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Eight books you should read for Black History Month


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Black history month is celebrated annually to recognise the important events and individuals of the history of the African diaspora. Here are a few books, both non-fiction and fiction, that should be read to celebrate black history - not only in February but all year round.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Published in 1987 and set after the American Civil War, Beloved by Toni Morrison was inspired by a story of Margret Garner, an African American slave. Sethe, the main protagonist, escapes slavery and kills her two-year old daughter to prevent her being recaptured and taken back to the plantation in which she fled. Years later, a woman called Beloved seeks shelter in Sethe’s home and brings up the horrors of the past.

Beautifully written, Beloved explores the impacts of slavery on a community and the individual psyche, and the complexity of a relationship between a mother and daughter.

Their Eyes were Watching God, by Nora Zeale Hurston. 

Published in 1937, Hurston’s novel follows Janie Crawford through childhood to womanhood, as she finds herself and the true meaning of life. Hurston’s use of African-American dialect might make this a difficult read, but this just illustrates Hurstons talent and literary skill. If you enjoy reading about independent female characters who are trying to thrive in a world that is designed to reduce them, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a great feminist coming of age tale.

Recitatif, by Toni Morrison

This short story by Toni Morrison follows two women, Twyla and Roberta, from when they meet in an orphanage through to adulthood, where the two woment have taken very different paths. In this narrative Morrison explores racial tensions and disability discrimination. Interestingly, Morrison explores racial differences without actually stating the ethnicity of the two protagonists. A quick read that explores so many elements that a crucial to black history, Morrison's short story is perfect if you're short on time but still want to commemorate black history month.
Cane, by Jean Toomer

Noted as one of the key texts of the Harlem Renaissance, Toomer’s Cane experiments with various forms of literature: prose, poetry and drama. Exploring the lives of different African Americans within one town, Toomer explores elements of femininity, north and south, the aftermath of slavery, and racial heritage.

In the early 20th century, Harlem (New York City) was arguably a cultura mecca for African Americans, and the centrepoint of a social and artistic explosion. Although the start of this movement is questionable, many academics locate Cane at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, published in 1952, follows an unnamed narrator as he searches for his own identity, in a world where the colour of his skin renders him invisible. Ellison explores the roles of African Americans in higher education, black men in the industrial workplace, and the politics within a civil rights group. This is quite a long read, but explores so many elements that effected the lives of black males it is a key fictional text regarding black history month.       

Quicksand, by Nella Larsen  

Larsen's narrative follows Helga Crane, a mixed race woman trying to find her place in early twentieth century America and Europe. Folllowing Crane's journey from a conservative school in Naxos, to Chiacago, to bustling Harlem in New York City, to Amsterdam and back to Harlem and then finally the south. Larsen presents the issues faced by individuals who have both white and black parentage. Cranes journey and narrative is emotional and harrowing, and whilst her ending might not be perfect, her story is one that many individuals can connect to.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X with Alex Haley

A significant leader in the civil rights movement, The Autobiography of Malcolm X provides key insight into the history of twentieth century fight for civil rights. He has been named one of the most influential African Americans in history. The prolific activist challenged the mainstream civil rights movement that was lead by Martin Luther King Jr. and argued that African Americans should be able to defend themselves from white aggression.

Born as Malcolm Little, he made a strong stance by changing his last name to ‘X’, foregrounding the lost history of generations caught up in slavery, and his rejection of what his surname represented. His autobiography is a key text that laid the foundations for the 1970s Black Power movement that occurred after his assassination.

Linden Hills, by Gloria Naylor

Linden Hills explores the effects of the American Dream upon an African American community. An afluent neighbourhood created by power hungry Luther Needed who controls the entire suburb, whislt hiding a dark family secret. 

Naylor's story is an allegory for Dante's inferno and as we folllow the two protagonists down Linden Hills, the narrative reveals the true hell behind the American Dream that many seek out.  

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