This year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked new conversations about race in America. Awareness around police brutality, systemic racism, and the Black experience is finally at the forefront.
Whether you're a student or avid reader, here are some profound books written by African Americans. These books will push your thoughts into a different direction and get the conversation started.
Social Activism Reads
PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America
by Dr. Claud Anderson
"Blacks are the only group of people forced to practice capitalism without capital in the richest and most capitalistic nation on earth." — Claud Anderson
"PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America" is a book that is necessary in the climate of a post-racial society. Dr. Claud Anderson provides an in-depth research plan to help African Americans improve their socioeconomic status in America while also providing reasons as to why certain conditions have held this community back economically.
Why We Can't Wait
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution." — Martin Luther King Jr
In the book "Why We Can't Wait," Dr. King provides readers with details of his most successful campaign during the civil rights movement. The Birmingham campaign in its realities matched the vision that Dr. King sought after in his letter "Letter to Birmingham Jail." Today, this book speaks volumes about the kind of visionary that Dr. King was, and it's a great read to add to your shelf.
Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now
"Racism doesn't often come with a machete these days but the death of your self-esteem by a thousand cuts can still lead to the murder of your soul." — Touré
"Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness" is one of those books that will broaden your perspective on what it means to be Black in the 21st century. In its uniqueness, Touré draws from his own life experiences and interviews a myriad of African Americans to explore the concept of post-Blackness. This is a great read for those interested in the complex arrays of Black culture.
by Huey P. Newton
"The concept of revolutionary suicide is not defeatist or fatalistic. On the contrary it conveys an awareness of reality in combination with the possibility of hope." — Huey P. Newton
"Revolutionary Suicide" looks at the life of Huey P. Newton and the formation of The Black Panther Party. It provides context for the external and internal affairs that made the party such a success — as well as how the party began to fall. One of the main goals of the Black Panther Party was to obtain the freedom and the power to determine the destiny of their community, and they were willing to obtain that power and freedom by any means necessary.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
by Ibram X. Kendi
"From their arrival around 1619, African people had illegally resisted legal slavery. They had thus been stamped from the beginning as criminals." — Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi's "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" is a monumental book. Its three-part history spans years of oppressive beliefs about African Americans, from 1635 to the present. The author does a good job in providing insight into how each time period played a key role in the oppression of African Americans while also using prodient figures to deep the context.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
by Jesmyn Ward
"Walking is, after all, interrupted falling. We see, we listen, we speak, and we trust that each step we take won't be our last, but will lead us into a richer understanding of the self and the world." — Jesmyn Ward
"The Fire This Time" was inspired by James Baldwin's novel "The Fire Next Time." The author, Jesmyn Ward, pulls on the emotion of the reader, drawing you in as though you're sitting at a table with her and James Baldwin. Just as Baldwin did in his novel, Jesmyn seeks to spark the conversation about current race relations in America through a collection of essays.
The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose
by Oprah Winfrey
"There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It's why you were born. And how you become most truly alive." — Oprah Winfrey
"The Path Made" is a short book composed of some of the greatest advice that Oprah Winfrey has received about living your life's purpose. This everyday read is one that uplifts you and helps you find comfort in knowing that you are on the right path in life. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for direction on their life's journey.
Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day
by Nikki Giovanni
"I share with the painters the desire to put a three-dimensional picture on a one-dimensional surface" — Nikki Giovanni
"Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day" is a collection of poems that is like cotton candy in every sense of the word. After the first read, you will repeatedly reach out for more, over and over again. This is a book that gives you insight and a different understanding of life each time you read a poem. A true classic in its nature, this book is a must-have on your shelf.
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
"Unarmed and dangerous, but America, you made us, only time we're famous is when we die and you blame us." — Angie Thomas
"On the Come Up" is the kind of story that drags you down so deep that you're underneath thought — engulfed in a place of pure feeling. If there is one thing that Angie Thomas does right, she teaches you how to use your voice in the most prominent way possible. In its tenacity, the book covers so some much while making you feel as though you're caught in the middle of an everyday story. Angie Thomas is definitely one of the authors to keep your eyes on.
The Women of Brewster Place
by Gloria Naylor
"Time's passage through the memory is like molten glass that can be opaque or crystallize at any given moment at will: a thousand days are melted into one conversation, one glance, one hurt, and one hurt can be shattered and sprinkled over a thousand days." — Gloria Naylor
"The Women of Brewster Place" is a book like no other. It transports you into the lives of seven different women who are just trying to survive everyday life. The author, Gloria Naylor, invites readers to consciously think about the parallels between friendship, life, and circumstances that brings people closer together. A highly recommended read.
