I am neither a wealthy nor powerful man. However since I was born in America with white skin I’ve benefited from white privilege my entire life. Unless there is a colossal change in American culture between here and the end of this journey I will continue to be the beneficiary of it. That doesn’t mean I should be ignorant of or indifferent to the life others must endure or their ancestors endured. Reading is one way to gain some of that knowledge. Let’s explore.
Reading has always been an important part of my life. In January of 2020 I entered what I call Phase II of retirement and by mid-March the pandemic changed the way I led my life. Both allowed for even more reading.
The unrest of this summer highlighted the racial inequity lulling many white Americans out of their complacency. It reminded me a lot of what Bloody Sunday did for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A few months ago a friend suggested starting an anti-discrimination group. That led me to think about the African-American authors whose works I had read over the past few years. Below I will highlight eight such authors and one or more of their works that I have read in just the past few years. This is far from a ranking or inclusive list of the best of African-American writing. I disproportionately read non-fiction so a lot of great fiction is not even mentioned. All the non-fiction works are in the Recommended Reading Section of this site; fiction is not eligible. Even for non-fiction making the list is not easy. The majority of my non-fiction reading never makes the cut.
In alphabetical order by author I give you the following:
The New Jim Crow is the seminal book on racism in modern America and the standard by which all works on mass incarceration are judged.
Dr. Anderson’s book One Person No Vote, while short in length at well under 200 pages, is the best work I have ever read on voter suppression in America with a particular and succinct history of the efforts to suppress the Black vote.
If Beale Street Could Talk was set in the 1970s yet it rings true today. This realistic work of fiction portrays the challenges a young Black couple faces while just trying to live their lives peacefully.
While I don’t always 100% agree with him (and perhaps because of that) I consider Coates to have one of the greatest minds in today’s America.
His first work of fiction, The Water Dancer, was published in late 2019 and is simply both stunning and brilliant.
His August 2014 essay for The Atlantic entitled, The Case For Reparations, really put him on the map.
The two non-fiction books of his I have read are Between The World And Me and We Were Eight Years In Power. “Between” is a letter to his young son – unusual format but great book. “Eight Years” came out shortly after Barack Obama left office and the title would lead you to believe it was about Obama’s time in office – you would be incorrect. It deals with the way Jim Crow took Black elected officials out of office in post-Civil War South Carolina,
If you read one author on this list for education make it him, especially if you are a white suburban boy.
I doubt you will find her name on any other lists of African-American authors but her book, The Address Book, is certainly well worth your time to read. It deals with the plethora of people throughout the world including in America (mostly non-white), who do not have a street address and its repercussions. Ms. Marks lives in the UK but is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I “met” her earlier this year on a Zoom call while she was in London, England and I was in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Some good things have come of the pandemic.
Nance is a specialist in cyber security. His three books: The Plot To Hack America, The Plot To Destroy Democracy and The Plot To Betray America while they build on each other and therefore are a bit redundant really explain what is going on in a world few of us truly understand. Nance was way ahead of investigators including Robert Mueller in unveiling portions of Russiagate. While much of this sounds boring it doesn’t read that way. Nance’s book will not tell you anything about racism; that is not his gig.
On November 17, 2020 Obama’s third book, A Promised Land, was released. While long it was not a laborious read. It seemed more like I was having a conversation with the author than reading his book. In it Obama talks about the challenges of simultaneously bring a good person, husband, father and president. In the process he does not shy away from talking about the challenges being Black presented. Back in 2008 I read his previous books: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, but I consider A Promised Land the best by far. (In full disclosure I worked for him for most of 2012 albeit in a low level position.)
You might ask what is an old white guy doing reading basically a YA African-American author. The answer is that Thomas is a great writer. Her first novel, The Hate U Give, was a New York Times best seller. Her second novel, On The Come Up, didn’t disappoint. The books take place in a mythical neighborhood resembling Compton or the South Bronx and I will admit I learned a few terms that white Baby Boomers don’t exactly sling around.
How much do I like her writing? Well let me answer it this way; the other day I placed a pre-order with my local independent bookseller for her third book, Concrete Rose, which is scheduled to be released on January 12th. If you want the “flavor” of today’s inner city Black youth read Thomas’ works.
I was introduced to Whitehead’s works by my local independent bookseller and almost instantly fell in love with his writing. His works take on a lot of very different topics but the two I read and highly recommend are The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad. Both are works of historical fiction with more of an emphasis on history than fiction. They are ugly and brutal while simultaneously beautiful and educational. Life isn’t always pretty! Both books have been highly honored and if you ever have a chance to view a Colton Whitehead interview do so! It will surprise but certainly not disappoint you.
I guess my bottom line is that books by Black authors can enlighten you; all you have to do is read them. A personal plea is that if you buy them please do so from your local independent bookseller; they can use the business and they make your community a better place.
This article was written well ahead of publishing in order to accommodate my year end hiatus and is the property of tellthetruthonthem.com. Its content may not be used without citing the source. It may not be reproduced without the permission of Larry Marciniak.