February is Black History Month. To honor generations of African Americans and their contributions to United States history, we’ve curated a list of fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, and audiobooks that celebrate #BlackHistoryMonth.
A Measure of Our Lives: A Gather of Wisdom by Toni Morrison; Foreword by Zadie Smith
At once the ideal introduction to Toni Morrison and a lovely and moving keepsake for her devoted readers: a treasury of quotations from her work.
“She was our conscience. Our seer. Our truthteller.” –Oprah Winfrey
This inspirational book juxtaposes quotations, one to a page, drawn from Toni Morrison’s entire body of work, both fiction and nonfiction—from The Bluest Eye to God Help the Child, from Playing in the Dark to The Source of Self-Regard—to tell a story of self-actualization. It aims to evoke the totality of Toni Morrison’s literary vision.
Its compelling sequence of flashes of revelation—stunning for their linguistic originality, keenness of psychological observation, and philosophical profundity—addresses issues of abiding interest in Morrison’s work: the reach of language for the ineffable; transcendence through imagination; the self and its discontents; the vicissitudes of love; the whirligig of memory; the singular power of women; the original American sin of slavery; the bankruptcy of racial oppression; the complex humanity and art of black people. The Measure of Our Lives brims with elegance of style and mind and moral authority.
The Black Book Edited by Middleton A. Harris, Ernest Smith, Morris Levitt, and Roger Furman; Foreword by Toni Morrison
A new edition of the classic New York Times bestseller edited by Toni Morrison, offering an encyclopedic look at the black experience in America from 1619 through the 1940s with the original cover restored.
In 1974, Middleton A. Harris and Toni Morrison led a team of gifted, passionate collectors in compiling these images and nearly five hundred others into one sensational narrative of the black experience in America—The Black Book. Now in a newly restored hardcover edition, The Black Book remains a breathtaking testament to the legendary wisdom, strength, and perseverance of black men and women intent on freedom. Prominent collectors Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith joined Harris and Morrison (then a Random House editor, ultimately a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning Nobel Laureate) to spend months studying, laughing at, and crying over these materials—transcripts from fugitive slaves’ trials and proclamations by Frederick Douglass and celebrated abolitionists, as well as chilling images of cross burnings and lynchings, patents registered by black inventors throughout the early twentieth century, and vibrant posters from “Black Hollywood” films of the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, it was an article she found while researching this project that provided the inspiration for Morrison’s masterpiece, Beloved.
A labor of love and a vital link to the richness and diversity of African American history and culture, The Black Book honors the past, reminding us where our nation has been, and gives flight to our hopes for what is yet to come. Beautifully and faithfully presented and featuring a foreword and original poem by Toni Morrison, The Black Book remains a timeless landmark work.
Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents by Margaret Kimberley
A concise, authoritative exploration of America’s relationship with race and black Americans through the lens of the presidents who have been elected to represent all of its people.
Throughout the history of the United States, numerous presidents have left their legacies as slaveholders, bigots, and inciters of racial violence, but were the ones generally regarded as more sympathetic to the plight and interests of black Americans—such as Lincoln, FDR, and Clinton—really much better? And what of all the presidents whose relationship with black America is not even considered in the pages of most history books? Over the course of 45 chapters—one for each president—Margaret Kimberley enlightens and informs readers about the attitudes and actions of the highest elected official in the country. By casting sunlight on an aspect of American history that is largely overlooked, Prejudential aims to increase awareness in a manner that will facilitate discussion and understanding.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
A potent and electrifying critique of today’s feminist movement announcing a fresh new voice in black feminism.
Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?
In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminism delivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux. An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed.
Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir by Daniel R. Day
With his now-legendary store on 125th Street in Harlem, Dapper Dan pioneered high-end streetwear in the 1980s, remixing classic luxury-brand logos into his own innovative, glamorous designs. But before he reinvented haute couture (and started dressing cultural icons including Eric B. and Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, Mike Tyson, Alpo Martinez, LL Cool J, Diddy, Naomi Campbell, and Jay-Z), he was a hungry boy with holes in his shoes, a teen who daringly gambled drug dealers out of their money, and a young man in a prison cell who found nourishment in books. In this remarkable memoir, he tells his full story for the first time.
“Dapper Dan is a legend, an icon, a beacon of inspiration to many in the Black community. His story isn’t just about fashion. It’s about tenacity, curiosity, artistry, hustle, love, and a singular determination to live our dreams out loud.”—Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, 13th, and A Wrinkle in Time
“Dapper Dan is a true one of a kind, self-made, self-liberated, and the sharpest man you will ever see. He is couture himself.” —Marcus Samuelsson, New York Times bestselling author of Yes, Chef
“What James Baldwin is to American literature, Dapper Dan is to American fashion. He is the ultimate success saga, an iconic fashion hero to multiple generations, fusing street with high sartorial elegance. He is pure American style.” —André Leon Talley, Vogue contributing editor and author
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry
A 2020 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction), Breathe explores the terror, grace, and beauty of coming of age as a Black person in contemporary America and what it means to parent our children in a persistently unjust world.
Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity. She admits fear and frustration for her African American sons in a society that is increasingly racist and at times seems irredeemable. However, as a mother, feminist, writer, and intellectual, Perry offers an unfettered expression of love—finding beauty and possibility in life—and she exhorts her children and their peers to find the courage to chart their own paths and find steady footing and inspiration in Black tradition.
Perry draws upon the ideas of figures such as James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Emily Dickinson, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ida B. Wells. She shares vulnerabilities and insight from her own life and from encounters in places as varied as the West Side of Chicago; Birmingham, Alabama; and New England prep schools.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
An Oprah’s Book Club Pick, from the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.
Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.
So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.
This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
From James McBride, author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, comes a wise and witty novel about what happens to the witnesses of a shooting.
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.
The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters—caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York—overlap in unexpected ways.
Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin
With more than 100 recipes, from classics such as Seafood Gumbo, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, and Pecan Pie with Bourbon to lesser-known but even more decadent dishes like Spoon Bread and Baked Ham Glazed with Champagne, Jubilee presents techniques, ingredients, and dishes that show the roots of African American cooking—deeply beautiful, culturally diverse, fit for celebration.
Throughout her career, Toni Tipton-Martin has shed new light on the history, breadth, and depth of African American cuisine. She’s introduced us to black cooks, some long forgotten, who established much of what’s considered to be our national cuisine. After all, if Thomas Jefferson introduced French haute cuisine to this country, who do you think actually cooked it?
In Jubilee, Tipton-Martin brings these masters into our kitchens. Through recipes and stories, we cook along with these pioneering figures, from enslaved chefs to middle—and upper—class writers and entrepreneurs.
Listen to powerful stories, including essential non-fiction and historical, biographies of notable black heroes, and award-winning stories from bestselling authors.