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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Black History Month: A Reading List

Each February, we celebrate Black History Month to recognize historical moments and to celebrate the identities and achievements of Black Americans. The month long acknowledgement and celebration has been officially recognized since 1976 and provides a space for examining history and listening to the words and experiences of Black people. As the words Black Lives Matter emphasize, in the last year more prominently than ever before, February is not and can not be the only time for these moments of pause and listening and for this celebration of achievement and identity. Certainly, though, we can take this month of February to pay particular attention to the Black voices that speak strongly through varying forms of literature, sociocultural work, and historical narrative. Here, then, is a reading list of fiction, memoirs, biographies, plays, poetry, history, essays, and social commentary written by Black authors. Follow the links to request books reach out to your librarians at the Camden Public Library to find more.

If you'd like to share an impactful read or learn about more books related to the Black experience, check out State Rep Vicki Doudera's interactive book discussion on Feb 21st at 5 pm! Sign up for the Zoom event here for the opportunity to share or to listen about impactful reads related to the Black experience.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett

Kindred, Octavia Butler

When No One is Watching, Alyssa Cole

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Lakewood, Megan Giddings

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, Anissa Gray

Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: stories from the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

It’s Not All Downhill From Here, Terry McMillan

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Real Life, Brandon Taylor

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead

Remembrance, Rita Woods

Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson

Debut Novel Spotlight

(summaries courtesy of NoveList Plus)

Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour

An unambitious college graduate accepts a job at Sumwun, the hottest NYC startup, and reimagines himself as "Buck" a ruthless salesman and begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America's sales force.

Conjure Women, Afia Atakora

A midwife and conjurer of curses reflects on her life before and after the Civil War, her relationships with the families she serves and the secrets she has learned about a plantation owner's daughter.

The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré

Adunni, a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who longs for an education, must find a way for her voice to be heard loud and clear in a world where she and other girls like her are taught to believe, through words and deeds, that they are nothing.

The Kindest Lie, Nancy Johnson

Needing to reconnect with the baby she gave up for adoption years earlier, an Ivy League-educated Black engineer uncovers devastating family secrets before her bond with a young white misfit scandalizes her racially torn community.

The Prophets, Robert Jones Jr.

Two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation find refuge in each other while transforming a quiet shed into a haven for their fellow slaves, before an enslaved preacher declares their bond sinful.

Luster, Raven Leilani

A young black artist falls into an affair with a man in an open marriage before gradually befriending his wife and adopted daughter against a backdrop of dynamic racial politics.

The Tradition, Jericho Brown

Blessing the Boats: new and selected poems, 1988-2000, Lucille Clifton

Be Holding: a poem, Ross Gay

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes

A Strange Loop: a musical, Michael R. Jackson

Sweat, Lynn Nottage

Citizen: an American lyric, Claudia Rankine

Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deavere Smith

Don’t Call Us Dead: poems, Danez Smith

Fences, August Wilson

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Black is the Body: stories from my grandmother’s time, my mother’s time, and mine, Emily Bernard

The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom

Ladysitting: my year with nana at the end of her century, Lorene Cary

Eloquent Rage: a black feminist discovers her superpower, Brittney Cooper

Think Black: a memoir, Clyde W. Ford

Ordinary Hazards: a memoir, Nikki Grimes

The Last Black Unicorn, Tiffany Haddish

Barracoon: the story of the last “black cargo, Zora Neale Hurston

How We Fight For Our Lives: a memoir, Saeed Jones

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives matter memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors

This is Major: notes on Diana Ross, dark girls, and being dope, Shayla Lawson

March, John Lewis

A Promised Land, Barack Obama

Becoming, Michelle Obama

Notes from a Young Black Chef: a memoir, Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein

Ordinary Light: a memoir, Tracy K. Smith

The New Negro: the life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart

Memorial Drive: a daughter’s memoir, Natasha Trethewey

Biography Spotlight

The Dead Are Arising: the life of Malcolm X, Les Payne and Tamara Payne

Winner of the 2020 National Book Award

The Dead Are Arising isn't only a biography of Malcom X, it is a book that contextualizes race in America prior to Malcolm's birth, takes an in-depth, nuanced, unflinching look at Malcolm's life, and then explores his death and its aftermath, all backed by 28 years of research. (NPR)

The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness, Michelle Alexander

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

A Most Beautiful Thing: the true story of American’s first all-Black high school rowing team, Arshay Cooper

Well-read Black Girl: finding our stories, discovering ourselves, ed. Glory Edim

The Last Negroes at Harvard: the class of 1963 and the eighteen young men who changed Harvard forever, Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, white supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Wandering in Strange Lands: a daughter of the Great Migration reclaims her roots, Morgan Jerkins

How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi

Sister Outsider: essays and speeches, Audre Lorde

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a new era in America’s racial justice movement, Wesley Lowery

On the Other Side of Freedom: the case for hope, DeRay Mckesson

Mediocre: the dangerous legacy of white male America, Ijeoma Oluo

Do Better: spiritual activism for writing and healing from white supremacy, Rachel Ricketts

Hidden Figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race, Margot Lee Shetterly

Overground Railroad: the Green Book and the roots of Black travel in America, Candacy Taylor

The Fire This Time: a new generation speaks about race, ed. Jesmyn Ward

The Warmth of Other Suns: the epic story of America’s great migration, Isabel Wilkerson

New Nonfiction Spotlight

Black Futures, ed. Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

A dynamic mixed-media exhibition of Black creativity and culture.“What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” Born of a social media exchange between curator and activist Drew and New York Times Magazine staff writer Wortham, this unique collaboration seeks to answer that question. The work is vivid, juicy, thick—as fecund as all of Black culture—and equal parts anthology, scrapbook, and art exhibition. (Kirkus)

Long Time Coming: reckoning with race in America, Michael Eric Dyson

Georgetown University sociology professor Dyson (What Truth Sounds Like) offers heartfelt letters to victims of racial injustice in America... Rich with feeling and insight, this elegiac account hits home. (Publishers Weekly)

Four Hundred Souls: a community history of African America, 1619-2019,

ed. Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Noting that most histories of Black America are written by men, award-winning editors Kendi (Ctr. for Antiracist Research Boston Univ.; Stamped from the Beginning) and Blain (history, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Set the World on Fire) compile a community history of Black America, with contributions from a range of writers, poets, activists, and more. The gem of this work is how it brings lesser-known historical events to the forefront. (Library Journal)

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