Let’s Support Black Writers and Black Books

We’re writing about community this week, and my community is burning. I live in Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered by police a week ago. Since then, citizens have put their bodies in the streets demanding safer and more equitable spaces and systems. The University of Minnesota ended its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department. The Minneapolis Public Schools followed suit. One of the four officers responsible for Floyd’s death was charged with murder. Our white governor has handed control of the case against the officers over to our black attorney general, taking it out of the hands of our white county attorney in whom the city seemed to have lost faith.

It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Minneapolis is a gorgeous, progressive city. It’s also one of the most inequitable cities in the nation with huge gaps in income, property ownership, and education between white people and black people. This is a moment of reckoning for Twin Cities residents, and for all of us Americans. It feels like a tipping point, and I want to be on the side of justice.

This is Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. I grabbed the photo from their Twitter feed.

This week, I’d like to use my space here to amplify the books I’ve read by black authors in the last year or two. Pick one and buy it from Moon Palace Books, a lovely shop located in the heart of the uprising here in Minneapolis. The store is a solid community citizen, and while they’re boarded up, they’re not closed. In addition to the checking out books I list below, you can pre-order my deb sister Lisa Braxton’s debut, THE TALKING DRUM, which releases next week.

Here are some books I’ve loved recently:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. This is both a page-turner and also thought-provoking. Reid delves into the complex relationship between a white mother and her black nanny while also allowing readers to interrogate their own beliefs about race, class, and power. The novel was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick in February.
  • All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. In this YA title, two first-person narrators, one black and one white, grapple with an incident of police brutality. As a white mom, I’m excited for my sons to read this one, as the white kid articulates his developing understanding of institutional racism in a way that will deepen their own.
  • Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. Back when her debut, Allegedly, released, Tiffany D. Jackson wrote for the Debutante Ball! This was my first read by her, and it had me riveted. I love Claudia’s first-person voice and the pacing of this contemporary YA novel. It’s suspenseful and there’s a mystery, but it’s also about friendship and confidence and fitting in and first love.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama. I listened to this one, and I loved hearing Obama’s story — her family’s part in the Great Migration to her own rather reluctant (and humble and grateful and responsible) ascendancy as First Lady — in her own voice. I already loved her, and also, she can really write.
  • Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon. This is a poetic, raw, demanding memoir about a black man, his body, and his mother. I think everyone should read it, a huge achievement and brave.
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a novel about family trauma, colonialism and political unrest, religion and hypocrisy, and academia and social class. I’m amazed by Adichie’s debut, and I can’t believe I waited so long to read it.
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. All-hail, Angie Thomas! I can only imagine the pressure of releasing a second novel after the phenomenon that is The Hate U Give. But On the Come Up is stellar, too. Bri, the rapper at the center of the story, is complicated, struggling, and striving. She’s a genius with a talent not everyone understands or admires, and those who do admire it seek to exploit it for their own financial or political gain. Thomas exposes the systems that keep people down, while still allowing her characters empowering moments of truth and redemption.
  • Negroland by Margo Jefferson. This is a fascinating blend of memoir, history, and criticism. I’ll be thinking about the structure and implications for a long time.
  • Picture Books by Alan Page and Kamie Page. These two Minnesota writers have penned three books for children, all celebrating blackness and joy. Add one to your kids’ library. Choices include Alan and His Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky, The Invisible You, and Grandpa Alan’s Sugar Shack.
  • The Goddess Twins by our own Yodassa Williams. We all celebrated Yodassa’s release last week here on The Debutante Ball, and her YA fantasy is definitely worth a read.

I hope white readers like me will continue to seek out black voices and black stories and make them a priority in our reading lives. There are a lot of resources that can help people engage. Lately, I’ve sought out the platforms of Rachel Cargle and Alison Désir. If you have a book recommendation or a resource, leave a comment!

Author: Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.