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).
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.
(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:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture
An Untamed State
Not pictured but highly recommended:
Next category is poetry and plays.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.