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Black Voices, Not Blackface: A Reading List to Celebrate Black History Month

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First, the American Dirt snafu. Now this? Barely into the beginning of Black History Month, we already had a teachable moment. Yes, that kind of teachable moment. To celebrate the month, Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue announced the launch of their Diverse Editions. Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, The Secret Garden, and nine other classic novels—“classic” meaning, of course, older works of fiction from the white literary tradition, as though other cultures don’t have longstanding literary traditions of their own, tut-tut—would have custom designed covers, each one illustrating the main characters with multiethnic backgrounds. We’re talking about a dark-skinned Frankenstein’s monster with a fade and Dorothy Gale done up in dark skin and braids.

Um . . . Welp! Can we not? Sigh.

Hours later, Barnes & Noble withdrew the series. Such prominent authors as Angie Thomas, Roxane Gay, Nnedi Okorafor, and others rightfully criticized Diverse Editions—thank you, social media!—for dolling up the books in blackface and for not promoting works by Black writers. This is what you call fake diversity. Is it too much to ask to have a Black History Month without a rash of blackface? Is it? Because it happened last year, too.

It comes down to this: Race-swapping covers on books about canonically white characters is a colorblind move. In our fraught and touchy times, we’re far better off being color conscious, not colorblind, if we’re serious about inclusion and racial equity. More importantly, celebrating Black History Month means reading and promoting books about and by Black writers. It’s that simple! Or is it? We’ll see what the diversity fail cat drags in next time.

Anyway, there are plenty books by Black writers, and our cup runneth over. Here’s a handful from our catalog. And you can click here to see more.


A Black Women's History of the United States

A Black Women’s History of the United States
Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

“This book is a font of inspiration . . . A compact, exceptionally diverse introduction to the history of black women in America.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review


Full Dissidence

Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field
Howard Bryant

“A series of forceful, justifiably angry essays connected by the theme of white supremacy negating the full citizenship of black Americans . . . . Another illuminating social and cultural critique from an important contemporary voice.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review



Breathe: A Letter to My Sons
Imani Perry

“Imani Perry shows deep compassion for both parents and children while incisively underlining the realities of raising Black boys in a country that will inherently betray them. It is a book filled with love and insight for difficult times.”
—Tarana Burke


How To Be Less Stupid About Race

How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide
Crystal M. Fleming

“Fleming offers a crash course in what will be a radically new perspective for most and a provocative challenge that should inspire those who disagree with her to at least consider their basic preconceptions . . . . A deft, angry analysis for angry times.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review


If I Can Cook You Know God Can

If I Can Cook/You Know God Can: African American Food Memories, Meditations, and Recipes
Ntozake Shange

“This book is the first one I recommend to all cooks to understand the soul of our food. . . . It’s as indispensable as hot sauce.”
—Michael W. Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South 


Reclaiming Our Space

Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets
Feminista Jones

“A godsend that will inform not only how we are approached and regarded by others through social media platforms but how we interact with each other and value ourselves.”
—CaShawn Thompson, creator of #BlackGirlMagic



Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements
Charlene A. Carruthers

“Anyone seriously interested in the struggle for Black liberation in this country needs to listen carefully to what she has to say.”
—Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement and Making All Black Lives Matter 


Me Dying Trial

Me Dying Trial
Patricia Powell

“One of the most exciting writers living and writing on the island that is the Caribbean-American hyphen.”
—Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory 


Notes of a Native Son

Notes of a Native Son
James Baldwin

“He named for me the things you feel but couldn’t utter . . . articulated for the first time to white America what it meant to be American and a black American at the same time.”
—Henry Louis Gates Jr.


The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation
Daina Ramey Berry

“Berry is now seen as a breakthrough writer who completed the herculean task of filling in the blanks of one of the darkest episodes in American history.”
Essence Magazine 



Octavia E. Butler

“In Kindred, Octavia Butler creates a road for the impossible and a balm for the unbearable. It is everything the literature of science fiction can be.”
—Walter Mosley


Where Do We Go from Here

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In this book—his last grand expression of his vision—he put forward his most prophetic challenge to powers that be and his most progressive program for the wretched of the earth.”
—Cornel West

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