Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Black History Month: A Few Recommended Books

I was in the bookstore this evening, and there were a number of displays featuring famous works by prominent black authors. The spread included titles by Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. While all of these writers are great -- and I encourage you to read them all -- it got me thinking about which black authors and titles by black authors I would recommend.

After some deliberation and a decision to focus on lesser-known and genre writers, I came up with the following short list of recommended titles by black authors. Happy reading.

The Chaneysville Incident by John Bradley

The Chaneysville Incident is a well-honed and affecting story of historian John Washington's attempt to discover what happened to thirteen runaway slaves in Chaneysville, Pennsylvania.

The protagonist's efforts to reconstruct the past elevate the narrative, through various rhetorical devices and an interesting contrast that plays out throughout the novel between historical detachment and historical discovery and recreation.

Googling the novel, I was surprised that the book has garnered only minimal praise and seems to have become a almost forgotten. Certainly, as a novel of the black experience in America, I would rank The Chaneysville Incident alongside anything from the past forty years, including Morrison's Beloved or Song of Solomon.

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is well known to SF fans and was a celebrated writer in the field until her passing in 2006.

Dawn takes place after a nuclear war and centers around the main character Lilith lyapo, who awakes from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard a vast spaceship of the Oankali — aliens ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth — for a price.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room is a ground-breaking novel that powerfully evokes the love between two young men in bohemian 1950s Paris.

The Motion of Light in Water by Samuel R. Delaney

Fully titled The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957 - 1965, this is a great, revealing memoir from one of SF's major talents.

The Classic Slave Narratives edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

This collection includes some of the earliest autobiographical narratives we have of blacks writing about themselves and their experiences as slaves in America.

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