With all that is going on right now (Black people murdered by cops, Black women & children traumatized, Muslims targeted by ISIL during our holy month of Ramadan, the not so distant killings of Latinx & Black queer people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the ongoing disappearances of Indigenous/First Nations women & girls, the ongoing high rate of murder of trans people & disproportionate number of them being POC and disproportionate number of those being Black, the epidemic of sexual violence & rape on college campuses, a disgusting presidential race in the U.S. founded on xenophobia, white supremacy, war, & fear-mongering, and so much more) many people don’t know what to do or even what to say. Many people are grieving alone or in community; many communities are grieving. Today we woke to the news of the police-orchestrated murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota, a mere day after the police killed Alton Sterling in Louisiana. We know that these killings happen constantly but that they also happen in bunches.
It can be hard to remember the things that bring us joy and give us a reason to go on while we are in such trying times. While many of us draw the connection to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower in what is going on right now, we also need to read/re-read things that offer us hope, belief in community, and the re-energizing spirit that helps us to carry on. We need to hear from our ancestors, and we need to hear from our youth, and we need everyone in between. I especially want to uphold my Black friends and family who bear the brunt of anti-Blackness even from other POC and are in need of safety, care, and love right now. It is with this spirit in mind that I offer up some of my favorite joy-giving Black-authored books for your reading consideration.
- The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker (fiction) — This book alludes to The Color Purple but is set in the next generation. It goes back and forth between the near-past, the distant-past, the far-past, and the present. It is all about connections, hearing the ancestors, and building new ways forward. The first time I read this novel, it was in one sitting (and it’s not a tiny book!) in which I devoured it. I immediately re-read it with highlighter in hand, and then again and again. It completely changed the way I saw the world. BONUS: I also highly recommend By the Light of My Father’s Smile by Walker as another difficult but ultimately irrepressibly joyful novel.
- How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (non-fiction) — A group of interconnected essays that rely on autobiography, political commentary, and so much more, this book is just plain FUNNY. It is, actually, a deep subject but Thurston has had me laughing out loud and giggling throughout.
- Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (fiction) — Like Walker’s book, my first reading of this novel stunned me and changed me. While it deals with a great deal of trauma, it is also hopeful and beautiful, with breathtaking writing.
- No Woman, No Cry by Rita Marley (auto/biography) — Marley writes about “my life with Bob Marley” but it is refreshing to see his life from a woman’s perspective and she is full of anecdotes and other interesting things that no one else could tell us. This is one of the books I list as a “must-read” particularly for women, along with Assata Shakur’s autobiography.
- Knots by Nuruddin Farah (fiction) — Somali writer Farah casts a spell with this book about a Somali-born but North American-raised Somali woman returning to reclaim her family property. A beautiful testament to community-building and vision.
- Naming Our Destiny by June Jordan (poetry) — This is my personal favorite of all of Jordan’s books of poetry. In fact, my ex’s dog ate several chunks of it, so if anyone feels generous and wants to replace my tattered falling apart copy, I would be grateful. This book contains some of my most favorite poems ever, including this:
Morning sun heats up the young beech tree
leaves and almost lights them into fireflies
I wish I could dig up the earth to plant apples
pears or peaches on a lazy dandelion lawn
I am tired from this digging up of human bodies
no one loved enough to save from death
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (fiction) — The most classic of classics, this novel is about resilience, true love, finding and being yourself, and so much more.
- Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century by Richard J. Powell (non-fiction) — A marvelous look at Black art and artists of the last century, the chapters are like essays unto themselves that trace the culture and history of Black arts. If you like art, this is a super important read, and if you’re not especially into or knowledgeable about art, this is an engaging read that will change that. It’s a terrific resource to have around, but it is also a thrilling read.
- The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes (fiction) — Another classic, the stories of Jesse B. Semple aren’t about respectability politics but instead a celebration of simple, “average” Black Americans. I haven’t re-read them myself in more than 20 years, but I remember them being witty, comedic, and theatrical.
- The Snake Dreaming trilogy by Roberta Sykes (autobiography) — These three books tell of Australian Aborigine poet Bobbie Sykes’ life, struggles, and successes. They are a fascinating read about a Black Indigenous woman who did so much in her life. I couldn’t put them down. The three books are titled Snake Cradle, Snake Dancing, and Snake Circle.
- I highly recommend The Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods) by N.K. Jemisin. This set of fantasy fiction novels is enlightening, entertaining, and hopeful. You can get lost in Jemisin’s worlds, and they are a great escape.
- One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. It’s a Young Adult novel but it holds up to adult reading exceptionally well, while also being appropriate for teens. I’m pretty anxiously waiting for someone to make a good film of it, and anxiously waiting for its follow-up, scheduled for 2017 release.
- Another recent super favorite is Rashid Darden’s Birth of a Dark Nation (the first in a forthcoming series), a gay Black vampire novel that was absolutely exquisite in every way.