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Blackness Has Never Been a Monolith, and History Proves It: A Reading List

By Christian Coleman

Black Americans-West Coast Surfer
Image credit: West Coast Surfer

Remember when Janelle Monáe said Black women aren’t a monolith? Same goes for the Black diaspora, and yet the Grammys love plugging their ears and going La la la la laaaaa. This year, they did Black artists dirty yet again, snubbing them in the award for Album of the Year. Jay-Z is far from the first to call out their snubbery at the ceremony. They’ve also been called out for confining Black artist nominations in the rap/hip hop and R&B categories. Besides confirming the obvious, redlining the AOTY Award denies the fact that Black artists are multifaceted, that their appeal and cultural impact are vast. That would be like if Beacon Press published only a certain kind of book by Black writers, something the film American Fiction, based on Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, brilliantly satirizes.

With this in mind during Black History Month, here’s a handful of books from Beacon by Black writers (and others) flexing a variety of styles, genres, and subject matter. Some are about Black artists whose mastery and widespread appeal made history. Each one is a Book of the Year!


A Black Girl in the Middle

A Black Girl in the Middle: Essays on (Allegedly) Figuring It All Out

“I don’t live for Fridays, per se (Sundays are actually my favorite day of the week), but doing nothing is a hobby of mine that I employ from time to time and I’m thankful more people understand and respect it. I’m not saying I hate extroverts, but that community largely gives me gas. The older I get, the easier it is for me to identify my tribe, and when it comes to extroverts, I have to keep them at a healthy distance. This muscle was unintentionally strengthened throughout the pandemic. COVID was an extreme case that involved the deaths of more than one million Americans (and countless others globally), but the one upside for me, a self-described introvert, was that I got to stay indoors.”
—Shenequa Golding 


The Black Practice of Disbelief

The Black Practice of Disbelief: An Introduction to the Principles, History, and Communities of Black Nonbelievers

“I want to overturn the assumption that only Black theism in its various forms offers life orientation. . . . [T]here is an impressive number of Black Americans who claim no particular (theistic) religious orientation—but (and here’s the kicker) they aren’t nihilistic, and they aren’t hiding away in dark corners feeding on despair. No—they are making their way through the world with community, with a philosophy of life, and in light of certain ritual practices, all of which shape their existence in relationship to others, and in the world.”
—Anthony B. Pinn 


The End of Love

The End of Love: Racism, Sexism, and the Death of Romance

“For Black women, who by virtue of their racial desecration had been placed outside the scope of the ideal of romance since the eighteenth century, a different push further hurt their hopes for long-term loving partnerships and marital relationships: the civil rights movement. As a result of this insistence on racial equality, a number of straight Black men expected to enjoy the same rights and privileges as white men. This included the right to screw around with or settle down with white and other non-Black women, opportunities that had been denied them by race science and its attendant anti-miscegenation laws.”
—Sabrina Strings 


Let My People Vote pb

Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Rights of Returning Citizens

“We were made to feel we weren’t part of society anymore, that we were the lowest of the low. We were despised because of our addiction. We were despised because of the crimes we may have committed. What the right to vote says is that I’m somebody again. It says, simply and powerfully, I AM. The right to vote is one of many rights that need to be restored to individuals who have a previous felony conviction.”
—Desmond Meade 


Nothing Personal

Nothing Personal

“To be locked in the past means, in effect, that one has no past, since one can never assess it, or use it: and if one cannot use the past, one cannot function in the present, and so one can never be free. I take this to be, as I say, the American situation in relief, the root of our unadmitted sorrow, and the very key to our crisis.”
—James Baldwin 


Reclaiming Our Space

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

“Combahee lives in the work of twenty-first-century Black feminists who bravely navigate the World Wide Web and streets around the world with a message of empowerment and liberation for Black women and girls.”
—Feminista Jones 


Shout  Sister  Shout 2023 reissue

Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

“Ask gospel fans, especially those mature—don’t say old—enough to have seen Rosetta live, listened to her records in their heyday, or even performed with her, and the phrase inevitably comes up: She made that guitar talk. The expression praises Rosetta’s talents as an instrumentalist, and yet it also speaks metaphorically to how she played and what her playing meant to those who felt moved by her music. She made that guitar talk conveys how Rosetta transformed the guitar into an extension of her body, how she could let her instrument speak through and for her.”
—Gayle F. Wald 


A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun

A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks

“It was an indelible announcement written in black and white for all to see. The first nationally published poem of Gwendolyn Brooks’s appeared in American Childhood, in October 1930, when she was only thirteen years old. Earlier, at eleven, she’d published four poems in a local neighborhood paper, the Hyde Parker, foreshadowing her brilliance. It was a brilliance that would shine through decades and across nations, bedazzling and impacting hundreds of poets and millions of audiences, in all walks of life.”
—Angela Jackson 


Treating Violence

Treating Violence: An Emergency Room Doctor Takes On a Deadly American Epidemic

“The sad fact is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, homicide (assault) is the number-two cause of death for Black males ages one to nine and the number-one cause of death for Black men ages fifteen to thirty-four. This means that we are more likely to die at the hands of another person than from cancer or car accidents. A perfect circle of violence. And one I’ve committed to disrupting. I do it every day as a doctor; I do it in working with young people through Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), the nonprofit organization I founded that works both to reach young people before they’ve been victims or perpetrators of violence and to support victims of violence as well as heading off retaliatory violence.”
—Rob Gore, MD 


White Negroes

White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue . . . and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

“Everybody wants the insurgence of blackness with the wealth of whiteness. Everybody wants to be cool without fearing for their lives. They want blackness only as a suggestion, want to remain nonblack, keep centuries of subjection and violence at bay with the prefix non- firmly in place. When appropriative gestures flow to the powerful, amnesia follows. When culture is embraced and its people discarded, it’s too easy to trick the country into believing somebody white started it all.”
—Lauren Michele Jackson 


White Rat

White Rat: Short Stories

“She say when I come, I look just like a little white rat, so tha’s why some a the people I hang aroun with call me ‘White Rat.’ When little Henry come he look just like a little white rabbit, but don’t nobody call him ‘White Rabbit’ they just call him little Henry. I guess the other jus’ ain’t took. I tried to get them to call him little White Rabbit, but Maggie say naw, cause she say when he grow up he develop a complex, what with the problem he got already. I say what you come at me for with this a complex and then she say, Nothin, jus’ something I heard on the radio on one of them edgecation morning shows. And then I say Aw. And then she say Anyway by the time he get seven or eight he probably get the pigment and be dark, cause some of her family was.”
—Gayl Jones, from “White Rat” 

Black Americans-West Coast Surfer


About the Author  

Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @coleman_II and on Bluesky at