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Black History Month Book Picks

February 14, 2022 | 4:18pm EST

Promoting black books should happen all year round, but particularly for Black History Month— I'd like to emphasize celebrating black voices everywhere in order to reflect and honor the contribution of black people worldwide. Due to racism and discrimination in the publishing industry, black voices have been systematically and perpetually silenced. It's time to shed light on black stories and uplift black authors. Whether you are into fiction, memoirs, romance, sci-fi, black writers have done it all! Let's review some must-read books for this month (and every month after that)!

Non-fiction 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2021) The highly anticipated comprehensive book on black history dropped in November 2021, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones did not disappoint. During a time when topics in African American history are being suppressed in the education system and are viewed as controversial, Jones put forth a masterpiece of nearly 500 pages that says, "our history will not be buried or forgotten." This will be your new go-to book to anything regarding black history.

Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (2021) Four hundred souls is another critical collective account of African American history spanning from 1600-2019. It incorporates 90 contributing voices from renowned writers, leaders, and activists. The book also features a variety of historical essays, short stories, personal narratives, and poems. Four Hundred Souls explores untold stories of black history throughout the centuries.

Memoirs Somebody's Daughter by Ashley Ford (2021) Ashley Ford debuts her first novel, Somebody's Daughter, opening up about her tumultuous childhood and growing up with an incarcerated father. She speaks on her experience as a sexual assault survivor and domestic abuse. The absence of her father heavily impacted her life, especially grappling with his actions leading him to be In prison. She also touches on her identity as a black woman and reflects on her journey to regaining confidence and growing to appreciate her individuality. Ford is the epitome of strength and courageousness.

Buses Are a Comin': Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person and Richard Rooker (2021) Charles Person details his experience as the youngest passenger of the Freedom Ride in collaboration with Richard Rooker. He discusses being targeted and attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as facing segregation. The Freedom Riders demonstrated strength, dedication, and resilience and depict how unity combats racism. Charles Person and the brave Freedom Riders were transformational in changing the narrative of segregation. His story is fearless and pivotal to raising awareness about the journey for racial equality in America.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018) Michelle Obama needs no introduction. The former First Lady reflects on her journey from her college days at Princeton to Harvard law school, her first job, and motherhood. She shares insight and provides sound advice and wisdom on navigating relationships, managing your career, and bettering yourself. To sum up this book, as Mrs. Obama says, "When they go low, we go high."

A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020) I know what you're thinking. You can't have Becoming without A Promised Land, right? So here we have it, Michelle Obama's husband (and the first black president of the USA)— Barack Obama. But on a serious note, his powerful memoir broke the record for the first week sales of a presidential memoir by selling millions of copies. A Promised Land explores the journey of President Obama's first term in the White House. The novel of over 700 pages goes in-depth on his career leading to his presidency, from his college days at Columbia University, being the first black president of the Harvard Law review, and his bid to the senate in Illinois. He allows the reader an inside perspective on intense moments and critical decisions during his presidency and includes behind-the-scenes photographs. This is the first volume of another book expected to drop, covering his second term as president.

Fiction Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993) Parable of the Sower tells the story of Lauren Oya Olamina, a teenager living in a futuristic dystopian society in the mid-2020s. The book is told from Lauren's point of view through her journal. She describes the despair of a devolving community as citizens go missing, and homelessness, crime, destruction, and robberies increase. The society is also plagued by environmental degradation. Lauren also faces unprecedented difficulties and tragedy, which prompts her to create her own religion, Earthseed, meaning "God is Change," which eventually attracts followers. She attempts to beat the odds to survive by getting out and heading north. This book is a part of a series (the second is Parable of the Talents). There is an uncanny similarity to what is happening in the present day, particularly with the pandemic and current social justice movements. Octavia Butler called it!

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Badlwin (1953) James Baldwin is a classic. You can't go wrong with any of his books but his first novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, established him as a famous author. This book is semi-autobiographical, and It centers around teenager John Grimes and takes place in Harlem during the 1930s over the span of twenty-four hours on his fourteenth birthday. John is gay but struggles to reconcile his identity due to his strictly religious family. This book explores the duality of religion and represents themes of family ties, religion, hypocrisy, and sexuality. Baldwin, who faced tremendous discrimination due to his identity as a black gay man, advocated for black and queer voices in literature.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937) Zora Neale Hurston is another one of those one-of-a-kind authors. Their Eyes Were Watching God centers around young and beautiful Janie Crawford is trying to find herself. However, in the 1930s, there were many obstacles for an independent black woman. She is pressured into marriage three times and suffers domestic abuse. In the end, through her journey of self-discovery, she realizes her value and appreciates her individuality. The film starring Halle Berry is worth the watch!

Poetry Dear Strong Black Woman by Jennifer Sterling (2019) This work uplifts and celebrates black women by encouraging healthy self-care practices. It emphasizes the importance of black mental health and addresses the historical hardship and oppression in which black women have felt invalided and devalued. This book informs us that it's ok to feel, love ourselves, put ourselves first, and most importantly, ask for help! It also incorporates beautiful abstract black and white artwork illustrated by black women. Happy reading, and remember it's always the right time to amplify black voices!

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