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Water Cooler: Black History Month reads

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 8, 2021

Jesmyn Ward, shown speaking at Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, Miss. in 2018, is the author of “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”  (Associated Press)
Jesmyn Ward, shown speaking at Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson, Miss. in 2018, is the author of “Sing, Unburied, Sing.” (Associated Press)

If you’re looking for something to read for Black History Month but aren’t sure if you’re in the mood for nonfiction, fiction or poetry, here are some titles you can try that offer a bit of it all.


“March” (trilogy), written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell – American icon, activist and congressman, John Lewis, who died last summer, passed along stories of his upbringing and his firsthand account of the civil rights movement to incoming generations by documenting pieces of it in a graphic novel trilogy. Book 1 begins with Lewis’ youth spent in rural Alabama, his first time meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and Lewis’ activism as a student and young adult. Book 2 picks up with the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign and follows Lewis’ deepening commitment to activism through the Freedom Riders movement and his election to be chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Book 3 follows Lewis after he is thrust into the national spotlight and prepares to protest in Selma.

“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain – This book offers a direct look into the lives of African Americans over the last 400 years, including historical essays, personal vignettes and short stories from more than 90 African American writers.

“Black Futures,” by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham – A collection of poetry, recipes, tweets, photos and more that capture the work, imagination and contributions of contemporary Black creators.

“Precolonial Black Africa,” by Cheikh Anta Diop – Diop, a Senegalese historian,politician, anthropologist and physicist, discusses African history prior to colonization and compares the socio-political systems and practices of Africa and Europe.


“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward – An intimate portrait of a family who drives to the state penitentiary to greet their father as he is released from jail. During the visit, 13-year-old Jojo meets another teenager, the ghost of a former inmate who carries with him a tragic history.

“Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia E. Butler – In the not-so-distant future, a California family hides in their gated community from the shaky and increasingly anarchistic society outside.

“Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin – A young American expat living in Paris is forced to deal with social isolation and a crisis of identity after his girlfriend leaves for Spain to contemplate his marriage proposal.

“Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi – A story of two sisters and their descendants through eight generations, spanning the slave trade and Civil War into the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.


“The Weary Blues,” by Langston Hughes – A collection of poems that speak to the powerful experiences and cultural significance of the Harlem Renaissance.

“The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde,” by Audre Lorde – A collection of more than 300 poems that explore politics, sexuality, introspection, culture and more.

“American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” by Terrance Hayes – A collection of 70 poems written after the 2016 American elections which discuss topics such as masculinity, racism and politics set against the backdrop of America’s past and possible future.

“I am The Rage,” by Martina McGowan – A collection of free verse poetry that express the spectrum of emotion felt after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Selected Poems,” by Gwendolyn Brooks – A collection of poems from throughout Brooks’ prolific writing career, including “A Street in Bronzeville,” and “Annie Allen,” for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

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