As I have said before, I find literature, particularly fiction, the most natural way of understanding the human experience. A number of people have reached out to me for suggestions on reading black authors, black books – so here’s a little pile that will take you comfortably through summer. This is in no particular order.
A timeless classic, this book lays bare truly and honestly, the black peoples’ contribution to building the USA. There are many ways of approaching this book and picking apart its depiction of slavery. But I think it is a seminal read to see the relationships of slave owners and their slaves, the extent of reach civil war, and the motivations of people on both sides. It also shows how changing laws is the beginning of change, not the end. I would say if you can’t be bothered, watch the movie, but at 4.5 hrs runtime that’s no mean feat either!
2. The Color Purple
I had to read this novel for my degree, and that certainly took some pleasure out of it for me. But regardless, this Pulitzer prize winning book is fine literature. What is particularly devastating about this book is the amount of abuse it doesn’t shy away from depicting. A pregnant black woman is probably bottom of this world’s foodchain in some ways, and even if you ignore the colour of her skin, she gets trampled upon for her gender. This book made me come to terms with the fact that I will never truly grok the experience, and made me uniquely aware of my privilege.
3. Praise Song for the Butterflies
This is a shorter book, almost a novella, and what a fantastic book. This is a fictional story based on real life inspirations. If you have been feeling overwhelmed by the protests and would like to start easy, this would be your best best. The author’s style is lighter on the psyche, although continuing to deal with the hefty weight of its content. A young protagonist always provides some sense of hope, and eventual redemption.
I am always surprised that this book is not better known. Set in Carolina, this is the story of a white girl, her black nanny, and their combined fight against the world. This book is more centered around interpersonal relationships than the wider experience. This makes it enlightening, because the author sees the differences in race through the eyes of the protagonist. This book does have a happy ending, so perhaps one for these tough times!
5. The Bluest Eye
This book depressed me when I read it. It genuinely brought me down because of the utter helplessness of its characters. I think it also comes closest to the ‘Indian – experience’, of young girls and women wishing for fairer skins. This book is the only thing you need to read to understand why Toni Morrison won the Nobel and why the Obama couple regard her so highly. Read at your own peril, it’s gut-wrenching.
I like reading topical books. And so I have borrowed ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. I didn’t include it on the list because it is autobiographical. But A recommended it highly when he read it a few years ago and so I am sure I will enjoy it.
Remember to keep educating yourselves, and support black authors where you can.