Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Books for black history month

February may be past the midway mark - still not too late to check out some books in celebration of black history month. I'm taking advantage of the event to fill a big gap in my own familiarity with the canon. What's on my bedside table? It was a coincidence, but one of the writers in my critique group recently gave me Toni Morrison's Beloved, in which I'm now immersed.

While living in the Bahamas for several years when I was growing up, I encountered some great literature by authors of African descent. I remember stumbling on an dog-eared copy of Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, in the College of the Bahamas library. That classic made an indelible impression on me. Then there were pivotal historical works by Americans like Malcolm X (The Autobiography of Malcolm X), Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice), Alex Haley (Roots) and Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). My mother gave me some of these, others I sought out myself. It was thought provoking, often disturbing reading - and it helped raise my consciousness during my own coming of age.

For a West Indian POV, my friend Marie Sairsingh, a PhD candidate in Caribbean literature at Howard University, recommends Edwidge Danticat's Brother I'm Dying and Merle Dodge's Crick Crack Monkey.

Add to that a dusting of poetry - while my son was enrolled in a wonderful enriched English program in grade school - he found time to read Langston Hughes for extra-curricular pleasure. I would recommend all of these to young adult readers.

Looking for more contemporary literature on the theme of black history - for kids of all ages? Here's a great list posted by Bianca Schulze in the blog, The Children's Book Review: blackhistorybooks.

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