Do not be alarmed by the length of this post, it’s mostly pictures.

If you gloss over all of this in its entirety, I recommend you at least read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. And pick up something by Roxane Gay. And please, dear god, don’t give J*ff B*zos (CEO of your favorite monopoly of an online marketplace) any more money.

I consider myself quite an avid reader. I remember when I was little (maybe starting when I was 2 or 3 years old), my grandma would take me to the local library once a week. When I was old enough to read on my own, I remember taking home stacks of books that I would breeze through, eager until the next week came around so we could go get some more. It is worth reminding myself often, and reminding you, that my grandma says all the time that she took me so frequently to the library because it was illegal when she was growing up for her to go herself. So in many ways, my reading and writing practices honor those before me who were not allowed to publicly do the same.

With all of the info circulating online about recommended reading, I took to my Instagram story to document and share the Black authored books on my shelf. In the spirit of sharing more widely, and in the spirit of archival for your records and mine, I wanted to share the list that I shared yesterday with those of you who may be reading this post now. For the books I have read, I’m always open to discuss, hear your thoughts, and gush about how amazing all of these authors are. I’ll share the pictures that I shared yesterday in this post, and list the titles and authors in each category as well. As with any list, this is by no means an exhaustive collection of the amazing writers with identities within the African diaspora, this is just my way of offering a view into what’s on my shelf so hopefully some of this titles will make it to yours.

“Where can I buy these?” you ask? Not Amazon. Do your research and find Black-owned bookstores that you can support. Some ideas can be found in this Instagram post.

Now let’s get into it.

This first photo is just to let everyone know how “well read” I am (well read or a book hoarder? Both for sure).

Photo displaying a collection of books written by Black authors. On the left hand side is a stack of books displaying the books that have been read by Nia (the blog post author). On the right hand side is a stack of books that have not been read by Nia. Photo text also notifies the viewer that there are other Black authored books in Nia's personal collections that have either been loaned to others or are in her home in Tennessee, USA, that are not pictured in this image.

The next series of photos will break the books into their categories by genre, with some additional personal commentary and a few excerpts that stand out to me from the texts.

First stack, everything Roxane Gay.

A stack of books written by author Roxane Gay. From the top the books are Bad Feminist, Hunger, Not that Bad, ayiti, and An Untamed State. Photo text reads, "First stack goes to Roxane Gay who is her own category in this house. Bad Feminist was my intro to her (with it being the most worn copy) and huge honorable mention to Difficult Women which is loaned out at the moment.

(To the friend that has Difficult Women at the moment, if you’re reading this, this is not a drag. Take your time with it to soak it in.)

If you know me well, it should be of absolutely no surprise to you that Roxane is in a category of her own in this house. Many of you may have noticed the quote on my outer right forearm — “Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman” — which is from her short story collection Difficult Women (and yes I just took a quick peek at my arm to make sure I quoted the punctuation correctly). Many of you might not know the full context, so I’ll share that particular excerpt with you:

What a Crazy Woman Thinks About While Walking Down the Street

She tries to walk not too fast and not too slow. She pretends she doesn’t hear the whistles and catcalls and lewd comments. Sometimes she forgets and leaves her house in a skirt or a tank top because it’s a warm day and she wants to feel warm air on her bare skin. Before long, she remembers. She keeps her keys in her hand, three of them held between her fingers, like a dull claw. She makes eye contact only when necessary and if a man should catch her eye, she juts her chin forward, makes sure the line of her jaw is strong. When she leaves work or the bar late, she calls a car service and when the car pulls up to her building, she quickly scans the street to make sure it’s safe to walk the short distance from the curb to the door. She once told a boyfriend about these considerations and he said, ‘You are completely out of your mind.’ She told a new friend at work and she said, ‘Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.

I started with Bad Feminist on my R. Gay journey, so that might be a good place for you, too.

Books pictured in the Roxane Gay category:

Bad Feminist

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture


An Untamed State

Not pictured but highly recommended:

Difficult Women

Next category is poetry and plays.

A stack of books displaying a collection of plays and poetry. Titles and authors are listed further down in the post.

The play on the top, Venus, tells the story of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman born in 1789 who was literally objectified for European entertainment (sound familiar?) and whose remains were not returned to South Africa until 2002…

The remaining books are poetry collections. Notably, Zong!, is an experience unlike any other book I’ve picked up. It’s a necessary and difficult experience that I highly recommend. I’ll also take a minute to be self indulgent and share the link a dance project I did with a few poems from Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen, as my final for my Experimental Poets of Color class that I took during my senior spring.

