Friday, July 6, 2012

50 books to read in the struggle

This morning I read an article in the Huffington Post, a suggestion of books that every African American should read.
The list of books, fiction and non-fiction, were chosen in the context of books that would make good summer reading on vacation, at the beach or traveling. Well enough.  
I I suppose that for me the word, "should," overwhelmed the otherwise casual context of the list. I began to think about what books I would choose for a list of "the 50 books that every African American should read."
 Preparing lists of recommended books for the community to read is rarely far from my thoughts. Since I was a child I've been creating these lists of Black classics, first in response to my grammar school readers that almost always marginalized Black characters or my young adult books that almost never listed a Black book in their "best of" lists on the back endpaper or back cover.  
Through my college and grad school experience,  literary works by Black writers were sparsely explored in most of my classes. Some professors gave balanced treatment of Black writers, but most professors (and most of my professors were white) made only superficial exploration of Black texts. I once had a professor who never met eye contact with me during the entire semester until the one day that the class was assigned to read Langston Hughes. On that day, he only looked at me as he talked about Hughes. What was the message to my all white classmates? "Black literature is for Black people; you don't have to worry about it" is the conclusion that I drew.
This longstanding dearth of Black texts in my academic experience was certainly an influence on me when I began teaching developmental writing, freshman composition and Black literature at a community college in the 1990s. 
Where the composition textbooks failed to provide models of strong writing by Black writers, I filled in the gaps. I used material by Dr. King, James Baldwin, Haki Madhubuti, poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Paul Laurence Dunbar. My students were apprehensive and perplexed about the Declaration of Independence as assigned reading, but they understood the effectiveness of the rhetorical strategies that I pointed out, and later when we read Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech and material from the Black Panther's ten-point plan, they not only absorbed the continuity of certain rhetorical strategies in key American texts, but most importantly the content of some of those texts reflected their own cultural values and voice.  In this way, my students' (the majority of them were black) cultural identity was validated because those black texts held equal weight with the texts by white writers published in their textbooks.
[Apologizes for the errant content that appeared here in an earlier draft of this post.]
That validation was palpable. Students really got into the texts, reading closely at home, looking up words, and coming into class saying that they couldn't wait to talk about what they read. The students practiced using these writers' strategies to give voice to their own ideas. This was all very exciting for them and for me, convincing me of the importance of balancing the selection of cultural voices used to teach college writing, just as our democracy is validated and our nation is served best when diverse voices are respected in our national conversations. 
This list of books reflects the mission of Now Rise Books, to arm our community with cultural information and affirmation needed to participate in our national conversations that consider race, citizenship, cultural pride and contributions of many voices that represent contemporary America. Would appreciate hearing your comments and additional recommendations.. 
2. The Book of Negro Folklore (Eds. Langston Hughes & Arna Bontemps, 1958)
3. A Frances E(llen) W(atkins) Harper Reader (Frances Smith Foster, 1990)
4. Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (Fannie Jackson Coppin, 1913)
5. On Lynchings (Ida B. Wells-Barnett, ed. by Norm R. Allen, 2001, includes Southern Horrors, her first pamphlet on the subject. Later, after moving to Chicago and marrying lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, she brought out the pamphlets. A Red Record and Mob Rule in New Orleans)
6. Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829 (David Walker, 1829)
7. Black Women in the Ivory Tower: 1850-1954: An Intellectual History (Stephanie Y. Evans, 2008)
8. Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1987)
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston, 1937)
10. The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown (1990)
11.  The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson, 1927 [1912])
12.  The Book of Negro American Poetry, Revised Edition (ed., James Weldon Johnson, including the "Preface" to the 1st edition, 1931)
13.  Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson, 1832)
start with this excerpt:
o   Notes on the State of Virginia --
o   Notes on the State of Virginia "Laws"The administration of justice and description of the laws?
Laws -
14.  The Declaration of Independence (Thomas Jefferson, et al, 1776)
15.  "I Have A Dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I Have A Dream, ed. James Melvin Washington, 1992)
16.  Seize The Time, (Bobby Seale, 1970) see Black Panther Party Ten Point plan announced by Bobby Seale: YouTube
17.  Black Studies in the University (eds. Armstead L. Robinson, Craig C.Foster, Donald H. Ogilvie, 1969)
18.  How Europe Underdeveloped America (Walter Rodney, 1972)
19.  The Mis-Education of the Negro (Carter G. Woodson, 1933)
20.  Brainwashed (Tom Burrell,  2011)
21.  Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey (Colin Grant, 2010)
22.  The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon, 1963 translation)
23.  Africa's Gift to America (J[oel] A[ugustus] Rogers, 1961)
24.  Jesus and the Disinherited (Howard Thurman, 1949)
25.  They Came Before Columbus (Ivan van Sertima, 1976)
26.  The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, (Cheikh Anta Diop, 1967)
27.  The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin, 1963)
28.  Brown sugar : eighty years of America's Black female superstars (Donald Bogle, 1980)
29.  Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: Afrikan American families in transition : essays in discovery, solution, and hope /  (Haki Madhubuti, 1990)
31.  Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1962 (Lerone Bennett Jr., 1962)
32.  The Black Poets (Dudley Randall, 1971)
33.  Unbought and Unbossed (Shirley Chisholm, 1970)
34.  The Emancipation Proclamation (Abraham Lincoln, 1863)
35.  Stride Toward Freedom (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1955) and Where Do We Go From Here, (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  1967)
36.  The Lonely Londoners (Sam Selvon, 1956)
37.  Hamlet (1603) and Romeo & Juliet (1597) (William Shakespeare)
38.  The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (Katherine Anne Porter, 1984)
39.  Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization: Exploding the Myths (Anthony T. Browder, 1992)
40.  Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1885)
41.  The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros, 1984)
42.  Common Sense (Tom Paine, 1784)
43.  The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway, 1926)
44.  Sojourner Truth: Speech to the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851
45.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
46.  The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan, 1989)
47.  A Different Drummer (William Melvin Kelley, 1962)
48.  A’int I a Woman: black woman and feminism (bell hooks, 1981)
49.  A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid, 2000)
50.Brothers and Sisters (Bebe Moore Campbell, 1995)

Last updated on July 10, 2012

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