Black History Month is important for many reasons. It’s important because of how widespread and systematic racism is, even in 2018, and it’s important simply because black history is American history.
A fantastic way to celebrate the month is to read books written by African-American authors, though the novels don’t need to leave your to-be-read (TBR) list when March comes around. Many African-American penned stories have just as much literary merit as their canonical counterparts, but often go overlooked due to the systemic tendency to downplay the academic or artistic value of cultural commodities produced by minority figures.
By choosing to read African-American literature year-round, readers are fighting the underrepresentation of black people in literature. In children’s literature, less than 8 percent of books published in 2015 were written by or about African-American people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.
Such poor representation should alarm readers of all races, as inequality of authorship only leads to one-sided storytelling and therefore an inability for readers to see themselves in the stories they love. If you are looking for some children’s or young adult books written by African-American authors, here are six authors to check out.
Angie Thomas is a young adult author. Her most famous and celebrated work is her debut novel “The Hate U Give,” which focuses on a young woman named Starr who loses her best friend Khalil to police brutality.
After witnessing the event, she is forced to stand up for what is right and fight for justice. The book has received critical acclaim, several glowing reviews and is being adapted into a movie by 20th Century Fox. Her book, “On the Come Up,” which revolves around a teen from Garden Heights who wants to be a rapper, will be coming out in June.
Sharon Draper is a distinguished African-American writer and educator. She has written well over a dozen books, with many of them classified as being children’s or young adult books.
Her most popular books include “Out of My Mind,” a story about a young girl named Melody who has cerebral palsy and a photographic memory; “Copper Sun,” which is about a fifteen-year-old who becomes involved with the slave trade; and one of her latest releases, “Stella by Starlight,” where the titular character uses her words to fight back against the Ku Klux Klan who pose a threat to her community. With an impressive array of books, Draper’s words are compelling and worth reading.
Jason Reynolds is well-known for speaking out about the power of literature and its influence on the lives of young people. His most popular books include: “All American Boys,” a story co-written with Brendan Kiely which deals with themes such as racism and police brutality; “Miles Morales,” a book about a seemingly average teenager who has an alter ego, Spider Man; and “Long Way Down,” one of his latest works about a young man who wishes to avenge his brother’s death.
Toni Morrison is practically a literary legend and a beloved writer in the black community. Her books have won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. She has written and published about 10 books, with her most famous books being “Beloved,” about a mother and a daughter living in post-slavery America, and “The Bluest Eye,” which questions conventional beauty standards. Her writing captures the African-American experience well by providing readers with dynamic black characters who navigate through difficult situations.
Roxane Gay is an essayist and a fiction writer whose work has appeared in many publications. She came to prominence with “Bad Feminist,” a collection of essays focused on issues such as race, gender and popular culture.
Her other books include “Ayiti,” a mix of fiction, nonfiction and poetry meant to represent the Haitian experience; “Hunger,” a memoir about her experiences as an obese woman; “Difficult Women,” which is a collection of short stories; and “Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture,” an upcoming anthology expected to be released in May.
Jesmyn Ward writes both non-fiction and fiction. Her memoir “Men We Reaped” centers around trying to understand the grief that comes with losing five young black men who were important to her.
Among Ward’s collection of fiction, two of her most popular works are “Salvage the Bones,” a story that focuses on poverty post-Hurricane Katrina and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” which was a widely-anticipated release in 2017.
When readers buy and read books written by African-American authors, they are showing the publishing industry that those stories are in demand; publication of works that showcase the African-American experience then leads to better black representation. More importantly, when readers read African-American literature, it allows them to learn about black history, question their privilege and become more empathetic. Whether they are aware of it or not, readers are doing themselves a disservice when they aren’t picking up books written by African-American authors.