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Black Lives Matter: A Reading List for Adults

By Amita Lonial

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows in the wake of ongoing racial injustice and police brutality against black Americans, it can be difficult to understand current events. The books on this list offer a starting place for exploring racism, prejudice, discrimination, and inequity in both fiction and non fiction.

  • Homegoing

    2016 by Yaa Gyasi

    The book tells the story of two half sisters unknown to each other and of the six generations that follow, their lineages broken by enslavement and cursed by premonitions that condemned those who were captured, those who were spared and those who sold hostages to the Europeans.

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  • The Fire Next Time

    1962 by James Baldwin

    Comprised of two essays, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind” this book is Baldwin’s response to the social and racial injustice he witnessed in America.

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  • The New Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness

    2012 by Michelle Alexander

    This powerful text highlights the racial dimensions of the "War on Drugs." The author argues that federal drug policy unfairly targets communities of color, keeping millions of young, black men in a cycle of poverty and behind bars.

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  • Beloved

    1987 by Toni Morrison

    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. And Sethe’s 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 an unflinching glimpse into the abyss of slavery.

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  • Fledgling : a novel

    2005 by Octavia E Butler

    In this sci-fi social commentary, Shori is a 53-year-old Ina (a juvenile) who wakes up in a cave, amnesiac and seriously wounded. As is later revealed, her family and their symbionts were murdered because they genetically engineered a generation of part-Ina, part-human children. Shori was their most successful experiment: she can stay conscious during daylight hours, and her black skin helps protect her from the sun. The lone survivor, Shori must rely on a few friendly (and tasty) people to help her warn other Ina families and rediscover herself.

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  • Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching : a young black man's education

    2016 by Mychal Denzel Smith

    How do you learn to be a black man in America? For young black men today, it means coming of age during the presidency of Barack Obama. It means witnessing the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, and too many more. It means celebrating powerful moments of black self-determination for LeBron James, Dave Chappelle, and Frank Ocean. Mychal Denzel Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during these tumultuous years, describing his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity. Smith unapologetically upends reigning assumptions about black masculinity, rewriting the script for black manhood so that depression and anxiety aren’t considered taboo, and feminism and LGBTQ rights become part of the fight. The questions Smith asks in this book are urgent—for him, for the martyrs and the tokens, and for the Trayvons that could have been and are still waiting.

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  • The Book of Night Women

    2009 by Marlon James

    Lilith is born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they- and she-will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings, desires, and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman, and risks becoming the conspiracy's weak link.

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  • Long Division : a novel

    2013 by Kiese Laymon

    Defying a patronizingly racist spelling bee on live television, 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson’s rant goes viral and becomes an embarrassment on a national scale. Sent to stay with family in the small town of Melahatchie, he distracts himself from Internet infamy, redneck racists, and a grandmother who’s not afraid to make him cut her a switch by reading a mysterious book. Titled Long Division, it also follows a 14-year-old named Citoyen Coldson but in 1985. When a missing girl from the neighborhood turns up as a character, real life and fiction begin to blur across time. Laymon’s debut novel is an ambitious mix of contemporary southern gothic with Murakamiesque magical realism. Though forced at moments, the story is rich and labyrinthine, populated with complex characters. Told from the parallel points of view of the two boys named City, the book elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political.

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  • Men We Reaped : a memoir

    2013 by Jesmyn Ward

    Jesmyn's memoir shines a light on the community she comes from, in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, a place of quiet beauty and fierce attachment. Here, in the space of four years, she lost five young men dear to her, including her beloved brother-lost to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet their lives had been connected, by identity and place, and as Jesmyn dealt with these losses, she came to a staggering truth: These young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck. Because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle. The agonizing reality commanded Jesmyn to write, at last, their true stories and her own. Men We Reaped opens up a parallel universe, yet it points to problems whose roots are woven into the soil under all our feet.

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  • Lockdown America : police and prisons in the age of crisis

    1999 by Christian Parenti

    In this important book, Parenti surveys the rise of the prison industrial complex from the Nixon through Reagan eras and into the present. Why does the United States currently have one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world, with over 1.8 million Americans living behind bars? Why are only 29 precent of all prisoners violent offenders? Parenti, a former radio journalist and now a professor at the New College of California, argues that capitalism implies and demands a certain amount of poverty; the powers that be then respond by incarcerating drug users, the underclass, and other relatively powerless persons.

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  • Between the World and Me

    2015 by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Between the World and Me unfolds as a six-chapter letter from Coates to his 15-year-old son Samori, prompted by his son’s stunned and heartbroken reaction to the announcement that no charges would be brought against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

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