I haven’t been to Atlanta yet, but after coming across For Keeps!, I may be planning a visit soon! This quaint, little store located a few blocks from The Martin Luther King Jr Church, may seem unassuming from a distance, but it holds quite some significance.
image via new york times
Rosa Duffy, the 29 year-old artist and owner of For Keeps!, has run this store for rare and classic black books since 2018 and hopes to maintain it with enough effort and diligence so it can eventually become a neighborhood treasure. But regardless of what its future may look like, Duffy hopes to maintain the book store’s reputation as a rare place in her hometown that honors and preserves black history.
image via wabe 90.1 fm
Her picturesque store harbors not only hard-to-find and classic books by African and African American literary legends like Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Ralph Ellison, Octavia Butler and others, but also carries album covers, unique artifacts and even copies of the iconic black magazine, Jet. Some of the items here are from her personal collection, many of which were swiped from her family members, probably while they weren’t looking.
The aspect of opening a space dedicated solely to rare black books came to Duffy while she was a student at the New School in New York. As an avid dweller of the city’s bookstores, like Mercer Street Books and Records, the Strand, the Alabaster Bookshop and East Village Books, she eventually gathered up the courage to open her own sanctuary.
image via librarything
Duffy’s infectious enthusiasm about books is extremely admirable. Finding a rare book by one of her favorite artists, Carrie Mae Weems, made her ecstatic, as did a copy of Ceasar D. Coleman’s Beyond Blackness to Destiny, which was published in 1969.
She admits that initially there were concerns that mixing passion with business may cause issues, but has been pleasantly surprised because so far, it’s been fantastic! And when asked, why Atlanta, Duffy quickly replied, “Atlanta was the only place to do it. It’s home and I wanted it to represent the vastness of blackness and allow people to read about their history in a welcoming space.” — which is exactly why For Keeps! is for keeps!
Featured image via theAtlantic Voice
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Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into separate villages. They go on to face wildly different fates; Effia marrys an Englishman and lives out a life of comfort, while Esi is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. One vein follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of turmoil in Ghana as the Asante and Fante nations wrestle with colonization. The other vein follows Esi’s descendants through the plantations to the Civil War to the birth of Jazz and dope houses of Harlem.
Zélie calls Orïsha home, and her home once hummed with magic. Burners could set things ablaze, Tiders could pull forward waves, and Reapers like her mother could summon souls. Everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a tyrannical king, maji were killed, orphaning Zélie and leaving her people in darkness. Determined to bring back magic and tear apart the monarchy, Zélie enlists the help of a rogue princess. Together, they must defeat the crown prince, who is battling to eradicate magic for good. Danger lurks at every corner, but Zélie slowly learns what truly threatens her triumph. Already losing control of her powers, Zélie finds herself growing feelings for her enemy.
Tracey and Aimee dream of being dancers. However, only Tracey has the talent to succeed. Aimee is the observer, full of ideas and talented in another way. As the two friends grow older, they have a falling out, never to speak again. Tracey earns herself a few gigs as a dancer but eventually falls into poverty. Aimee becomes an assistant to a famous singer, traveling the world and learning what it feels like to live a lavish life. Empowered, Aimee travels to a small West African nation hoping to lift a village out of destitution. Through the pair, we explore how dance can and can’t transcend racial barriers.
At thirteen years old, Jojo struggles to understand what it means to “be a man.” In his short life, he has had four key figures to study. Among them, his black grandfather Pop predominates. But there are other men who blur Jojo’s understanding: his absent white father, Michael, soon to be released from prison; his absent white grandfather, Joseph, who doesn’t acknowledge him; and the tales of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is a troubled woman too preoccupied battling her own demons. When Michael regains his freedom, Leonie packs the kids in a car and drives them north to a penitentiary in Mississippi. There, the ghost of a dead thirteen-year-old inmate teaches Jojo about fathers, sons, legacies, violence, and love.
Dr. Nzinga’s runs a clinic where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. You can even opt for a complete demelanization to unburden yourself the societal price of being black. When the opportunity presents, a father is faced with a choice to erase half of his biracial son Nigel’s identity. The pressure grows as violence swarms their home, a near-future Southern city. All the while, Nigel’s black birthmark grows larger and larger by the day.
