February is Black History Month. This doesn’t mean this is the only month to read books from authors whose voices have been under represented and under valued. No, that should happen all year round. What it means is that February is the perfect month to make sure your TBR list is equally balanced with diverse narratives. Need suggestions? We asked rock star authors Nic Stone and Imani Josey to share some of their favorites.
Nic Stone is the author of Dear Martin, out October 17th. Stone’s book tackles the very relevant topic of what it means to be a young black man in modern society. There is the person that outsiders expect when they see dark skin and baggy clothes, and then there is actual individual. Often these two personas are worlds apart, which is reflected in Stone’s reading list. Here’s what Stone’s suggests you read this month and why:
WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST by Jason Reynolds – Five words: humanization of teenaged black boys. I read this book while working on my own, and Ali, Needles, and Noodles served as a constant reminder of why I was writing DEAR MARTIN in the first place. Oftentimes, young African American males are seen as threats before they’re seen as people, and WIWTG helps to remedy that by giving a glimpse into the lives of these Bed Stuy black boys just being kids.
A TESTAMENT OF HOPE: THE ESSENTIAL WRITINGS AND SPEECHES OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Edited by James M Washington) – This is a compilation of just about every book, speech and sermon MLK ever gave. It’s so stuffed with words-to-live-by, I totally play book-roulette with it: open to a random page, pluck a piece of wisdom, and go about my day.
INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison – This book is still frighteningly relevant. That’s all I have to say.
Bonus (because let’s be honest: I’m extra): GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith – Really anything by Andrew Smith, but this is the one I was reading while working on DEAR MARTIN. You want to feel free to just write? Like straight from the gut? This is a must read.
Imani Josey’s novel The Blazing Star mixes the modern world, time travel and ancient Egypt with epic results. We asked the debut novelist for a must read for February and she gave us a book with a personal connection to her heritage.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
If you read anything this month, please read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson. I read this while working on both The Blazing Star and a short story for Crossed Genres’ Hidden Youth anthology entitled North. This book leads the reader through the Great Migration, the time during the twentieth century when many African-Americans left the South, emigrating to northern industrial cities, as well as metropolises on both coasts. These men and women left behind low wages and limited opportunities, but most importantly the segregation of Jim Crow and the racial terrorism holding that caste system in place. The Great Migration is one of, if not the largest, mass emigration in United States history, resulting in the relocation of over 6 million African Americans.
The book struck a personal chord with me as a black woman from the Midwest. I am a product of the Great Migration’s first wave during WWI (great-grandparents) and the second wave in the 1950’s (3 of 4 grandparents). Being a part of the Midwestern black community, I always took the Great Migration for granted as most people I knew had parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents from the south. It was just an understood thing, and though I knew why these men and women left their homes, it honestly wasn’t until reading The Warmth of Other Suns that I really got the stakes and dangers. I really got why my great-grandmother left Alabama in 1918 with an ax in her traveling bag for protection (her journey is the basis of my short story North). Wilkerson’s book helped me conceptualize the world that my grandparents and great-grandparents experienced. It enriched my appreciation for the sacrifices they made, as well as the challenges they faced, and made me further hope to honor their legacy with my writing.
Nic Stone and Imani Josey have reminded us of books we want to revisit as well as introducing us to new favorites. We’ll be referring to this list throughout February and the rest of year. And of course two books that are MUST READS are Dear Martin out in October and The Blazing Star available now!