Tag: tanehisi coates

James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maya Angelou african american writers important black history month great

Celebrate Black History Month the Bookworm Way With 20 Essential Reads

In celebration of Black History Month, we thought we’d give you a solid twenty books by and about people of color. Some are fiction, some nonfiction, and there’s even a little poetry in here. Twenty is a lot of books, but maybe you can read just one this month. It really doesn’t matter which—they’re all awesome! We promise.


1. Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin


Summary: “Trayvon Martin’s parents take the readers beyond the news cycle with an account only they could give: the intimate story of a tragically foreshortened life and the rise of a movement” (Barnes & Noble)


Why you should read it: This book will remind you of the issues and struggles faced by people of color in today’s society, and the very real inequalities suffered by young black men.


2. Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama


Summary: A memoir from the son of a black man and a white mother, trying to find his place and meaning in life as a black American. Follow along with Barack Obama as he traces back his family lines, all while learning more about himself and his father.


Why you should read it: Get an inside look on Barack Obama before the oval office, and how his family and journey as a black man shaped him to be the man he is today.


3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Hate u give

Image Via Amazon


Summary: This is a story about a 16-year-old girl who witnesses her childhood best friend get shot at the hands of a police officer, even though he was unarmed.


Why you should read it: Although fictional, stories like this have happened all around the country. See police brutality through the eyes of someone new, and how it affects the community in which it happened.


4. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi


Summary: A collection of humorous essays that dissect cultural obsessions, Ajayi’s book loudly calls out bad behaviors in both our real and digital worlds. Subjects vary from cultural importance of television shows, to discussions of race and media representation.


Why you should read it: We all get swept up in pop culture and debates on the internet. It might be time to check yourself on the facts and the way you handle yourself on social media. During today’s political climate, this book will bring you the information you need to Do-Better.


5. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Summary: Cora is becoming a woman, while enslaved on a cotton plantation in Georgia. A new arrival from Virginia, Caesar, tells her about the underground railroad. It has the same purpose as the underground railroad we are familiar with, except it’s an actual railroad with conductors and engineers.


Why you should read it: Colson Whitehead brings together terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era and terrors faced today. This novel can bring things to light for its readers, while telling a compelling and powerful story of one woman.


6. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin


Summary: A semi-autobiographical novel, it follows John Grimes—an intelligent teenager in 1930s Harlem. This novel accounts for Grimes’ relationship to his family and church. The personal side focuses on the relationship between Grimes and his mother, his biological father, and his stepfather. It discusses the negative and positive impacts the Pentecostal Church had on the lives of African-Americans.


Why you should read it: Go Tell It On the Mountain was ranked 39th on Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and was included in Time Magazine’s TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. This novel is extremely influential and is a must-read for everyone.


7. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander


jim crow

Image Via Amazon


Summary: This book discusses issues specific to men of color and mass incarceration in the United States. Alexander notes that the discrimination faced is also prevalent among other minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged people as well. The central focus is within the title: “mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow”.


Why you should read it: A lot of people believe the wicked Jim Crow laws are long gone, but they’ve just changed shape. Read this book to understand what is happening, and why.


8. Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.


Summary: A collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons that focus on racial segregation in the U.S., emphasizing permanent religious values. King reflects on his deep understanding for the need of agape, while discussing how we need to first face our fears in order to reach the better world he believes there is.


Why you should read it: The sermons included have shaped many movements around civil rights and are extremely important to remember today. King’s speeches and sermons are inspirational for everyone, reading this book could change your perspective on life while giving you an extra nudge to keep fighting.


9. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou


Summary: A collection of Maya Angelou’s poems, containing her reflections on African American life and hardship, celebration of womanhood, and tributes to influential people of her time.


Why you should read it: Angelou’s poetry shifted and shaped the world, inspiring and captivating both people of color and women. Every line and every word she writes serves its purpose. Angelou was highly influential, and everyone should have her poetry under their belts. 

10. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X


Summary: Published in 1965, this book is the result of a collaboration between Malcolm X and Alex Haley. It’s based on a series of interviews held between Haley and Malcolm X between 1963 and Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965. It describes Malcolm X’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism.


Why you should read it: It’s impossible to fully understand the Civil Rights movement without understanding Malcolm X. There’s no better way to understand his mind than committing his autobiography to memory. And watching the movie.


11. Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin


Michelle Obama

Image Via Amazon


Summary: Slevin follows Michelle Obama from her working-class childhood in Chicago’s largely segregated South Side. Highlighting her tribulations at Princeton and Harvard Law School during racially charged times of the 1980s, to raising a family and helping Barack Obama become the President of the United States.


