There are many ways to celebrate Black History Month, including visiting a museum, hosting an at-home film screening, or snuggling up with a good book by a Black author. While Black history is American history that should be celebrated every day of the year, Black History Month is a good reminder to recommit ourselves to doing exactly that. And with this curated list of relevant reads, you may just find you’ve learned something new. Some of these selections are primers pertinent to the fight for equity witnessed today, and others are works of fiction that place Black characters at the forefront. Each one offers deeper insight into the Black experience — sometimes in America, sometimes in a fictional setting, but always with reverence to the stories history has forgotten.
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison
Scroll through a Black History Month reading list and you’re bound to find at least one of Toni Morrison’s books. And for good reason: The Pulitzer Prize winner’s indelible style fills each novel with sharp social observations and critiques. But Morrison’s most recent work, published months before her death in 2019, stands apart by offering a nonfiction reflection on American culture. A compendium of essays and speeches, The Source of Self-Regard examines society and its struggles, blended with Morrison’s commentary on her own books.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
The Great Migration — a time when many Black Americans left Southern states en masse for other parts of the country — changed the lives of more than 6 million people, but the 55-year exodus and its impacts are often overlooked. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson details these sojourns in The Warmth of Other Suns, honing in on three people’s stories and quests for better opportunities, with reflection on the Great Migration’s significance today.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Pulling elements from African history and myths, author Marlon James weaves together an alternate world where the book's protagonist, Tracker, travels to ancient cities on a quest to locate a missing boy, questioning those around him along the way. The first of James’ Dark Star trilogy landed on TIME’s 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time, was a 2019 Ray Bradbury Prize winner, and is a New York Times bestseller.
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
In Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi — an antiracist scholar and director of the Center for Antiracist Research — argues against the illusion that we live in a post-racial society. His book uses the lives and work of five iconic Americans as a backdrop to explore how racism developed as a tool brandished by some of the country’s top minds. Stamped is a 2016 nonfiction winner for the National Book Awards.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Nickel Boys blends fiction with the real-life horrors of a 1960s juvenile reform school where many Black boys were abused and tortured, many never to return home. Whitehead’s use of historical fiction allows readers to explore the hidden blight of Jim Crow’s deepest reach and the impact of cultural amnesia for those who survived.
Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard
English professor Emily Bernard crafts 12 autobiographical essays in Black Is the Body, each exploring life as a Black woman in the United States. Through her deeply personal stories, she invites readers to explore the role of race in America and a life in defiance of it. Black Is the Body is a winner of the L.A. Times’ Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Author James Baldwin’s 1974 novel blends Black love and heartache, following the story of Tish and Fonny, an engaged couple who endure institutional racism and a broken criminal justice system. Baldwin’s tale is a gripping, heart-wrenching dive into Black relationships that endure regardless of a world set against them. After finishing this read, see Beale Street on the screen in a beautiful 2018 adaptation of Baldwin’s famed work.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Heralded as a top book of the decade and deemed “required reading” by Toni Morrison herself, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book Between the World and Me questions the concept of race and how the perception of it is most damaging to those who inhabit Black and brown bodies. Written from a father to his son, Between the World presents a new view of America’s legacy — a depiction that includes historical and modern-day violence cast upon Black citizens — and explores the burden Black Americans carry, both mentally and physically.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Caldecott Medal winner The Undefeated expands on a poem originally commissioned for ESPN’s The Undefeated, written as a tribute to author Kwame Alexander’s daughter and Barack Obama’s first presidential victory. With illustrations by Kadir Nelson, a Coretta Scott King Award recipient, the book features Black faces through time, overcoming enslavement, racism, and other struggles in a message that’s powerfully inspiring for readers of all ages.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
The standout young adult novel The Hate You Give follows Starr Carter, a teenager traumatized from witnessing her friend’s murder. Author Angie Thomas explores Black girlhood, code-switching, and activism through Starr’s character, who’s trying to thrive in the midst of grief and fear. A film adaptation of The Hate You Give made its way to theaters in 2018, and Thomas released Concrete Rose, a prequel to Starr’s story, in January 2021.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett’s second novel, The Vanishing Half, follows twin sisters leading parallel lives in the Jim Crow South — one who remains in the Black community of their youth, the other leaving her heritage behind to pass as a white woman. While ethnicity is one component of the story’s arc, Bennett explores how the past, especially unforgotten traumatic events, can influence the decisions we make and the futures we seek out.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God was controversial when originally published in 1937, denounced by Black literary critics for its failure to tackle racism during the height of the Harlem Renaissance’s efforts to debunk stereotypes. But decades later, Hurston’s literary work has been reexamined, giving room for reinterpretation that dives deep into the story of Janie Mae Crawford, a Black woman who escapes a series of bad marriages in search of joy and true companionship. Their Eyes Were Watching God is now considered a classic in the Black literary canon.
Bringing Up Race: How to Raise A Kind Child in a Prejudiced World by Uju Asika
British writer Uju Asika knows that kids eventually ask tough questions about race, and her book Bringing Up Race aims to help parents navigate those conversations with honesty, kindness, and directness. Featuring expert opinions, researched advice, and stories from parents, Asika’s book is relevant to the current fight for equity and gives parents the tools to not only raise open-minded kids of all backgrounds, but also support those who face racial discrimination themselves.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
One of the horrors of American enslavement is the lasting anonymity the system created, separating from historical record the names and stories of those subjugated to its horrors. In the debut novel The Prophets, author Robert Jones Jr. tackles a related void — that of same-sex relationships between those in bondage. Main characters Samuel and Isaiah make the decision to choose love in a time when they’re unable to pursue their dreams, and when others work to keep them apart.
Resist: 40 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers
Written for readers ages 8 to 12, Resist details the lives of famed activists before they became well known. The book’s kid-friendly profiles feature revolutionaries such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and Fannie Lou Hammer, as well as 37 other diverse activists, exploring what ignited their visions for change. A foreword by Senator Cory Booker reminds young readers that those who came before us have passed the torch to fight for the rights of all — a timely sentiment to instill in future generations during Black History Month.
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