14 Books to Read This Black

Black History novels

Helen Oyeyemi: “[Her] imagination is impressive and vast …”

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

It’s hard to believe, but What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is Helen Oyeyemi’s sixth book and she is still only 31. The collection features nine stories linked by the theme of keys, doors and unlocking, with many of the same storytelling devices from her previous books: magic, fantasy, surrealism, modern-day fairytales with real-world characters, haplessly dropped into the absurd. Presence is the story of a married couple, a grief counselor and a psychologist, who find that they’ve hallucinated the entire existence of their son. In ‘Sorry’ Won’t Sweeten Her Tea, the character Anton finds himself helping to raise his boyfriend’s two daughters, yet also fish-sitting for a traveling friend, which is to say that even the most grounded of stories here have some element of the peculiar. Oyeyemi’s imagination is impressive and vast: this is not your unhappy-wife-contemplating-divorce-for-300-pages kind of book. Her ability to conceive her stories on such a grand scale is what makes her work so magnetic, sucking the reader into any number of netherworlds. Perhaps it’s this ability to consume and be consumed that keeps Oyeyemi constantly, and prolifically, at work. KM

Related: Black History Month: the best movies to watch in February

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

A prominent figure during the black arts movement, Toni Cade Bambara was an extraordinary thinker, womanist, editor and fiction writer. In her debut collection of stories, 1972’s Gorilla, My Love, she introduced us to a series of young black girls, all resonating with voice. Bright-minded and spunky, their first-person narratives wonderfully capture the sound of black speech. The title story takes place at a movie theater, where Hazel has gone to see a film called Gorilla, My Love with her older brother and his friend Hunca Bubba, with whom she is secretly, hopelessly in love. That feeling – the agony of being too young to hang, and the belief you might never get to grow up – is a recurring theme.Black Lives Matter protest Elsewhere, Bambara’s characters yearn in that same, sweet way, like the girl in Happy Birthday who goes around chatting up her neighbors in hopes they’ll suddenly remember what day it is. Bambara captures her characters and their environments with a film-maker’s touch and a mother’s empathy. She’s wise enough to have learned that everyone grows up, and to remember a time when she hadn’t. KM

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yahmahtta Taylor

Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor’s has not written the average rushed first-wave book on a social movement. Taylor, a professor of African American studies at Princeton, is the rare academic writer whose sense of humor is as sharp as her scholarship. She’s written a sweeping yet concise history not just of the Black Lives Matter movement, but of the past seven years under the first black president and of how the 20th century led to our current state of woke uprising. It’s full of gems of historical insight (“Black revolutionary Stokely Carmichael and social scientist Charles Hamilton coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’ – anticipating the coming turn toward colorblindness and the idea that racism was only present if the intention was undeniable”) and it fearlessly tackles what black liberation looks like when it happens in a black-governed city 40 miles from a black-occupied White House. (“If the murder of Mike Brown and the rebellion in Ferguson were reminiscent of the old Jim Crow, then the murder of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore uprising symbolize the new Black political elite.”) ST

Members of the Overpass Light Brigade stage a protest during a Republican debate in Milwaukee. Photograph: Abe Van Dyke/Demotix/Corbis
Source: www.theguardian.com
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