My Dear Students,
As you are settling into Summer, you may find some time to pick up a book or two to read by the pool or on the beach. Yes, you can pick up the latest Terry McMillan, or read some more Alice Walker–but there are some really great works by some African American writers you haven’t heard much about. I just thought I’d give you some suggestions . These are some of my personal favorites:
Nella Larsen Quicksand and Passing
Nella Larsen is a Harlem Renaissance writer who published two short “novellas” (short novels). The two novels are usually published together, as they are very short–but they are haunting. They deal with real issues in the lives of African American women. Quicksand is not a happy novel, but it is a worthwhile one to read. In it, Helga, a black women of mixed race (like Larsen), tries to fit in somewhere. She moves around endlessly, looking to find a place where she belongs. Finally, she decides she will try to help a group of poor Southern blacks but, instead, finds herself sinking into that life. Passing is a novel about a black woman who can “pass” for white, and her angst at doing so.
Toni Cade Bambara Gorilla, My Love
Toni Cade Bambara was an urban writer with a strong sense of the power of words. She is my favorite author, next to Toni Morrison. She is best known for this collection of short stories, told in first person. They are really fun to read, and touch on some very powerful moments. If you like someone who really understands the power of the spoken word, Toni Cade Bambara’s stories are for you. They are told with truth, humor, and an incredible sense of reality.
John Edgar Wideman Brothers and Keepers
What happens when one brother goes to prison for murder and the other goes to Harvard on a basketball scholarship? John Edgar Wideman writes about this question and many others as he contemplates his life and his brother’s life in this beautiful Memoir written with the help of his younger brother, Robby. John Edgar Wideman is an incredibly talented writer who brings you effortlessly into his world with beautifully written, painfully beautiful prose. If you have been wondering where you can find a really amazing contemporary African American male writer, look no further than John Edgar Wideman.
Octavia Butler Kindred
If Science Fiction is your favorite thing to read, pick up this amazing novel by Octavia Butler. This novel is a story of a woman who time travels from 1976 back to the days of Slavery and meets her ancestors. Octavia Butler’s science fiction always has a strong sense of social morality built into it, and this book is no exception. It is often shelved with literature books, but it is a solid work of science fiction by one of the best science fiction writers who ever lived.