandmother Pearl, the descendant of enslaved Georgians and tenant farmers—Ailey carries Du Bois’s Problem on her shoulders.

Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma, as well as the whispers of women—her mother, Belle, her sister, Lydia, and a maternal line reaching back two centuries—that urge Ailey to succeed in their stead.

To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors—Indigenous, Black, and white—in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience that is the story—and the song—of America itself. 

  1. Mehrsa Baradaran: author of The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the black community owned less than 1 percent of the total wealth in America. More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged. The Color of Money seeks to explain the stubborn persistence of this racial wealth gap by focusing on the generators of wealth in the black community: black banks.

With the civil rights movement in full swing, President Nixon promoted “black capitalism,” a plan to support black banks and minority-owned businesses. But the catch-22 of black banking is that the very institutions needed to help communities escape the deep poverty caused by discrimination and segregation inevitably became victims of that same poverty. In this timely and eye-opening account, Baradaran challenges the long-standing belief that black communities could ever really hope to accumulate wealth in a segregated economy.

I was made aware of this book through a conversation on LinkedIn more than a year ago. The insight it contains is mind-boggling. 

6. Toni Tipton-Martin author of Jubilee: RECIPES FROM TWO CENTURIES OF AFRICAN AMERICAN COOKING (It seemed fitting to include a couple of cookbooks - for those of us who like to cook)

Throughout her career, Toni Tipton-Martin has shed new light on the history, breadth, and depth of African American cuisine. She's introduced us to black cooks, some long forgotten, who established much of what's considered to be our national cuisine. After all, if Thomas Jefferson introduced French haute cuisine to this country, who do you think actually cooked it?

In Jubilee, Tipton-Martin brings these masters into our kitchens. Through recipes and stories, we cook along with these pioneering figures, from enslaved Mrs. Fisher cookbook chefs
 to middle- and upper-class writers and entrepreneurs. With more than 100 recipes, from classics such as Sweet Potato Biscuits, Seafood Gumbo, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, and Pecan Pie with Bourbon to lesser-known but even more decadent dishes like Bourbon & Apple Hot Toddies, Spoon Bread, and Baked Ham Glazed with Champagne, Jubilee presents techniques, ingredients, and dishes that show the roots of African American cooking--deeply beautiful, culturally diverse, fit for celebration 

  1. Mrs. Fisher: Abby Fisher is known as one of the nation’s first Black cookbook authors. Born into slavery, the exceptional cook moved from Alabama to San Francisco and lived as a free woman, authoring an impressive collection on more than 150 recipes from her southern upbringing. The book was originally printed in 1881 and reprinted in 1995. Used copies are still available online. 

  2. Gwendolyn Brooks poet extraordinaire, IMBO. In the 1920s, it was African American poets like Langston Hughes who pioneered a new kind of poetry – drawing on jazz rhythms and African-American Vernacular – during the Harlem Renaissance. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen,[1] making her the first African American to receive it. 

    Gwendolyn Brooks built upon this new tradition for this 1959 poem, which was inspired by seeing a group of young boys in a pool hall when they should have been in school. How do they view themselves, she wonders? This poem attempts to give them a voice – and in doing so, reflects the new phenomenon of the 1950s: the teenager. See if it affects you as it affects me, every time. With a sadness I cannot put a name to and a realization that many teenagers still live this life today. How have we not changed this in over 60 years!


We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

  1. Amanda Gorman: You cannot talk about black poetry without mentioning this talented young woman. She published the poetry book The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough in 2015. I am eager to see what shares and where her journey takes us in the coming years.

Amanda Gorman made everyone’s heads turn when she delivered “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021. Born in Los Angeles, Gorman enjoyed reading and writing as a child and was further encouraged by her mother to pursue her passion. Though the Black female poet had a speech impediment during her childhood, she viewed it as a gift and a strength rather than a crutch.

Soon, she began writing poetry focused on issues of oppression, feminism, race, marginalization, and the African diaspora. Her first poetry book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, was published in 2015. In no time, Gorman became the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. After the 22-year-old African-American poet recited her inauguration poem, she received international acclaim and two of her books became best-sellers. 

  1. Colson Whitehead: author of The Underground Railroad. It seemed fitting to end this short list – and it is very short, there are dozens of other black authors and poets to explore on multiple platforms, including Amazon, Reedsy, Goodreads, Thriftbooks, and – with this book about something we all have a little bit of knowledge of. But then again, do we? I expect this novel is an eye-opener.

Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia. An outcast among her fellow Africans and quickly approaching womanhood, she’s desperate for freedom. So, when Caesar tells her about an underground railroad, they decide to escape North, only to be pursued by a relentless slave-master. Whitehead’s novel is a pulsating story about a woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage. But, it’s also a powerful meditation on history, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, The Underground Railroad is a tour de force. 

BONUS from Tom’s list on Bookshop.orgToni Morrison - The Bluest Eye - In Morrison's acclaimed first novel, Pecola Breedlove--an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others--prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

Leave a comment below with your own book suggestions. If you're not part of our community, yet, let me know. Once in the community, you'll receive weekly content about writing, publishing, reading, marketing, and just about anything else to do with books.

pssst: Visit me on LinkedIn and ring my bell! 🔔


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