Why you should read it: One of the first detailed accounts of Michelle Obama’s life, showing the path of how she got to her seat as first lady. Read this novel to see how Michelle Obama has always strived to change the world.


12. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois


Summary: A collection of essays written focusing on race, Du Bois’ book takes from his own experiences as a black man in the United States.


Why you should read it: This book is extremely relevant to black history, and holds a special place in social science as one of the early works in sociology.


13. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry


Summary: Set after World War II, this play follows a family facing their own war against racism in Chicago. The Younger family of five lives in an apartment meant for three, building tension. When the patriarch of the household passes, the family comes into $10,000 from a life insurance check. Each member of the family has their own plans for what the money could go to.


Why you should read it: This play accurately depicts the lives of a family in post-WWII Chicago. It’s a classic, simple as that.


14. Kindred by Octavia Butler


Summary: A story that focuses on a young black woman from 1976, who finds herself jumping time between her present Californian life and a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. She meets her ancestors and becomes entangled in the community, conflicting with her existence in her own time.


Why you should read it: There’s nothing like a socially conscious time travel story, and Butler’s the master.


15. The Known World by Edward P. Jones


Known World

Image Via Amazon


Summary: A historical novel published in 2003, set in pre-Civil War Virginia, Jones examines the issues regarding the ownership of black slaves by both black and white Americans.


Why you should read it: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes on slavery in a very personal way. It’s pretty unforgiving and unforgettable.


16. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Summary: This book is written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about feelings, symbolism, and realities of being black in the United States. Coates explains American history and the “racist violence that has been woven into American culture” to his son.


Why you should read it: Published in 2015, this is a more recent and accurate telling of what it’s like to be black in America. Coates’ style of writing letters to his son creates a personal feeling to the book, and gives its readers a closer look into his thoughts.


17. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson


Summary: This memoir recounts Jefferson’s life in the upper-crust of black Chicago, her father being the head of pediatrics at Provident Hospital, and her mother a socialite. She takes us into the insular and discerning society she grew up in. “I call it Negroland because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.”


Why you should read it: Jefferson gives a different perspective, showing the readers a glimpse into the world of the Talented Tenth. It showcases privilege, discrimination, and misconception of “post-racial” America.


18. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Summary: A collection of poetry sharing what it feels like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, seeing the shadow of Jim Crow and becoming aware of the Civil Rights movement.


Why you should read it: It’s a National Book Award winner and Woodson can do no wrong. It’s a great place to start!


19. Fences by August Wilson



Image Via Amazon


Summary: A play written in 1985 that explores the African American experience while examining race relations (and other themes). Troy, 53-years-old, is the focus of the play. He’s the head of the household who struggles providing for his family. It follows Troy’s struggles throughout his life, and the effects they have on his family.


Why you should read it: It was adapted into a film in 2016, and we all know the book is better. The play gives the readers a chance to see color barriers faced by people of color in the 50s, and how some were able to break that barrier.


20. The House That Race Built: Original Essays by Toni Morrison, Angela Y. Davis, Cornel West, and Others on Black Americans and Politics in America Today edited by Wahneema Lubiano


Summary: Essays from some of today’s most respected intellectuals that share their ideas on race, power, gender, and society.


Why you should read it: This collection of essays can shed light on issues you may not be aware of, or bring more knowledge on issues you’ve already known about. There’s no such thing as knowing too much about something.


Feature Images Via PBS, Vox, and Biography

Black Panther marvel movie

The First Reactions to”Astonishing” ‘Black Panther’ Are Here!

Black Panther is on a lot of people’s most-anticipated movie lists for 2018 and for good reason. After seventeen blockbuster films, Marvel is finally giving a person of color the center role, with Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. Not only that, but Marvel scored major cred hiring Fruitvale Station and Creed director Ryan Coogler to write and direct the film.

Many of the folks lucky enough to go to the premiere are singing praise for Coogler and his vision.





Others highlight the fact that, despite being a big-budget superhero blockbuster, the movie still explores ideas of identity in a timely way.




Still others call it the best Marvel movie to date! And did I mention there have been seventeen




While we still have to wait until next week for the review embargo to lift, social media reactions tend to be more mixed than these, even if they do skew positive. So keep your hopes up! Marvel’s Black Panther hits theaters February 16th, and I hope to see you in the theater! In the meantime, pick up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ stellar Black Panther run right here.




