The fight for America’s soul continues. If you want to understand what’s at stake, start reading.
In this tragic week in which the failures of the America’s promise to its citizen have been made abundantly clear, we have looked in our archives to identify ten books by Black writers chosen by Black notables. All should be required reading.
LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
By Nelson Mandela (Chosen by Uzo Aduba)
One of the last great men. His entire life was an education on how to be better, and this book reflects two things for me: greatness and the measure of a human, and how the essence of bravery can take many forms.
By Octavia E. Butler (Chosen by Lupita Nyong’o)
I was stunned by how relevant the themes of the book are to today. I did not imagine that sci-fi would be an enjoyable genre to get into for me, but Butler writes with such a familiarity that the alien is welcome and intriguing. She really artfully exposes our human impulse to self-destruct.
THE DEVIL FINDS WORK
By James Baldwin (Chosen by Yara Shahidi)
Through a series of essays, Baldwin discusses the significance of actors, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier and others, all mainstream entertainers and pivotal members of the Civil rights movement. Their on- and off-screen lives became political statements around the racial landscape of America. Baldwin recognizes the double-edged sword of media: A celebration and suppression of the Black community.
DON’T CALL US DEAD
By Danez Smith (Chosen by Roxane Gay)
The level of craft at work in each of the poems in “Don’t Call Us Dead” is exceptional. These are poems about black men and their imperiled, impassioned bodies, what it means to live with HIV, and so much more. There is pain here but there is so much joy, so much fierce resistance to anything that dares to temper the stories being told here.
By Yaa Gyasi (Chosen by Trevor Noah)
Thanks to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, America and Africa are linked in more ways than we usually think about. This is a fascinating novel about the legacy of slavery and white supremacy on both continents.
AN UNTAMED STATE
By Roxane Gay (Chosen by Gabrielle Union)
My first introduction to Roxane Gay’s writing — it changed me. I saw myself eerily and perfectly reflected on the pages of her harrowing debut novel. I finally felt understood as I sat frozen reading this book.
SONG OF SOLOMON
By Toni Morrison (Chosen by Marlon James)
Three quarters of the way in, and Song of Solomon is merely one of the three best books I’ve ever read. But the last 60 pages are one of the most astonishing feats of writing I’ve ever read. I remember reading it standing up, almost in this fever, and so thoroughly believing the ending that I almost jumped off my balcony.
THE FIRE NEXT TIME
By James Baldwin (Chosen by Ta-Nehisi Coates)
Basically the fines essay I’ve ever read. It’s technically two essays but it feels like one. Baldwin refused to hold anyone’s hand. He was both direct and beautiful all at once. He did not seem to write to convince you. He wrote beyond you.
DREAMS OF AFRICA IN ALABAMA: THE SLAVE SHIP CLOTILDA AND THE STORY OF THE LAST AFRICANS BROUGHT TO AMERICA
By Sylviane A. Diouf (Chosen by Questlove)
This book represents my chapter in American history—my great great great grandfather was on this ship. I’m his dream manifested.
THEY CAN’T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US
By Hanif Abdurraqib (chosen by Samantha Irby)
Cracks my heart wide open every time I read it, which I’ve done multiple times. The way he writes about music is straight up beautiful. Do you know who can move you to tears over fucking Fall Out Boy??? Hanif.