Staff Picks: National African American History Month

Take a look at the titles City Library staff recommended in honor of National African American History Month.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This novel explores the dynamic of clashing cultures when Christian missionaries bring their message to a small village in Nigeria. I was compelled to re-examine my own biases after I read it. —Mark, Maintenance

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adicie caught my attention with her Ted Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," which was required listening for one of my classes in Linguistics at the University of Utah. Reading Purple Hibiscus took me into a new and different place and time. It was heartbreaking and beautifully written. —Elaine, Digital Inclusion Fellow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community—and all of us—to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America. —sage, Main Library

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was an eloquent writer. What she has to say is well-thought out and, in Letter to My Daughter, shows an uncommon view of life and her experiences. —Jennifer, Circulation

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is one of my heroines, and reading this autobiography about her experiences and how she came into her own power was profoundly inspiring. —Elaine, Digital Inclusion Fellow

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
This is not an easy read, as it despairs about the pitiable state of the white man and an apocalyptic vision of American society taken from a gospel hymn: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more flood, the fire next time." I appreciated seeing the world and the U.S. from a wholly different perspective than anything I've seen or experienced in my life. —John, Anderson-Foothill Branch

Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin
Sonny's Blues is about the difficulties two brothers face. One is trivialized for trying to conform. The other's trials stem from rejecting a system that sets him up to fail. When they finally find peace, it's through music. —Therissa, Glendale Branch

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis
Miles Morales is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager who is trying to balance school, family, and his new identity as Spider-Man. —Felix, Anderson-Foothill Branch

Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You? by George Clinton
A wild, interesting biography of the founder of Parliament Funkadelic, one of my personal heroes, George Clinton. —Stephanie, Anderson-Foothill Branch

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book explains the contemporary African American perspective better than anything I've ever read. Ta-Nehisi Coates's writing feels immersive. It brings me in touch with an experience that was totally out of reach to me as someone who grew up in mostly-white communities, and that's what worthwhile books do: they challenge and expand my sense of self by making the unseeable seen. I am immeasurably grateful that this book was written. —Ryan, Communications

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man is a masterpiece of American literature. It is an intense and unforgettable novel. —Mari, Main Library

Ralph Ellison does an amazing job describing the racial divide and the effects of bigotry on the body and mind. —Carrisa, Anderson-Foothill Branch

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
This important book chronicles the struggles and heartache that slavery caused of one family. Strong and lovably realistic characters show how—even after they're ripped from each other again and again—their stories of strength and bravery can last through the generations. —Therissa, Glendale Branch

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X
This book is amazing because this man was amazing. The Autobiography of Malcolm X details Malcolm X's journey from his marginalized existence as a child to his angry rebellion as a young man and, finally, to his brave acceptance of the betrayal of those closest to him as an adult. Malcolm X wasn't afraid to share his opinion. More importantly, he wasn't afraid to change his opinion when he saw that he was wrong. —Therissa, Glendale Branch

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
Bryan Collier's illustrations in this title are elegant and moving. They perfectly compliment and add richness to the simple text. This is a book of strength, beauty, and hope. —Mariah, Day-Riverside Branch

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes
This novel is hard-boiled Harlem crime fiction. Great stuff! —David, Main Library

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
bell hooks is most known for her contributions to feminism, but as a black woman she shows how issues of race and gender often inform one another. This book is specifically about why men need feminism as much as women. —Mikaela, Circulation

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
It's a poignant, beautiful story about a woman's quest for self-fulfillment. —Meagan, Sweet Branch

This story is told so beautifully, and with such lyrical prose, that I have carried its imagery around in my brain since the very first time I read it. —Becci, Sweet Branch

Not only is this a beautiful and complex story, but the writing is brilliant. The linguistic structure is clever, and it delivers a poignant message with its playful and often startling structure. This is my very favorite book. —Tanya, Circulation

Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention by Jamal Joseph
The books tells the story of Jamal Joseph's struggle as an African-American boy and is a good read to understand the black struggle in the U.S. —Safi, Marmalade Branch

All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds
This book talks about police brutality and is told from the viewpoints of two young men--one who is black and one who is white. I think the message here is important. —Heather, Marmalade Branch

March by John Lewis
This is a powerful portrayal of race relations in the not so distance past. —Patrick, Human Resources

Lewis's story of non-violent leadership for civil rights is not only historically important—his struggle for justice is every bit as striking today. And the choice to present it in graphic novel form was an excellent one. Photographs and video were important elements of telling the story of injustices against black Americans during the Civil Rights movement and were instrumental in creating the social and political impact that led to a series of legislation to end segregation and combat racial discrimination. These graphic novels display the power of non-violent protest in the face of extreme violence in a way that simple prose could never capture. Although the series has received awards in children's and young adult categories, I think March is required reading for all Americans. —Andrew, Communications

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This collection of essays discusses intersectionality and the the complexities of intertwined oppressions. —Felix, Anderson-Foothill Branch

X: A Novel by Kekla Magoon and Ilyasah Shabazz
This book looks at the early years of Malcolm Little, providing context to the life of the man who would become Malcolm X. Cowritten by his daughter, this is a gripping read. —Brooke, Glendale Branch
This book is a fascinating and enlightening reveal of young Malcom X before he became famous. —Maricruz, Day-Riverside Branch

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
Author James McBride tells the story of his mother—a Jewish women who migrated from Poland when she was two—and how she came to marry two African American husbands and raise 12 children in Harlem at a time when mixed marriages were socially unacceptable. —Lisa, Assistant Director, Main Library & Collections

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
An incredibly powerful book. —Diana, Main Library

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Really, anything by Toni Morrison is worth devouring, but if you want to see the full range of her talent, read this beautiful, tragic book. —Meagan, Sweet Branch

Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
This is a twisty tale that also features social commentary about the black community that developed in the west. Mosely's prose is charged with tension and ingenuity that is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. —Rachel, Main Library

Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor
Bailey's Cafe and its magical atmosphere is a haven for each heartrending story contained in this book, allowing them to become beautiful and noble. —Roy, Fiction Selector

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
This graphic novel series has drama, humor, and the interesting story of how hip hop came to exist. —Chad, Circulation

The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor
An important read for children and adults who want to understand American life and racism in the 1950s. —Therissa, Glendale Branch

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book for the first time when I was a child, and it was one of the first books that taught me empathy. Even though this book is written for children and teens, it is one that can teach a lesson to any person at any age. The story is beautifully told, with characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. —Jen, Sweet Branch

Mississippi: An American Journey by Anthony Walton
This book is as timely now as it was when it was written in 1996. Walton traces the African American diaspora from the Mississippi Delta to the north, especially Chicago. He weaves the history of sharecroppers with the history of Delta blues and the tribulations of his own father. The book ends on a pessimistic but prescient note. It is one of the books that has greatly influenced my life. —Chris, Sweet Branch

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad is a story of one young woman's brave journey through hostile and dangerous territory to reach freedom, at great physical and emotional cost. Her harrowing journey is a vivid fictional portrait of slavery that won't soon be forgotten. —Derek, Communications

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a beautifully written memoir written in verse. Jacqueline Woodson shares stories from her childhood and what it was like growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s. —Heather, Marmalade Branch