Some of you have been kind enough to follow my musings about individual books on my new YouTube channel, Black Book Stacks. This is a natural endeavor for me, to find, devour and support books by and about Black people, who I define as people from throughout the African Diaspora. This is an evolving definition, I guess; I was reading David Yoon’s Frankly In Love, which is an addictive YA book that delves into interracial dating and intraracial friendship, including with his Black friend Q. Frankly In Love is a good, recent example of the kind of book that blends a lot of different kinds of diversity and that was part of what thrilled me about it.
I forget who I was talking to who said this, but it stuck with me: Black people in this country do not have the luxury of having as long a literary tradition as any other group in America because of the legacy of slavery. Because of being forbidden to read or write. To me, that makes it that much more important to lift up books that recover and restore us to ourselves; that expand what we know of ourselves and our lineage, real and imagined. Anyway, here is the beginning of a list of some essentials of Black history, to me, anyway, that can be a good resource and are some of my favorite books that filled in important gaps for me along my reading journey:
- (New) Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent, edited by Margaret Busby | I have the great fortune of having both a copy of the original Daughters of Africa, and the newest addition, which just expands the important, vast collection of significant work to include 200 writers. A classic.
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde | “Poetry is Not A Luxury,” “Uses of the Erotic,” and many other seminal works by Audre Lorde were first written or delivered as lectures in the 1970s. Like the Combahee River Collective as a whole, she was integral to giving us language to describe and express the interlocking oppressions we know now as an intersectionality framework.
- How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keanga Yamahtta-Taylor | I was not familiar with Dr. Yamahtta-Taylor’s work until I taught it at the New School, and hearing first hand from the likes of Barbara Smith, Barbara Ransby and Alicia Garza helped contextualize not only a lot of what we’re seeing now in terms of how Black women are dismissed or lifted up, depending on the community, but also how much has happened behind the scenes along the way.
- At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire | No disrespect to Rosa Parks, but I did not know the name of Claudette Colvin until I read McGuire’s book, of my own volition, long after undergrad, where I had Africana Studies as a minor and learned a good deal, just not enough.
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson | It’s hard to believe that 2020 is the 10th anniversary of this book’s publication (!) but what an incredible work of scholarship, recovery and re-membering from Wilkerson, who, if memory serves, interviewed thousands for this book, including a young pre-presidential hopeful named Barack Obama. No list of important Black historical texts is complete without this one.
Words of Fire is another underrated anthology of Black Feminist thought; Black Skin, White Masks has always haunted me, and Sisters of the Yam, by bell hooks, was the beginning of my understanding of wellness and self-care.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these books if you’ve read them, or what books you consider essential to learning about Black history are.