Feature Image Via Marvel

Civil War battle

Ta-Nehisi Coates Promises These 5 Civil War Books Will Make You Smarter

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues his war against anti-smart people. He is, after all, a MacArthur ‘Genius’—they don’t like being called that. Having written National Book Award-winner Between the World and Me and groundbreaking essay ‘The Case for Reparations,’ Coates is now providing the public with a reading list to help them become less stupid re: the American Civil War.


Coates’ area of expertise lies in the history of discrimination against people of color in the United States. The swell of ignorance surrounding watershed moments in civil rights (namely the Civil War) has forced Coates to hand readers his well of knowledge. His thesis is to make people less stupid about this topic. Not smart. Not yet. Just less stupid.


Here are my favorite books on the Civil War that Ta-Nehisi Coates wants you to read (and his comments), but check out the full list on The Atlantic!


Grant by Ron Chernow


Ron Chernow 'Grant'

Image Via Amazon


Another classic in the Ron Chernow oeuvre. Again, eminently readable but thick with import. It does not shy away from Grant’s personal flaws, but shows him to be a man constantly struggling to live up to his own standard of personal and moral courage. It corrects nearly a half-century of stupidity inflicted upon America by the Dunning school of historians, which preferred a portrait of Grant as a bumbling, corrupt butcher of men. Finally, it reframes the Civil War away from the overrated Virginia campaigns and shows us that when the West was won, so was the war. Grant hits like a Mack truck of knowledge. Stupid doesn’t stand a chance.


The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass


Frederick Douglass


The final of three autobiographies written by the famed abolitionist, and my personal favorite. Epic and sweeping in scope. The chapter depicting the bounty of food on which the enslavers feasted while the enslaved nearly starved is just devastating.


The others are Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee by Elizabeth Pryor, and Out of the House of Bondage by Thavolia Glymph. If you’ve read any of these, according to Coates, you are less stupid than some of the most important people working in the U.S. government.


Pick up Coates’ most recent book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, here!


Feature Image Via ThingLink

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Storm

Ta-Nehisi Coates to Write Storm Solo Series for Marvel, Which Is Awesome

The Philly Inquirer has confirmed that Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me, MacArthur ‘Genius’) will be writing a Storm solo series for Marvel and that’s just splendid. Really lovely news. Coates’ work on Black Panther has been delightful as he’s expanded the world of Wakanda, having even co-written a series with freaking ROXANE GAY literally titled Black Panther: World of Wakanda.


It’s nice to see Marvel embracing Coates in such a wholehearted way considering the company’s recent concerns about diversifying their cast of characters. Earlier this year, Marvel’s vice president of sales, David Gabriel, seemed to blame poor sales figures on the company’s diverse heroes. Speaking to a comic trade magazine at the Marvel Retailer Summit, Gabriel said:


What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.


Gabriel’s comments rightfully caused a stir. Over the past few years, Marvel’s made headlines with a female Iron Man, a female Thor, a Puerto Rican Spider-Man, and a black Captain America. It was disappointed to see some of the company’s leaders backtracking efforts to create a more diverse superhero universe.


Keeping heavy hitters like Coates involved is awesome news for Marvel fans. He’s established himself as one of America’s great young writers, having won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction for Between the World and Me and scoring a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant that year as well.


Coates will co-create Storm with artist Jen Bartel, who shared a first look at her take on the character:



I want to see Coates and Bartel’s Storm right now. Unfortunately, I have to wait. And so do you. At least we have each other.


Feature Images Via Time and Jen Bartel

brief wondrous life of oscar wao----skippy dies book covers

Like This Book? Then Try This One!

It’s not hard to come by book recommendations, but it’s hard to find recommenders who make a compelling case for just why you should take a leap of faith with a new book. As a result, we have decided to directly compare these newer or underrated gems to better-known works you’ve probably read, so that they may find the wider/louder audience they deserve. It’s never a bad idea to read what you know!


  1. Like this?: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green

          Try this!: ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ by Ned Vizzini


fault in our stars----its kind of a funny story

Image courtesy of DaFont and Amazon


Like ‘TFIOS,’ ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ explores what it’s like to be a teenager grappling with illness and newfound romance amid a vibrant and affecting supporting cast. Thankfully, the ending of this book is not nearly as sad.


  1. Like this?: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult

          Try this!: ‘The Dovekeepers’ by Alice Hoffman


my sisters keeper-------the dovekeepers

Image courtesy of Jodi Picoult and Amazon


Picoult has established herself as one of the best contemporary writers of women’s voices. Hoffman does her one better by venturing far back into the ancient past to breathe life into a handful of Jewish women who find themselves at the crossroads of history when their people take up arms against their Roman overseers. These novels have more than “keeper” in common. 


