15 books for black American writers to read

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For our Holiday 2018 issue, released December 2, T brought together 32 black writers who, along with their peers, produce literature essential to how we understand our country and its place in the world right now. “When I was asked to consider the peculiarities of the current landscape, I wondered if the emphasis on male success might obscure the equally unprecedented successes of African American women,” writes Ayana Mathis in her essay. ‘accompaniement. “And does this question undermine this extraordinary moment for black writers?” She admits that she did not find a sufficient answer to this question, “but I know that the work of black writers presents a fierce challenge to old sexist perceptions; like [the author and scholar Farah] Griffin says, ‘the difference between this moment and the others is that in the past to be a black writer was to be a man.’ Here Nelson George, Samuel R. Delany, Major Jackson and other men on our pages tell us about their favorite literary works of black American women.

Read more: Black writers for our time

Morrison’s prose in “Beloved”(1987) is breathtaking and the subject is intense. She succeeded in elevating the experiences of African slaves and their descendants in a different kind of consideration; one in which these characters were given flesh, love, and spirit, functioning as actual human beings rather than creations of the white imagination. And what a dilemma the book poses: Should you murder your own children to spare them the degradation, dehumanization, humiliation and violence of what pre-war slavery is? Are you ready to bear the ghostly weight of this decision? And what if you think you are but aren’t really? The book is a sheer shine and a sharp accusation of the country. – Robert Jones Jr., author of the forthcoming novel “The prophets»(2019 or 2020).


It is a remarkable novel – a book that is in conversation with all of these iconic currents of American literature and yet is in no way defined by them. The book is wiser, more sensitive to how race and class, violence and poverty have shaped and continue to shape this country than anything else I have come across. There is also this fierce, irrepressible dignity and all these complicated and tense gestures of love and attempts at love that make it difficult to let go of this book. – Dinaw Mengestu, author of the novels “The beautiful things that the sky carries“(2007),”How to read the air“(2010) and”All our names” (2014).


Lorde writes, “I / am total black, being spoken / from within the earth. And there I was born again in that little slum of a cottage in the early 2000s on a too hot summer in Austin, Texas, ladybugs stuck to the windows, raccoons fighting stray cats in the dry bed of the house. stream just west of my bedroom wall. Again and again, I read “Charbon”, aloud, to mosquitoes, to stray cats that would appear from their fights; I read the poem to whoever wanted to hear it because it spoke of darkness – of “blackness” – like a kind of openness, like what speaks, like what makes love. I had never seen a poem take such possession of its ontological and epistemological self. – Roger Reeves, author of the collection of poetry “King me”(2013).


What I like most about Bambara’s “Gorilla, my love”(1972) is his unabashed celebration of the dark. His preface on writing about the family is classic: “There is no point in writing autobiographical fiction, because the minute the book arrives on the stand, here is your mum screaming how could you and sighing.” death where is your sting and it tears you from your bed to grill you on what was going on there in Brooklyn… ”Notice, if you will, that there are no apostrophes instead of g missing its gerunds. I would bet her decision to give it up was political, as Bambara was, without a doubt, a political artist – as we all are, if we’re telling the truth. – Mitchell S. Jackson, author of the novel “Years of residue“(2013) and the next thesis”Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family“(2019).


I love the bright, bluesy use of the vernacular of “Corregidora”(1975) by Gayl Jones, its flawless treatment of sex, its haunting and ambiguous mix of characters and how it is a deeply American novel that is also international in its scope. – Jamel Brinkley, author of the short story collection “A lucky man“(2018).


I love the way Hurston plays by his own rules on the page. Some people hate phonetic prose spelling, but that’s fine with me. I was inspired and emboldened the first time I came across “Their eyes looked at God»(1937). Her voice is so irreverent and full of hard earned knowledge. – Marcus Burke, author of the novel “Team Seven” (2014).


