I hope everyone had an informative and reflective Black History Month! This month for the Own Voices Global Reading Challenge we read for Black America (#ownvoices selections from Black American authors). Here’s what I read, listened to, and who I followed this month!
What I Read
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: My favorite of the month! This book has been on my TBR for ages, and I finally sat down to it and read it all in one sitting. Following the life of Janie from her idyllic but illusionary childhood, through her marriages, through her adventures and travels, Their Eyes radiates with beauty, love, and self-discovery. The story was so vibrant and moving, so complex and philosophical. I loved Janie and her story; she’s probably one of the most interesting and complex characters I’ve ever read. I was thinking about her and her story long after I closed the book.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Another that’s been on my TBR for ever. I was working at the library when this book exploded in popularity — it was almost never on the shelf. With Jones being a local author, I was excited to read her Atlanta and this book did not disappoint. Moving between the lives of a married couple, Roy Jr. and Celestial, the novel navigates the complicated terrain of love while the characters navigate the even more complicated terrain of a wrongful conviction and imprisonment. I was riveted to the last chapter, unsure how it was going to turn out well for anyone with only a few pages left. A moving portrait of love, loss, and the effects of the criminal justice system on Black lives, this novel is an instant classic.
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine: I had the honor of meeting Claudia Rankine while I was in college. She was a guest at Agnes Scott College’s Annual Writers’ Festival in 2017 while I was interning with the program. I was amazed by her wisdom and quiet grace, and I thoroughly enjoyed her reading though I had never read her work. When I devised this challenge, she was immediately at the forefront of my list for this month. Citizen is a moving collection of experiences, reflections, and essays in which Rankine lays bare the Black experience. There was so much I learned not only about the physical and casual experiences that Black women face, but also about historical events of racism and violence that I had never heard about before.
- For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange: I found this book from a bingo card for Black history month by @diverseclassics on Instagram (see below!). I had heard about this book here and there, but I didn’t really know what to expect from it. It was unlike anything that I’ve ever read. Written and performed on stage originally in the 1970s, For Colored Girls is a moving and flowing collection of Black women’s experiences. It can be hard to read. I will admit that the form of this book really inhibited the experience of it for me. I have no experience in theater, I don’t read plays, and I only read poetry when forced. I’d love to watch this book performed, as it was intended.
- Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson: Another that’s been on my TBR for a while! This book came to my attention more seriously when the film was released, but I had watched it dance around on Bookstagram for a while. I found a copy at my library book sale recently, so I had it up farther on the list. I knew it would be good, but I had no idea how moving, how emotional, and how mindset changing it would be for me. The book follows the experience of the now-famed civil rights lawyer Brian Stevenson as he became involved with Death Row cases and began his organization the Equal Justice Initiative. The stories Stevenson told about the people he met on Death Row, the injustices they faced, the outright racism that warped their lives was truly harrowing. I cried a lot reading this book. It truly changed how I think about the world and the experiences of others in it.
What I Listened To
- Ella Fitzgerald (with Louie Armstrong): a classic! I love nothing more than dancing around the kitchen cooking dinner while Ella and Louie sing their jazz.
- H.E.R.: I’ve been a fan of H.E.R.’s award show performances for years. Her style and skill and attitude and persona on stage is electric and empowering. I’ve just gotten around to listening to her music more casually and I’ve really enjoyed the experience!
- Bobby Hebb: I found the song “Sunny” on instagram’s music feature while I was looking for a happy song to put with a video of one of my cats rolling in the sun. The rain and cold and whisper of spring this month has me listening to this song literally once a day.
- The Birth of Rhythm and Blues (Spotify playlist): I love this Spotify playlist! So much good music!
- Women of Motown (Spotify playlist): Another classic. Gladys Knight and Diana Ross — need I say more?
Who I Followed
- @booksbythecup: This Bookstagram is so dreamy! Creator La’Shell posts photos daily of Black-authored books with cups of tea. She’s been working through the alphabet this month, posting a photo each day with a theme.
- @nedratawwab: Nedra Glover Tawwab is a therapist and writer who posts amazing graphics about mental health, healthy relationships, and living to your truth. This is a great entry way into therapy for someone considering it, and a great resource for those who can’t invest fully in therapy at the time.
- @rachel.cargle: Rachel Elizabeth Cargle is a writer, academic, and lecturer. For the month of February, in honor of Black History Month, she posts prompts for folks to research Black History for themselves. I love this idea! It’s an amazing way to bring attention to topics in Black history that aren’t well known and to practice your researching skills.
- @diverseclassics: A staple of Bookstagram! This account is dedicated to highlighting marginalized voices in the literary world as well as redefining what the “classic canon” is. I’ve discovered so many new authors and books through this account. They also shared this amazing bingo-card style list for Black classics which was very helpful in building my TBR!
Here are some topics in Black America that need to be talked about. Obviously, this short list doesn’t begin to cover the traumas and injustices and realities that Black Americans face each day living in this country, but it is a good place to start to bring awareness to targeted and vulnerable people in this community. DISCLAIMER: Many of these issues deal with violence against Black people. Read the links at your discretion.
- Violence against Transwomen of Color: MTV has recently launched a new show in their primetime slot on Wednesdays called MTV True Crime in which Dometi Pongo, the host, investigates crimes against young people, largely people of color. The show is hard to watch at times, but it brings a lot of light to issues that the modern American teenager faces, especially when they are from marginalized groups. One episode covers the murder of Kedarie Johnson, a gender-fluid teen in Iowa in 2016. The episode largely focuses on Kedarie’s murder, but also highlights a major issue in the Black Community today — violence against transwomen and gender non-conforming people. Often, the woman or person’s race and gender identity puts them at greater risk for violence, and their murders are not being solved, reported on, or brought to public attention.
- Books in Prison: Reading Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson already had the prison system on my mind, and then articles began to come to my attention that discussed the censorship and banning of books in prison, which appear to be largely racially motivated. Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and history books about racism in America are among those on banned lists across the country. Obviously, being such a huge proponent myself of freedom to read, this was a big issue for me. People in the prison system not only still have the right to read and pursue learning and education and art, but they have the right to access stories that resonate with them and reflect their experience and identity. The Equal Justice Initiative has fought the courts in many cases and has gotten bans lifted on what books prisoners are allowed to receive in prison, but most states still have racially biased banned lists. If you are interested in donating books to prisons, check this link for a list of organizations you can support. To learn more about the history of racism in the prison system, check out Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13TH, which is currently available on Netflix.
- Violence against Black children in schools: The Black body is safe almost no where in America. In schools, headlines recently have been bombarded with news about children of color, especially Black children, facing extreme and unbelievable violence in schools. Increasingly, this violence comes at the hands of police. All ages are risk: 6-year-olds, 11-year-olds, teenagers. Black youth are more likely to be arrested at school than any other group. This report from an activist group called We Came to Learn reports on the history of violence against Black children in schools, highlighting that our current situation stems from segregationist beliefs and practices. The violence is not only physical: ‘spirit-murdering‘ of youth of color takes place when school systems, teachers, and administrators denigrate the identity and experience of their students in a racially discriminatory way. This action kit by We Came to Learn can provide you with resources and support for fighting racial discrimination against children in your schools.
I hope you enjoyed this month’s reading as much as I did. I got around to books that had been on my list forever, discovered new favorites, and learned more about the experience of my Black siblings in America. There is so much work to be done. Let’s get going!