Growing up, I went to small, non-diverse schools, and we didn’t read many books by BIPOC authors. In high school, we read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author, though we didn’t really analyze the criticisms of racism, colonization, and white saviorism within the novel.
I wish I could say high school English curriculum looks a lot more multicultural now, but as a former English teacher, I know firsthand that it doesn’t really save for a new book here and there. I taught Things Fall Apart in AP Literature because it was one of a few novels by a Black author in the book room, and while I made sure to teach it through a postcolonial lens, I still believe students deserve to read a more diverse range of perspectives.
Black History Month is nearing the end, though celebrating Black history is everyday. I strongly believe in the power of story to build empathy and understanding, and that the literature we consume helps shape our values and culture. There are many great reading lists out there, but here’s a brief one of mine:
5 Recommended Books by Black Authors
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (young adult) – Teachers at my district have been trying to get this book into the curriculum for 5 years and it was finally adopted last year! The pandemic has paused the implementation, but the topics of class, race, and police violence in the novel are musts for students, and us as a society, to discuss.
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (non-fiction) – Though the book is 10+ years old, it’s so important to know the state of our criminal justice system and how, like Michelle Alexander writes, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
- Homie by Danez Smith (poetry) – Danez Smith is a Black, queer, non-binary, HIV-positive writer. I used to teach their poem “Dinosaurs in the Hood” in AP Lit. (Sidenote: I and non-Black students did not read aloud the n-word). Also read “alternative names for black boys“. Check out more of their poems here.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison (novel) – I read this 15 years ago and the storytelling of Sethe, the protagonist who has escaped slavery and is unfree of its gruesome traumas, still haunts me. Also, click here if you want to watch Toni Morrison powerfully respond to an interviewer asking if she’d ever include white people in her books.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (novel) – There are many must-read works by James Baldwin, and this one so complexly represents the subjects of masculinity, homosexuality, and bisexuality. The novel features all white characters, and about that, Baldwin has said, “I certainly could not possibly have—not at that point in my life—handled the other great weight, the ‘Negro problem.’ The sexual-moral light was a hard thing to deal with. I could not handle both propositions in the same book.”
5 Books by Black Authors I’m Currently Reading:
I’m the multitasking kind of reader who is always immersed in at least a few different books at once! Currently, I’m reading The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates with a friend, and at various stages with the other books above.
What types of books did you read growing up? Did your schools include a lot of books by authors of color? Changes to the curriculum are being made, more so in some districts than others — if you’re a student, teacher, or parent, keep pushing for BIPOC representation by writing administrators, the school board, and district leaders! What books written by BIPOC authors would you recommend I read next?