I am really impressed with the game of Notation “Intimate clothing”(2004) and the poetry that fits into it. Nottage’s hand is as subtle as his heart is passionate; it illuminates a forgotten corner of history, as with its own light. It is designed in such a way that the simplest actions become revelations of love, loss, longing and sorrow. – Nathan Alan Davis, author of the plays “Nat Turner in Jerusalem“(2017) and”Dontrell, who kissed the sea“(2017).


Before seeing Hansberry’s play “A raisin in the sun”(1959) on stage, I watched the [1961] film with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. I was stunned by the diversity of the characters and his ability to bring the Younger family to life. – Nelson George, author of the novels “A short woman“(2000),”The conspiracy against hip-hop“(2011) and”Funk and die in LA“(2017).


One of my favorite poetry volumes is “Recyclopedia“(2006), which brings together Mullen’s first three books (” Trimmings “,” S * PerM ** K * T “and” Muse and Drudge “), whose radiant playfulness with language (riffs and puns on received sentences) has modeled for me a freedom to propel into sound, the primary foundation (function?) of all poetry, as a non-linear means of signifying existence in multiple directions. – Major Jackson, author of the poetry books “Ride in depth“(2015) and the next” The Absurd Man “(2020).


Sinclair’s first book, “Cannibal”(2016), is a devastating and magnificent renegotiation – in his words – of the English language. She is interested in the many forms of violence that English and those who spoke it perpetrated either against themselves or against the black and brown peoples they colonized, and pushes this story in all her work, whether in poetry. or in prose. Yet all the while, you can hear – at least it’s clear to me – that she is still savoring that English, making a new queen, if only for her own lush, albeit sick, beauty. This way, Sinclair does stunts; she is a bougainvillea, requiring a space of speech for the “wild” and the “feminine”. – Rickey Laurentiis, author of the collection of poetry “boy with thorn” (2015).


“from Kincaid”Annie john»(1985) was, is and will undoubtedly remain for me an essential text. It’s not just a great novel fueled by an unwavering sense of what the phrase – like a stethoscope – can discover in the human heart, it’s also a poignant map of a world that forms an essential part of who I am. am. Like Kincaid, I’m American but passing through Antigua, and it’s hard to put words into what it’s like to read the little place you come from – a place so small it sometimes appears. not even on a card – dipped in amber by a great writer. – Rowan Ricardo Phillips, author of the poetry collections “Ground“(2012) and”paradise” (2015).


With two books coming out next year (“Magical negroAnd “Who Put This Song On? 2019 rightfully belongs to Parker. His poems tear me apart with their intelligence, black humor and black-hearted vision. Parker is one of the best minds of this generation, able to hold herself and her world, which includes us all, to impossible lights, revealing the slightest of our hopes, failures, possibilities and raptures. – Danez Smith, author of the poetry collections “[Insert] Boy“(2014) and”Don’t call us dead“(2017).


When I first read “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie(2012) and seeing how deeply Mathis had immersed herself in studying the complex relationships between mothers and their children, I knew I wanted to work with her. Growing up as an only child, the novel answers so many questions that I have, for years, had about great North African-American families with southern roots. – De’Shawn Charles Winslow, author of the next novel “At West Mills“(2019).


[This book] It taught me something incredible and essential: the cruelest of us are often victims too. The book showed me that the world can make monsters out of the best of us, and in doing so, helped me see that maybe there aren’t any monsters at all. Only humans have consumed, swept and eaten out of their own fear, their own pain. It taught me that getting a reader to love a character and hate a character are two huge and worthy tasks. Making us feel both things about the same character, it’s magic. – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of the novel “black friday“(2018).


I would like to recommend the collection of short stories “Bloodchild and other stories”(The revised edition, published in 2005) by my former student Octavia E. Butler, and especially her story“ Amnesty ”(2004), contained in this volume. Several people, including the late editor-in-chief David Hartwell and myself, have considered this to be one of the most important stories written and published by anyone in science fiction to date. I think this is certainly one of Butler’s finest works, and his image of possible cooperation and help between species is a great example of how differences can be overcome. – Samuel R. Delany, author of “Back to Nevèrÿon“the series (1979-87) and the novel”Dark reflections”(2007).


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