Books pictured in the plays and poetry category:

Venus (play) by Suzan-Lori Parks

Sleeping with the Dictionary (poetry) by Harryette Mullen

A Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (poetry) by Ross Gay

What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America (poetry anthology) edited by Aldon Lynn Nielsen and Lauri Ramey

If One of Us Should Fall (poetry) by Nicole Terez Dutton

Zong! (poetry/experience) by M. NorbeSe Philip

Honorable mentions that are not pictured :

A Raisin in the Sun (play) by Lorraine Hansberry

Slave Play (play) by Jeremy O. Harris

Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN / Radical WRITING (poetry anthology) edited by Erica Hunt and Dawn Lundy Martin

Next up we have the fiction stack.

A stack of books with the caption "Next up is fiction. The two on the top, The Farming of the Bones and Black Boy, I haven't read but were gifts that I found on the streets around my neighborhood. Yes in NYC we pick books and other stuff up off the street, it's not gross I promise. Honorable mention to Native Son by Richard Wright which is in my Tennessee collection." Titles and authors of the books are listed later in the post.

And finally, we have essays, non-fiction, and personal narrative. This is where things get interesting and heavy in my opinions, so a few of these I’ll break down and highlight on their own.

Amazing, all around. Honorable mention to An Untamed State from the Roxane Gay category. A beautifully written and difficult read. Most recently, I’ve been getting into Octavia E. Butler (whose middle name I learned I share 🤯) after reading both of the Parable books and I just finished Wild Seed from her Patternist series last week.

I also read Toni Morrison’s Sula within the past few months, that I’ll share an excerpt from below:

“You think I don’t know what your life is like just because I ain’t living it? I know what every colored woman in this country is doing.”

“What’s that?”

“Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a stump. Me, I’m going down like one of those redwoods. I sure did live in this world.”

“Really? What have you got to show for it?”

“Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me.”

“Lonely, ain’t it?”

“Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”

Books pictured in the fiction category:

The Farming of the Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Sula by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Honorable mentions that aren’t pictured:

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Native Son by Richard Wright

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

And finally, we’re nearing the end with essays, non-fiction, and personal narratives.

A stack of books with text reading "Last category is essays, non-fictioin, and personal narrative. This is a lot of the heavy stuff along with Roxane Gay's Hunger, Bad Feminist, and Not that Bad. I'll highlight a few that I'm excited about". Titles and authors of the books are listed later in the post.

This is where we get into the heavy stuff. For some of the non-fiction/essays, you’ll likely need a dictionary at hand because academic language can be quite dense at times and I, too, do not know what half of the words mean at first glance.

A few to highlight:

I’m very excited about The Color of Kink. Sex is fascinating to talk about. When you get into BDSM, representations in porn, and Black womens’ relationships to all of that it gets even more fascinating but can be heavy as you’d imagine, so I am not quite ready for that conversation. Y’all ain’t ready for it either, but we’ll get there.

Water and African American Memory is another conversation that I’ll absolutely have to get my mind right before I’m ready to have it. I remember my chapel talk during my senior year of high school waxed poetic about my relationship to water and what not, but obviously at the time I wasn’t thinking it ran that deep.

Also, of course, honorable mentions here from the Roxane Gay category are Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Bad Feminist, and Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture.

Books pictured in the essays, non-fiction, and personal narratives category:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (this one is bold because it’s required reading)

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom

I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceneaux

Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Marie Brown

Salvation: Black People and Love (I’m not ready for this convo either) by bell hooks

All About Love (I had this convo, it was a good one) by bell hooks

White Rate: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography by Ariane Cruz

Water and African American Memory: An Ecocritical Perspective by Anissa Janine Wardi

We Demand: The University and Student Protests by Roderick A. Ferguson

The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind edited by Claudia Rankine

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly D. Tatum

Honorable mentions that aren’t pictured:

The aforementioned Roxane Gay selections — Hunger, Not That Bad, Bad Feminist

Heavy by Kiese Lamon (This is one that I think about often)

Wow that took a lot longer to write out than I thought it would. Instagram stories was much quicker. But, nonetheless, one of my favorite things to do is tell people what they should read so I hope you add some of these suggestions to your reading list. I encourage you to shop local, shop small, and shop from a Black owned bookstore (some ideas here) where possible. And again, these are my personal suggestions, but there are so many more out there so hopefully this can be a starting point for you to explore.

One Reply to “(avid)”

  1. I to am an avid reader. Will start reading some from your list. Love this. Some seem to be a little heavy, so I will start with the easy ones. White Rage and The Color of Kink.

    Liked by 1 person

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