Reading List: Staff Recommendations for the National African American Read-In

Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month? The National African American Read-In began on Sunday, February 1, and will go through Saturday, February 28.

Sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and NCTE, Read-In events “can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as arranging public readings and media presentations that feature professional African American writers.” More details are available on the site.

Behind the cut, some HBW staff members provide suggestions for African American texts to seek out for an NAARI event – or just for some solo reading time.


Kierstin McMichael recommends spending time with a classic:
“There are so many! The last book I read that I think would be good for an event like this was
Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I think it would be a good book to discuss with other people.”

Kristin Joi Coffey recommends work by under-recognized black women writers: “I would suggest people read Ann Petry‘s The Street and The Narrows. I just love those books and don’t think they get enough attention. She’s a really undervalued writer, and she’s great at constructing a big novel. I’d also recommend works by Olympia Vernon, who wrote Eden, Logic, and A Killing in the Town. She’s not as widely read – underrecognized and underappreciated, I think.”

Meredith Wiggins recommends visiting or re-visiting the works of James Baldwin: “I love James Baldwin‘s work, but it’s been a while since I’ve really touched base with him. I would recommend taking this chance to delve into some of his works that aren’t as widely read – I found a first edition of Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone over winter break, so I’m excited to dig into that novel.”

Maryemma Graham recommends giving some attention to the fiction of the 1960s: “People tend to the think of black writing in the 1960s in terms of poetry and theatre and essays, not so much fiction, so I would recommend going back to some of the fiction published during that time. A book like Sam Greenlee‘s The Spook who Sat by the Door (also made into a movie) was tremendously popular at the time but has since been largely forgotten. And John A. Williams, of course, was publishing excellent fiction during that time, as well.”

 Jerry W. Ward, Jr. recommends work by and about Margaret Walker: “This year marks the Margaret Walker Centennial. Many of the readings during Black History
Month, as well as the 2015 calendar year, should involve programs on Walker’s
life and works. For My People (1942), Jubilee
(1966), and This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989) are at the
top of the list for reading in February. From March through December, one might find pockets of time for reading Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius (1988), How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life
and Literature
(1990), On Being
Female, Black and Free
(1997), and A
Poetic Equation: Conversations Between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (
1974). Anyone who wants to enjoy communion with
Walker’s extraordinary intelligence should read ‘The Humanistic Tradition of
Afro-American Literature’ (American
1.9 (1970): 849-854).”

And of course, Crystal Bradshaw’s earlier recommendations (and Meredith’s, too) still apply.

What are you reading this month? Let us know in the comments!