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August 24, 2007

One African American Reading List

In the course of this ongoing discussion of race and literature, David Anthony Durham gave a commenter on his blog a recommended reading list -- but only in the comments. I hope he doesn't mind my reposting it here--mainly because I want to save a record of it for my own use.

Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin (First novel by a famous black literary novelist, about coming of age, identity, religion, race.)

The Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (The only novel by a sci-fi novelist here – a tale of a near future with a world in increasing chaos, brutal and grim, but also poignantly hopeful as well. If you haven't read her please do. I think she was terrific, and I'm disappointed I'll never get the chance to meet her.)

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (Classic with a capitol C. His notion of invisibleness of African Americans became a central theme and metaphor regarding race in America.)

Angel of Harlem, by Kuwana Haulsey (A young, contemporary author. This is basically a biopic novel about the first black female physician in New York. That was a rather amazing accomplishment considering that the medical community didn’t think blacks – much less a female as well – were anatomically capable of higher thinking.)

Hunting in Harlem, by Mat Johnson (Another young author, decidedly urban, with a bit of the “thriller” to it.)

The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas, by Reginald McKnight (Interesting short stories with quite a bit of range.)

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. (Toni can be tough to get into, but she's worth the effort. I think Beloved is one of the best novels written - ever. I mention this one, though, cause it's darn good to, and bit more accessible.)

Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (This is a crime novel and can be enjoyed as such. I also think it’s shot right through with insightful – and sometimes confrontational – thoughts on wearing dark skin in the US.)

I’d be being coy if I didn’t mention my own books, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness. I’m very proud of them, and believe they’re accessible and plot-driven at the same time as they're meant to hit some deeper themes.

I can second the Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, and, of course, Ralph Ellison picks. And I have to admit that Song of Solomon really didn't do anything for me. Everything else is going on my wishlist.


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Does that mean that Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness are going on that wish list too? (An author can hope, can't he?...)

Hi, no problem with you posting the list here. Thanks. It's funny that you didn't like Song of Solomon, though. Just a couple days ago I assigned it as required reading for 25 students. Oops... I'll do my best to convince them, though. I'll do my best.

Take care,



i read SOS when i was about 15 or 16, and even then i realized that i was too young for it. maybe it's time to re-read.

also, i agree that it's good for students to read stuff they don't like. i once TAed a kind of a mixed-bag class where the reading list changed every semester. the semester i was there we read a lot of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets (god, i hate typing that!) and the students were absolutely up in arms, every week.

i didn't love it either, but i saw my role as advocating for the work. by the end of the semester, even though they were still hating on it, they had picked up the language and concepts and had become VERY critical of the very accessibility of more traditional work. i kinda knew that some of those works they read were going to be the ones they remembered most.

there are some images from SOS that still stick in my head, by the way.

oh, and yeah, i'm planning on picking up your work, too. last first, though ;)

I detested Invisible Man when forced to read it in high school. Maybe I'll try it again.

Thanks for the list, I bookmarked it.

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