Like so many of my friends (online and off) I am watching the events in our American cities with horror and sadness, and looking for ways to educate myself and to help out. I’ve donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as a first step, and I’m looking around the internet for reading lists and other resources to become more informed. I don’t pretend to have all (or even many) of the answers, and I have a lot more reading to do myself, but a few years ago I committed to making my reading list more diverse – adding BIPOC, LGBTQ+, different/underrepresented religious groups, and others to my list of authors to support. I still have so many more books to read, but in the meantime, here are a few that I’ve read over the past few years, that have added to my understanding and compassion, and made my reading list so much richer.
(Pssst: for a good start, check out this anti-racist reading list from my friend Katie, and a massive diverse booklist from my friend Shan, and go get yourself a copy of The Well-Read Black Girl, by Glory Edim.)
Sula, by Toni Morrison. A beautiful celebration of friendship between two very different Black women.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. THE ultimate classic, and gorgeously written.
In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, by Alice Walker. A moving and powerful collection.
Second Class Citizen, by Buchi Emecheta. The experience of an African immigrant in 20th century London.
The Complete Collected Poems, by Maya Angelou. Essential!
Of all the genres, I think I’ve read the fewest Black authors in the classics genre. I don’t know how that happened! Must correct that right away.
Modern Literary Fiction
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. Totally enthralling, and reads like poetry.
The Mothers, by Brit Bennet. I loved the Greek chorus style of the church mothers.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A different perspective on race in America, through the lens of an immigrant.
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. This sad story of justice gone wrong is on just about every anti-racist reading list, for good reason!
Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue. Another immigrant story, and absolutely beautiful.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Incredibly powerful and true for the times.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. Heart-wrenching and sad and a total page-turner.
The hardest thing about making this list was keeping it a manageable length. There are SO many wonderful pieces of writing out there by Black writers and they touch on all aspects of the modern Black experience. As someone who is only going to experience that by reading and hearing about others’ experiences, I am looking for all of the information I can get.
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Powerful novel about a period in history that I didn’t know much about.
The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. Sad and powerful novel of Ethiopia during World War II.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. A novel of escaping slavery, with a heavy dose of magical realism.
Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson. Brooklyn in the 1970s – gorgeously crafted like everything Woodson does.
Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper. A middle-grade book about segregation.
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. Linked short stories following two branches of an African family – beginning with two sisters separated by slavery, one of whom stayed in Africa and one of whose descendants witnessed history in the United States.
Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler. Can’t have an anti-racist reading list without Butler’s time travel classic.
There is so much rich historical fiction out there, telling Black stories and amplifying Black voices. I’ve loved historical fiction since I was a little girl, and it’s a wonderful and approachable way to start learning history. (I can’t tell you how many times a historical fiction novel has sent me running for a nonfiction book or scholarly work to learn more.)
Becoming, by Michelle Obama. I loved every word of this memoir; forever my First Lady.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After, by Clemantine Wamariya. Horrifying and powerful memoir of war, displacement, and the refugee experience.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. This should be required reading for everyone, especially right now.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. I love a good memoir in verse, and I think this might be my favorite ever.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. This could go in the “classics” section, but regardless of where it’s listed – totally essential.
Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou. Most folks are familiar with the classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but Angelou wrote several other memoirs as well, including this moving memoir of her relationship with her mother.
March, Vols. I, II and III, by Representative John Lewis. This is an incredible three-volume graphic novel style memoir by Rep. John Lewis – an icon in Congress – describing his experiences as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement.
There have been SO many incredible Black memoirs – it’s hard to choose a short list to share, but the good news is there are many, many more to discover.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward. Incredible collection of essays, curated and edited by one of the most talented American writers of all time. (Sing, Unburied, Sing was also magnificent.)
Why I’m No Longer Talking (To White People) About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Really fascinating perspective from a Black British thinker; I learned a lot that my American-focused history classes didn’t cover.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. Of all the essay collections I’ve read by Black writers, I think this beautiful collection is my favorite.
This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female and Feminist in (White) America, by Morgan Jerkins. Important perspectives on intersectionality.
Dear Ijeawele, or, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s probably obvious from this list, but I absolutely love Adichie’s work. This is a fast read, but really powerful.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Not including Between the World and Me on this list, mostly because I think pretty much everyone has read it (but start there if you haven’t). This collection of Coates’ essays on race, published in The Atlantic during the Obama Administration, is also fantastic.
The Origin of Others, by Toni Morrison. I’ve had Morrison on my list forever, but have been intimidated. Starting with this slim essay collection was perfect.
You Can’t Touch My Hair, And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson. Insightful, but also hilarious – there’s definitely a space for that.
Again – so many wonderful essay collections by Black writers! (And mostly Black women, which is not surprising since I tend to gravitate to women’s voices more in general.)
So – an incomplete list, but a list nonetheless: a jumping-off point. I’m definitely not done reading through the wealth of material that’s out there, and I have been collecting anti-racist reading lists for more ideas. Speaking of which – what’ve I missed? Hit me with your best recommendations.
How are you working to educate yourself on race and justice issues during this time?