Eccentric and withdrawn, Aster isn’t phased when people call her an “ogre” and a “freak.” She lives in the slums of HSS Matilda, a space vessel as segregated as the antebellum South. The vessel carries the last of humanity to the Promised Land they’ve been searching for 325 years. The ship’s leaders police and dehumanize dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Meanwhile, Aster navigates the ship’s horrors looking for a way off. When she learns that there’s a connection between her mother’s suicide and the ship’s ailing Sovereign, Aster realizes she may prevail if she’s willing to fight for it.
When Boy Novak turns twenty, she finds herself yearning for a new life. In what turns out to be a serendipitous twist, she lands in the town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. It’s there she meets Aruto Whitman, craftsmen, widower and father of a young girl named Snow. To Boy, Snow is the mild-mannered endearing girl Boy never was. Soon after, Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister Bird. Bird is dark-skinned, exposing the Whitmans to be light-skinned African-Americans posing as white. A divide forms between Boy, Snow, and Bird forcing them to question unspoken power of the mirror.
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, we follow the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, as she tries to escape her shackles. She’s approached by a another slave, Caesar, and they hatch a plan to head north. Things go awry when Cora is forced to kill a white man trying to capture her as Ridgeway, a slave catcher, is hot on their trail. What follows is a harrowing tale, ripe with bravery and tragedy, as the pair set out to tread the Underground Railroad.
Saul and Saachi pray for a child, and they’re blessed with a baby girl named Ada. Ada grows into a mercurial and fractured child. Eventually, Ada moves to America for college where she is one day assaulted. The trauma causes the different selves inside her to manifest. Her alters, Asughara and Saint Vincent begin to take control of her mind as she slowly fades away. Spiraling out of control, Ada’s life begins to fall into danger and darkness.
On this day in 1902, Langston Hughes—poet, playwright, novelist, and leading writer of the Harlem Renaissance—was born. Hughes is revered throughout the world for his extensive literary contributions: his short story collection, The Ways of White Folk, and his poetry collection,I, Too, Am America, are some of his most renowned works.
image via Jeremy q. butler
He was young at the time of his first foray into writing, and he recalls his introduction to poetry as the result of a racial stereotype. “There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class, and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows,” Hughes added with a note of irony, “that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me the class poet.” At the time, he had no idea of everything his work would become.
In his adulthood, Hughes was a world traveller, enriching himself with trips to Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean. He wrote substantial work while residing in Paris, France. Working a series of odd jobs to support his writing, he earned his B.A. from historically black Lincoln University. Some scholars believe that Hughes was either homosexual or asexual; others believe the world will never know with any certainty. The universal truth remains: Hughes’ legacy is that of a prolific writer, a cultured intellectual, and a voice for freedom everywhere.
Image Via Wdkx radio
Let’s celebrate his life and work with ten of his most powerful quotations:
“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
2. “I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
3. “What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? ”
4. “Though you may see me holler,
And you may see me cry-
But I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.”
5. “I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers as ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
6. “Good-morning, Revolution:
You’re the very best friend
I ever had.
We gonna pal around together from now on.”
7. “When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself.”
8. “I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?”
Is a strong seed
In a great need.
I live here, too. I want freedom Just as you.”
10. “I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When the company comes,
But I laugh
And eat well
And grow strong
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When the company comes.”
It’s the first day of Black History Month, and what better way could there be to celebrate the black community’s rich artistic legacy than with these ten iconic novels? These outstanding works of literature represent the diverse experiences of the black community, collectively featuring black authors and characters of varied genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, and mixed racial identities. If your favorite book isn’t on the list… be glad to have an extra recommendation! Truthfully, there are too many powerful books to list, and the collection below represents only the smallest fraction of the black community’s enormous cultural achievements. So read on! Whether classic or contemporary, these ten books represent some of the world’s greatest works of literature.
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.
Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.
Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person — no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven—but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
The Color Purple is a classic. With over a million copies sold in the UK alone, it is hailed as one of the all-time ‘greats’ of literature, inspiring generations of readers.
Set in the deep American South between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually, Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith.
Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.
First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.
As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.
Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Although best known as a poet and pioneer of the Harlem Renaissance movement, Langston Hughes proves himself one of modern literature’s most revered and versatile African-American authors with Not Without Laughter, a powerful classic novel.
This is a moving portrait of African-American family life in 1930s Kansas, following young Sandy Rogers as he comes of age. Sandy’s mother, Annjee, works as a housekeeper for a rich white family, while his father, traverses the country in search of work.
Not Without Laughter is a moving examination of growing up in a racially divided society. A rich and important work, Hughes deftly echoes the black American experience with this novel.
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