Highlighting Black Authors and Black Characters - Black History Month

As most are already aware, February is Black History Month. Many years back, I made a promise to myself to read books that were written by more diverse authors, contained more diverse characters, and were about more diverse subject matter. I wanted to push myself to grow as an individual by reading a broader range of books. So while I initially planned to write a book highlighting some of the black authors or books containing black characters, I was embarrassed to find how few I had actually read. That said, I do have a long list of authors and books that I have on my shelves to read, or a list of books to check out. So I'd like to share some of my list with you all and encourage you to share some books or authors that you have read or want to check out.


I'm going to start with the books that I have read and have truly loved. First on the list is So Close to Being the Sh*t Y'all Don't Even Know by Retta. For anyone who has watched the tv shows Parks and Rec or Good Girls is familiar with Retta as an actress. Back in 2018, Retta wrote a memoir about her life growing up in New Jersey as the daughter of Liberian immigrants. Retta is an incredible storyteller that adds wit, sarcasm, and a touch of sass to her stories, keeping the reader engaged. I also highly recommend listening to the audiobook for this one because listening to these stories in Retta's own voice adds a certain extra flare to the already entertaining book.


Next on the list is a book written by a white woman, however there are a lot of racial issues addressed in the book. The book is Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. This book takes place down in Alabama from around the 1920s and the 1980s. While it isn't the main center of the book, there is a significant portion of the book that addresses things like the Ku Klux Klan, black people working as servants, black people being mistreated, etc. While there has been a movie made from this book, I encourage people to read the book as well. As is (almost) always the case, the book is significantly better.


Staying down in the South, we move over to Florida where the next book takes place. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is also one of the books that made the "banned books" list. This was a book that a friend of mine in high school encouraged me to read. While I did at one point read it, I can't honestly say that I remember much from what happened in this book, so it's back on my list of books to read. And since it falls on the banned book list, I also plan to do a proper write up about the book after I give it a proper reread.


Finally, the last book that made the list that I've read is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Trevor Noah is a well known comedian addressing news and political events. In this memoir about the early years of Trevor Noah's life, he breaks down the state of South Africa while he was growing up and the apartheid in a way that can be easily understood. Having a mother who is black and a father who is white, their relationship was considered illegal. This meant that his mixed race was considered a result of a crime, making it very challenging to fit in with others in the area. He explains the challenges that follow as being a mixed race child, the struggles that he and his family faced, and how the worked through it. This was another that I listened to as an audiobook and again encourage others to listen to it. Trevor Noah narrates it and I find it to be very powerful to hear someone tell their own life story.


As I said in the beginning, I have a long list of books and authors that I haven't read yet, but intend on reading sooner rather than later. I want to share my list of authors with you and encourage others to share their suggestions with me to add to my list.


Helen Oyeyemi is an author that was born in Nigeria and was raised in the UK. She wrote her first novel while studying in school and has continued to publish a variety of others. The book of hers that I plan to start with is the first that she published, The Icarus Girl.

Tayib Salih was a Sudanese author that spent part of his life living in the UK. He took events from his life as inspiration for his books. His best known novel, Seasons of Migration to the North, is the novel of his that I hope to start with.

Alexandra Sheppard is a UK based author that meets Greek Mythology with creative writing. Her debut novel, Oh My Gods, is one I hope to read soon.

Bryan Stevenson's memoir Just Mercy, is one that was recommended to me. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer in the US and in his memoir, he talks about his career as a lawyer and the clients he worked with.

Isabel Wilkerson is an American journalist and author who was the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. Her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is a non-fiction piece that talks about the Great Migration. This is a piece of history that I know nothing about despite being a significant part of African American history. I look forward to reading this piece and learning about this piece of history I was previously unaware of.

The movie Hidden Figures came out not too long ago, and was a big hit. What I recently realizes was that it was actually first a book written by a woman named Margot Lee Shetterly. For those unfamiliar with the premise, this tells the story of the black women who worked with NASA and helped the US win the space race. Without these women, things undoubtedly would have ended differently.


A discussion on black authors and black characters wouldn't be complete without mentioning individuals such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, etc. I admittedly haven't read nearly as much of their work as I would like and hope to read more of their work soon. However, as I was compiling my list, I was excited to add many more names that I hadn't heard of before. As I continue to read books by more diverse authors, I look forward to reading these books I listed above. Hopefully, by this time next year I will be able to talk about these books as more than just books I want to read, but rather what I thought of them.

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