Broken Crayons Still Color: Based on a True Story
by David Weaver
"Love is everlasting… It survived rainy days to mud puddles, runny noses to snot bubbles. Having love was one thing, but true love was another… You could always go buy another box, but broken crayons still color." — David Weaver
Based on a true story, "Broken Crayons Still Color" is a heartfelt tale that will have you pulling at your emotions and crying out for more. David Weaver takes the readers on a wild ride into the hard truths of his life. This book will have you feeling a sense of empowerment, knowing that you can overcome any situation that you're in.
The Talented Ribkins
by Ladee Hubbard
"At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn't have such problems: He's got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it's curtains for Johnny." — Ladee Hubbard
"The Talented Ribkins" is very invigorating, talking about the ''superpowers'' that all the members of the Ribkins family have. Some of the members have been gifted (or cursed) with extraordinary powers that will leave you saying, "I wish I had those powers." The Talented Ribkins is part of the great American road novel tradition — a fun novel that should be on everyone's shelf.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"
by Zora Neale Hurston
"Those who love us never leave us alone with our grief. At the moment they show us our wound, they reveal they have the medicine." — Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Oluale Kossola before he died in the 1930s, then later used her interview to create this first-person narrative by one of the last people to be transported to the United States through the Middle Passage. The book is interesting in that it is written from the perspective of someone who lived slavery rather than perpetuated it, which is rare among the existing records of that period in time. It wasn't written with an agenda. Instead, "Barracoon" is a record of history.
Upstate: A Novel
by Kalisha Buckhanon
"Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?" — Kalisha Buckhanon
"Upstate: A Novel" is a heartbreaking love story that testifies to the power of friendship and exposes the ugly truths and injustices of the world. This book is a literary triumph and a feast for the ratchet intellectual, the romantic, the street philosopher, and the streets at large.
by Nic Stone
"You can't change how other people think and act, but you're in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?" — Nic Stone
"Dear Martin" is about 17-year-old African American boy Justyce and his last year in school. After a police officer unlawfully detains him, Justyce starts noticing things around him.
The book addresses racism, police brutality, racial profiling, prejudice, and the current social climate. However, these topics aren't talked about in a vacuum or in a preaching way. It's a work of fiction with all the important elements, like complex and well-crafted characters and engaging storytelling. It shows the realistic friendship dynamics and contradictions that surround us in everyday life. "Dear Martin" is a brilliant, multilayered novel.
The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride
"I asked her if I was black or white. She replied "You are a human being. Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!" — James Mcbride
McBride is a Black journalist, novelist, and jazz musician who recognizes what a wonder his mother was when she raised him and his siblings. "The Color of Water" is suffused with tales of courage balanced with humor. McBride alternates skillfully between his mother talking about her early history and his own perspective from inside of the family she nurtured in Brooklyn and Queens.
The Water Dancer
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
"They knew our names and they knew our parents. But they did not know us, because not knowing was essential to their power. To sell a child right from under his mother, you must know that mother only in the thinnest way possible." — Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates is just one of those writers who seems to captivate you with every novel that he pens. "The Water Dancer" is a powerful story that goes into the shameful injustice of slavery. Based around the lives of slaves on a tobacco plantation, Coates pulls on the emotions of the reader and gives them an upfront look at what life could have looked like during that time period.
Men We Reaped
by Jesmyn Ward
"I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn't fade. Grief scabs over like scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed." — Jesmyn Ward
"Men We Reaped" encompasses the everyday life of most African Americans in the United States. Placed against the backdrop of systemic racism and poverty, Jesmyn Ward recounts her childhood in rural Mississippi after losing five young men in her life. She examines the nature of reality, which Black men face on an everyday basis. Jesmyn Ward is definitely an author you should keep your eye on.
Whether you're a student or avid reader, here are some profound books written by African Americans. These books will push your thoughts into a different direction and get the conversation started. Enjoy these excellent books and keep on reading.
A Memphis native and recent graduate of Johnson C. Smith University, Latoya Pitts is an outreach associate on the Higher Education team at Red Ventures. She currently lives in Charlotte, NC and is an avid reader who, on average, reads about 3-4 books a month. While in college, she majored in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in art and philosophy. When she’s not writing or promoting content, you can find her at your local art museum or somewhere curled up with a good book. For more good reads, follow her on Instagram @theblklibrary.
Header Image Credit: Santi Visalli, David Fenton, The Washington Post, CBS Photo Archive, Fotosearch, NBC | Getty Images
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