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9 Books to Read During Black History Month and Every Month

by | February 5

It’s Black History Month, and as an African American woman I always wonder why we get the shortest month in the year. We need to band together to start a GoFundMe, or something, so Black folks can get a month with at least 30 days. Is that too much to ask after all we’ve been through? I remember talking to my grandmother about this, and she said when she was growing up Black History Month (we were called Negroes back then) was only a week!

But when you think about it, does it really matter how long Black History Month is as long as we take the time to celebrate it to the fullest by reading some amazing books by some amazing Black authors? With all of the great books on this list, you’re most likely going to be thinking about them well after Black History Month is over.

Heavy

Heavy

by Kiese Laymon

Heavy is a powerful memoir about writer Kiese Laymon’s experience growing up as an African American man in the Deep South, his difficulty navigating a complicated relationship with his complex and brilliant mother, and his struggles with sexual abuse, obesity, and anorexia. Although the subject manner is often painful, his writing is lyrical, profound, and at times quite comical. This book was on so many of the “Best of 2018” lists, including the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and The New York Times Critics. Heavy is also a winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and a Kirkus Prize finalist.

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Queenie

Queenie

by Candice Carty-Williams

Although Queenie isn’t about the African American experience, it is about a Jamaican British woman and written by a Jamaican British author, who touches upon themes that intersect with Black life in America.

Now, that we got that technicality out of the way, I want to say that although I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this cover gives me life. It’s regal, just like its title.

Queenie is Bridget Jones's Diary meets Americanah—how can you go wrong with that mash-up? It’s the story of 25-year old Queenie, who is struggling to find her way through life where she’s straddled between two cultures. After a bad breakup with her white boyfriend, Queenie starts looking for love in all the wrong places (we’ve all been there) and spends too much time on losers who aren’t worth her time or energy (guilty as charged).

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The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

by Issa Rae

Considering I am an awkward black girl myself, OK woman, this title speaks to me. Issa Rae is the creator of the hilarious web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl as well as the HBO series Insecure, and if you haven’t seen the show, what are you waiting for? This essay collection lets you know what it’s like to be an introvert and black at the same time. Issa Rae is funny as hell and her story about cybersexing in the days of chat rooms will have you cracking up.

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Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

by David W. Blight

Remember how I told you that Black History Month used to be called Negro History Week? Well, the original week was the 2nd week of February so it could coincide with Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglass’s birthday, which is on February 14th.

Frederick Douglass is often cited as one of the important African American activists of the nineteenth century. A former slave who was taught to read by his mistress when he was a child, Douglass was able to escape slavery and become one of the leading abolitionists and writers of his time. This biography is the definitive book on Douglass and should be on the bookshelf of every history lover. Blight’s research includes new information from a private collection of Douglass’s papers and memorabilia. The author also digs into Douglass’s personal life, which includes two marriages and his relationship with his five children. Blight’s biography is a New York TimesWall Street Journal, and Time TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR.

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Heads of the Colored People

Heads of the Colored People

by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

This collection of short stories is next up on my TBR list. The stories cover race and identity politics in a fresh contemporary way, yet touch on persistent themes plaguing the African American experience, including the cultural divide, vulnerability, and gun violence.

In “Suicide Watch”—a story about a woman who plans to use Facebook to post her suicide note—you will find this tragically funny opening passage: “Jilly took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light. Stupid new technology. And preferring her head whole and her new auburn sew-in weave unsinged, and having no chloroform in the house, she conceded that she would not go out like a poet.” See what I mean?

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Wild Beauty

Wild Beauty

by Ntozake Shange

In the 70s, my parents were friends with Ntozake Shange’s and went to her Obie Award–winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf before it opened on Broadway. Apparently, I went to her wedding when I was a little girl, but I was so young, I don’t remember. I was excited to hear that we were publishing some of her poems, since we had a shared history.

The collection features more than sixty original and selected poems in both English and Spanish, and Ntozake Shange’s emotional and highly original pieces have rightfully earned her a place as one of our most iconic literary figures. Unfortunately, Ntozake Shange passed away last year after some health problems, but her groundbreaking legacy will live on.

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Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped

by Jesmyn Ward

You’ve probably read Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing and loved it as much as I did. Her nonfiction titles should also be in your personal library. After I finished the Men We Reaped, I told everyone I knew that they had to pick up her memoir about the deaths of five men who were an integral part of her life growing up, including her brother. She paints a haunting picture about being raised in rural Mississippi and how her community has a magnetic pull on her psyche.

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The Fire This Time

The Fire This Time

by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward has also curated a collection of essays, memoirs, and poems that address the question of race in America. It’s called The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, in response to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honorée Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel José Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.

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Nobody

Nobody

by Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill’s powerful book examines African American deaths that were covered extensively in the news, such as those of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner, as well as corrupt policies that have had a devastating impact on communities, as with the Flint Michigan water crisis. Hill’s analysis uncovers how the federal and local government has perpetuated a system that keeps some of our most vulnerable and poverty-stricken citizens from thriving. Nobody dissects how capitalism, the prison industrial complex, and unchecked political power are influencing factors on whether someone is a “nobody” or has the potential to be a “somebody.”

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