Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin: On his fourteenth birthday, John Grimes’ life changes forever as he is transformed from boy to man. Under Baldwin’s visionary pen the “salvation” of young boy encompasses the Black social condition in mid-century Harlem. From the projects to the pulpit, Baldwin reveals the complex influences that work together to create each individual.
Kindred by Octavia Butler: Butler, the famed science fiction author, turned her scope to America’s racial landscape in this classic work. Dana, a young black woman in 1970s Pasadena, repeatedly is taken to the past to protect her white great-grandfather, an antebellum slave owner. The trips take a heavy toll and Dana pays a severe price to understand her past and ensure her survival.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: Ralph Ellison took the literary world by storm in 1952 when he published this National Book Award winning-novel. The first Black author to win the award, Ellison’s work follows the intellectual journey of a young Black man through the South and 1940’s Harlem. The novel’s provocative, brilliant prose is underscored by a subtle sense of dark humor.
A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines: Beau Boutan is dead, lying in the yard of the only black man in Bayonne strong enough to stand up to the racist bully. When Sherriff Mapes arrives, he finds all the old men of the quarter with 12-gauge shotguns and empty shells ready to confess. His questioning of the men recalls a litany of injustices committed by Boutan and others against themselves and their families. As each character takes a turn at narration, they relay both the anguish of racial inequity and hope for changing times.
Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan: The novel is a fictionalization of the murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy, after he was lynched for whistling at a white woman. Addressing an event that fueled the civil rights movement, Lewis’s writing has received critical acclaim, being compared to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The Human Stain by Philip Roth: A college professor is hounded from his post for comments labeled as racist. However, he harbors a deep secret about his own racial identity. Roth explores identity, social status, and political correctness.
Meridian by Alice Walker: Walker explores the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of Meridian, a young black woman who leaves her small town to go to college and join the movement.
Native Son by Richard Wright: In one of America’s most enduring protest novels, Richard Wright explores the social and economic forces that lead to a young Black man’s murder of a young White woman in 1930s Chicago. Brutally provocative, the novel exposes the terrible consequences of institutionalized racism.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Angelou’s classic autobiography follows her traumatic childhood and rise into adulthood. Facing racism and abuse, the performer and writer Angelou recounts her journey towards hope and a new future.
The Color of Water by James McBride: James McBride wrote this best selling piece as a tribute to his mother, a Jew mother who left her middle class childhood home in Virginia to live a life of interracial and inner-city poverty. In the meantime, McBride outlines her two happy marriages and the twelve children that resulted from this woman’s love and determination.