  1. Like this?: ’The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls

         Try this!: ‘Priestdaddy’ by Patricia Lockwood


the glass castle------priestdaddy

Image courtesy of Amazon and Goodreads


Like Walls, Lockwood bears the blessings and curses of an unconventional upbringing, describing her eccentric parents—her father is a Roman Catholic priest who prefers boxer shorts to white collars—with a compelling mixture of love and shame.


  1. Like this?: ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut

         Try this!: ‘Eddies in the Space-Time Continuum’ by J.M. Hushour


slaughterhouse five-------eddies in the spacetime continuum

Image courtesy of Goodreads


While Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim finds himself unstuck in time, Hushour’s Eddie can’t escape time at all—or he can, but not in a way that is good for his mental health. Which future is the real one? Not even the continuum has the answers.


  1. Like this?: ‘As I Lay Dying’ by William Faulkner

         Try this!: ‘Salvage the Bones’ by Jesmyn Ward


As I Lay Dying--------Salvage the Bones

Image courtesy of Goodreads


‘As I Lay Dying’ tells the tale of a desperately poor southern family preparing for a funeral. ‘Salvage the Bones’ also documents the lives of a desperately poor southern clan preparing for another sort of funeral—Hurricane Katrina, which will bring an entire region and way of life to the verge of extinction. Like Faulkner, Ward is a southerner with a gothic sensibility. Unlike Faulkner, she is a young black women giving a voice to those not often found in our national discourse until recently.


  1. Like this?: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams

         Try this!: ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff


hitchhiker's guide--------city of thieves

Image courtesy of Amazon


Though there are no intergalactic shenanigans to be found in Benioff’s novel, this account of brotherly camaraderie and whirlwind adventure amid unimaginable destruction and cosmically surreal cruelty has shades of Douglas’s masterwork. You’ll never look at eggs the same way again.


  1. Like this?: ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

         Try this!: ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng


the lovely bones-------everything I never told you

Image courtesy of Wikipedia and Amazon


In an average town in 1970’s America, a young girl goes missing and is later found dead. This is the bare-bones plot (heh) of both ‘The Lovely Bones’ and ‘Everything I Never Told You.’ But where Sebold lingers on slain teen Susie and her family’s struggle to find peace, Ng hones in on issues of race, alienation, and thwarted dreams that are entirely her own.


  1. Like this?: ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ by Junot Diaz

         Try this!: ‘Skippy Dies’ by Paul Murray


brief wondrous life of oscar wao------skippy dies

Image courtesy of Wikipedia


When a young life ends tragically, how can we come to terms with what happened and move on? Though Díaz and Murray use vastly different vernaculars and frames of reference to provide their own perceptions of a seemingly grim matter, they both provide a riveting and humorous take on the fraught and too-short lives of its title characters. Like Oscar, Skippy will stay in your head and your heart long after you put the book down.


  1. Like this?: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

         Try this!: ‘Tell No One’ by Harlan Coben


gone girl---------tell no one

Image courtesy of Girl to Mom and Amazon


David Beck is living a contented life with a beautiful wife, Elizabeth—until Elizabeth is suddenly and cruelly taken from him. But is she really dead? ‘Gone Girl’ may be one of a kind, but Flynn definitely doesn’t have a monopoly on absent wives and twisted marriages.



  1. Like this?: ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo

         Try this!: ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ by Garth Stein


War Horse-------The Art of Racing in the Rain

Image courtesy of The Scholastic Teaching Store and Garth Stein


Yes, ‘War Horse’ is aimed at children while ‘Racing’ is geared towards adults. But if you like animal narrators and purging your tears, as ‘War Horse’ readers are wont to do, then you will probably get a thrill from this novel about one very wise dog. Nearing the end of his life, lab-terrier mix Enzo looks back on a happy existence with his owner Denny, a racecar driver confronted with one misfortune after another. He may only be a dog, but Enzo is determined to help his best friend. Can he do it?



  1. Like this?: ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates

         Try this!: ‘The Fire Next Time’ by James Baldwin


between the world and me-------the fire next time

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House and Mahogany Circle


Coates drew rave reviews for his painful and unyielding letter to his young son about the harsh realities of being a black man in the U.S. Baldwin—who Coates has cited as an influence—did something quite similar with ‘The Fire Next Time,’ structured in part as a blunt and sociologically-pointed missive to the nephew named for him. You will be spellbound and dismayed at just how little has changed from 1963 to 2015.


Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.