Black History Month reading list: the essential recent releases


At the start of the month dedicated to African American history, heres our rundown of what to read, including Paul Beatty and Octavia Butler

Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian

Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

America is in trouble, begins Michael Eric Dysons new book, and a lot of that trouble perhaps most of it has to do with race. This is not, nor will it ever be, news to black Americans, but with this book, formatted in sections such as Call to Worship and Invocation, Dyson, whos an ordained Baptist minister, delivers a sermon from his publishing pulpit that attempts to shake readers out of their malaise and confront the reality of white supremacy in America head-on. Here, Dyson is a black preacher talking to a white congregation in frank and honest terms thats meant to be a wakeup call and also a call to action.

Photograph: PR

High Cotton by Darryl Pinckney

Originally published in 1992, Pinckneys debut novel about the world of upper-class blacks is now in reprint. Its young, unnamed narrator, born in Indianapolis, is a fourth-generation college graduate; and as is almost always the case, with such privilege also comes a burden. He finds himself inevitably caught in Du Boiss phenomenon of double-consciousness performing his blackness for white people, yet self-conscious about it with black people. Pinckney teases out the many subtleties of his protagonists life and the colorful folks who comprise his family, with a specificity that is comforting to anyone who has experienced some of the same.

Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings

Perhaps Octavia Butlers most well-known work, Kindred is the story of Dana, a young woman in 1970s California who finds herself mysteriously transported back in time to the plantation where her ancestors were once enslaved. Damian Duffy adapted and John Jennings illustrated Butlers classic work to fit the form of a graphic novel. The speculative premise and the timeless matters of race, gender and the legacy of slavery make Kindred into a kind of translation text, breaking open new channels into an already inviting and provocative story. It follows the success of March, the graphic novel series co-written by John Lewis which charts the civil rights struggles of the freedom riders.

28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot: Reset Your Body, Lose Weight, Gain Energy & Feel Great by Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez

Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian

Remember when Beyonc made that special announcement on Good Morning America that she was going vegan? Bey, like many others, is hip to the freeing possibilities of good health, even if that means restricting the things you eat. Nutritionists Jones and Lopez want to make it easy, fun and affordable to improve health through diet (heart disease, hypertension and diabetes disproportionately affect minorities) while still eating food with flavor.

The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own edited by Veronica Chambers

Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian

Many of the writers in this collection admit that theyve never met Michelle Obama and yet, like so many of us,feel like they know her. Or, as Benilde Little says in her essay Michelle in High Cotton: She [is] part of my tribe. The 16 writers in this book, including Ava DuVernay, Damon Young, Roxane Gay and another black first lady, Chirlane McCray, in personal, critical and conversational essays revel in what it means for Michelle to have been first and with that milestone, a symbol of black womanhood, interpreted infinite ways.

Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

Photograph: Spiegel & Grau

This month marks five years since Trayvon Martins death. In their new memoir, Martins parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin share in greater detail what the world came to know: the casual stroll that led to his death, the eventual acquittal of his killer, and the international movement for the protection of black life Martins death helped spawn. They also share the anecdotes about their son inevitably left out from public discourse: after all, before he was the boy in the hoodie, he was just their boy. In the aftermath, theyve both lent their voices to conversations about police brutality, racial injustice and consistently reached out to the parents of other black children killed under similar circumstances. We tell this story in the hope that it will continue the calling that Trayvon left for us to answer, they write, and that it might shine a path for others who have lost, or will lose, children to senseless violence.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Photograph: Balzer & Bray

Thomass young adult novel personifies the many characters of police brutality that have captured nationwide attention over the last few years: Khalil, a black teenage boy, killed by police; Starr, the narrator who witnesses it; their families, communities, and the media, which variously vilify or vindicate the boy who can no longer speak for himself. As with Trayvon Martins story, much of the humanity of these victims is stripped from them in order to prove a point. Thomas brings Khalil and his forever-changed friend Starr back to life in resplendent color.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Photograph: Simon Leigh for the Guardian

Beatty became the first American to win the Man Booker Prize for this satire, about a black man in modern-day Los Angeles who, after a series of unfortunate events, moves to reinstitute segregation and slavery in fact, he gets a slave for his own home eventually winding him and his heated case at the supreme court. Satire, like science fiction, is useful for finding the commonalities between imagined worlds and authentic ones; and in our ongoing bout of surreality, we all could use such a biting refresher on whats real.

Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

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