Emma Matzen

In celebration of Black History Month, here is a list of hand-picked books from multiple genres written by Black authors that we recommend to students. From Young Adult fiction to poetry and essays, I have selected multiple books I hope our readers will enjoy.

1. “So you want to talk about race” by Ijeoma Oluo

First off, I’d love to recommend Ijeoma Oluo’s book “So you want to talk about race.” It’s a wonderful book, which I was introduced to in my ENG 1005: Race & Pop Culture class. Oluo is a mixed-race, Black, queer woman who uses anecdotal stories to help readers understand the important concepts she discusses in regards to race that not all readers may be fully familiar with, such as intersectionality and the model minority myth. Called “Fascinating, real, and necessary” by The Root, Oluo’s writing is engaging, and she tackles sometimes difficult subjects with nuance, and often, humor. I believe that it’s a great book for people of every race to read, as it is imperative to be educated on race, to understand the effects racism and how it is part of many people’s lives, as we’ve witnessed in the last year. 

2. “The Black Unicorn” 

by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was an important figure in both Black civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights. She also was notably the New York Poet Laureate from 1991 to 1992. A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde’s work is largely centered on her identity and the politics that surrounded her identity. “The Black Unicorn’’ is a collection of poetry full of passion, in every sense. Lorde’s imagery is wonderfully intense, and there’s so much to discuss about each poem in this collection. A personal favorite  out of the collection is “The Women Of Dan Dance with Swords in Their Hands to Mark the Time When They Were Warriors.”  

3. “The Hate U Give” 

by Angie Thomas

Made into a movie in 2018, “The Hate U Give” is a young-adult novel by Angie Thomas, which focuses on the struggle of a girl named Starr. Starr is a Black girl who attends a prep school with mostly white students. After her childhood friend is killed by a police officer, Starr stands up for herself and her community when the officer is not indicted for the crime. In a time where crimes like this are constantly being committed and televised, it’s a very topical story to read. “The Hate U Give” won several awards in 2018, including the William C. Morris award, and it is a “New York Times” best-seller. “Read Starr’s story because it’s important, but read it also to feel, to heal, to empathize and enjoy. Read it because it’s a damn good book,” wrote The Huffington Post. 

4. “The Color Purple” 

by Alice Walker

Now adapted into a movie, a musical and a radio show, “The Color Purple” is an absolute classic. Alice Walker’s book was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1983, the year after its release. The story follows Celie, a young girl living in the Southern United States, and the struggles she has in the format of her letters to God. While the subject of controversy due to the amount of explicit language and violence, as well as being put on banned books lists, “The Color Purple” is a staple in influential novels by Black authors. 

5. “Bad Feminist” 

by Roxanne Gay

Two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award, Roxanne Gay is an influential bisexual black author and acitivist today. Gay’s 2014 book of essays, “Bad Feminist,” tackles feminism under the lenses of sexuality, gender, sexual violence, beauty standards, and race. Often witty and blunt, Gay makes serious topics all the more engaging in her essays. “Roxanne Gay is so great at weaving the intimate and personal with what is so bewildering and upsetting at this moment in culture,” said Sheila Heti, author of  “How Should a Person Be?”. An interesting and important read for people of every demographic, Gay’s work brings to light the possible struggles of women of every kind. 

6. Further Reading

If you are interested in reading more books by Black authors, some honorable mentions are “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morisson, “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, and  the  poetry of Maya Angelou.

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