I took this photo at Longwood Gardens on President's Day. The kids were off from school, my husband and I from work. It was one of those family outings intended to foster connection and a love of nature. But it was feeling more like a slog as my kids argued in the cafe and I sat outside in the cold, watching them have a snowball fight with my husband. So I wandered over to the conservatory by myself to soak up the humidity and what flowery smells I could still make out through my mask. The daffodils and crocuses pictured above reminded me that spring is coming. And that reminder gave me peace and hope, so that I could walk back to my family and enjoy them, invite them to come see the spring flowers.
I am writing this on another day that feels like a slog--it's raining, there's still a pandemic going on, and one of my kids is congested so I couldn't drop them with the babysitter for my usual Sunday afternoon writing time. But the sun is rising earlier and setting later. Daffodil shoots poke through the dirt in my backyard. I hear birdsong in the morning and see more types of birds during the day. The first day of spring is less than a month away and I am feeling hopeful.
After hearing from a few people that they enjoyed my book lists, I thought I'd give you a few recommendations to carry the spirit of Black History Month into the rest of the year. I'm a big believer in reading as a way to build empathy, continue your education, and re-learn things that were not taught with full context back in elementary and high school. For me, as a white person growing up in the 1980s and 90s, this means reading about Black history and the Black experience in nonfiction books, novels, and poetry.
I also want to share a lesson I learned years ago from one of my students. I was still new to teaching and wanted to tailor my Literature Composition syllabus to the diverse group of students I had at community college. Unfortunately, we had to teach from the selected anthology and there weren't a lot of short stories by Black authors to choose from. After a class in which we discussed an excerpt of the battle royal scene from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, this student stayed after class to talk to me. He said something to the effect of "we are tired of reading only about our suffering."
My education is ongoing and incomplete, but that conversation taught me it's not enough to re-visit the more familiar aspects of Black history, such as slavery and the Civil Rights movement. Only learning about pain and struggle can create "the danger of a single story," as Novelist Chimamanda Adichie puts it so brilliantly in her Ted Talk of the same name.
So, in this list I include books I've read myself that cover a wider range of the Black experience, including love and joy. I've tried to keep it short so that you might find one title that grabs your interest. As always, I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for me. I was going to include books for kids, but ran out of time--so maybe next time.
Books For Adults
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: I listened to this on audio soon after it came out. A beautifully written book that teaches history through the compelling stories of three individuals who each left the south in different decades. This book gave me a seismic shift in perspective. I also have her latest book Caste on my TBR shelf.
Art on My Mind: Visual Politics by bell hooks: I read this in college and it has stayed with me since. A little academic, but even if you're not into that you can skim through to discover the artists hooks is in conversation with in these essays. I've been meaning to read hooks' Feminism is For Everyone, so maybe this will be the year.
The Beautiful Struggle by Te-Nehisi Coates: You've probably heard of Between the World and Me, but I also loved Coates' first book, a memoir about his family and his experience growing up in Baltimore in the 80s.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Published in 2013, this novel provides a more contemporary look at the Black experience through the perspective of a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. as a student.
Homegirls and Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez: It's hard to pick just one poet, so I'm going with Dr. Sanchez, a beloved former professor at my alma mater, Temple University. The newest edition of this book collects all her poetry from the 1980s.