Literary Picks for Black History Month
Black History Month continues! We started off the month with non-fiction book recommendations. This week we’re moving on to fiction and other literary works. A few of the titles on offer at NPL:
Mozart and Leadbelly by Ernest J. Gaines
A collection of personal stories and essays by the author of the award-winning novel A Lesson Before Dying.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Its stark portrayals of racism, incest, and family violence make the Nobel laureate’s debut novel a notoriously painful read, but this visionary book already bears the hallmarks of Morrison’s later work.
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Butler was the first science fiction writer to be awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. This thematically rich sci-fi/vampire novel, a departure from her established subject matter, was the last standalone work published during her lifetime.
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The Native Son author’s memoir of his childhood in the South and his move to Chicago as a young adult. Wright’s account paints a picture of an intellectual fire inextinguishable in the face of social, political, and economic injustice.
At turns expressive, somber, and rousing, the selections in this account begin with eighteenth-century poet Phillis Wheatley to cover two centuries of literary and political writing.
Push by Sapphire
This harrowing novel, written from the perspective of Precious, an abused teenage mother, immerses the reader both in her ongoing trauma and in her blossoming lyrical and emotional development.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Angelou’s astonishing 1969 book transcended the boundary between fiction and biography, setting the stage for her eventual recognition as a virtuosic literary force. The first in a seven-volume series, Caged Bird traces Angelou’s troubled upbringing and the willful reclamation of her own personal dignity.
The 100 Best African-American Poems (But I Cheated) edited by Nikki Giovanni
This cornucopia of poems makes for an exhilarating read. Giovanni, herself a poet, has assembled a stellar collection. The “I Cheated” part means that she had difficulty restraining herself to an even hundred—and understandably so! Recordings of about a third of the poems are included on the accompanying CD.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Mosley is perhaps best known for his crime novels (he also wrote the screenplay for the 1995 neo-noir Devil In a Blue Dress). But he’s proven fluent in a variety of genres, including sci-fi, erotica, non-fiction, and literary fiction. Among the latter is The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, which exploits an unusual premise—what if you could reverse the mental effects of aging at the cost of shortening your own life?—to delve into themes of loss, death, and redemption.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Beatty’s latest novel, released amid the 2015 wave of protests against police brutality, manages to transmute the deeply un-funny subjects of slavery, segregation, and state-sanctioned violence into a lashing, hilarious satire of an America that envisions itself as “post-racial.”
Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza
Co-written by award-winning novelist Shange and her playwright sister, this saga follows seven generations of black women and their various ways of coping with the changing political, physical, and emotional violence of their circumstances.
You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down by Alice Walker
Walker’s collection of short stories cover a wide range of subjects, many of them quite difficult. But the title says it all: what unites the tales is their common portrayal of women unbroken by their trials.