The African American Experience: The Schomburg Center Black Liberation Reading List

The African American Experience blog photoThe Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library compiled a Black Liberation Reading List in response to the current uprisings around the world. You can find the majority of the items from their list through the following links to the JMRL catalog.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. These poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.


The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat’s story is at once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that other writers have approached death in their own work.


The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

The Black leader discusses his political philosophy and reveals details of his life, shedding light on the ideas that enabled him to gain the allegiance of a still growing percentage of the Black population.


Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

A cultural examination of the ways in which the media influences self-perception, and discusses how society still needs to do better.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The author presents a history of racial discrimination in the United States and a narrative of his own personal experiences of contemporary race relations, offering possible resolutions for the future.


Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt

A Stanford professor, MacArthur grant recipient and leading expert on unconscious racial bias examines the manifestations of automatic racism in today’s world and how they influence contemporary race relations and criminal justice.


A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry & Kali Nicole Gross

Two award-winning history professors and authors focus on the stories of African-American women slaves, civilians, religious leaders, artists, queer icons, activists and criminals in a celebration of black womanhood that demonstrates its indelible role in shaping America.


The Bluest Eye: A Novel by Toni Morrison

The story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedloe, a black girl who prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different.


Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry

A Princeton University professor of African-American studies explores the terror, grace and beauty of coming of age as a Black person in contemporary America, sharing insights into what it means to parent children in a persistently unjust world.


A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel by Marlon James

From the acclaimed writer of The Book of Night Women comes a masterful novel framed as a fictional oral history that explores the events and characters surrounding the attempted assassination of Bob Marley during the political turmoil on Jamaica in the late 1970s


Brown: Poems by Kevin Young

Uses poetry to meditate on how brownness and blackness in the United States tells an ongoing story, drawing on the poet’s own childhood, Emmet Till’s lynching, and De La Soul.


Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

A poet struggles to understand the role of the black man in America by evoking slave images to show the African-American family in crisis across three centuries. 


Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Collects essays, poetry, and images that expose the racial tensions in twenty-first century life, highlighting the slights, slips of the tongue, and intentional offensives that pervade the home, school, and popular media.


The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser, eds.

Landmark volume containing all of Lucille Clifton’s published work and 55 previously unpublished poems. Foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.


The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

A memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces the paths of the author’s ancestors (black and white) through the crucible of slavery to show its effects on our food today.


Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.

n a book that is part-manifesto, part-history and part-memoir, a professor at Princeton University, in the tradition of Cornel West’s Race Matters, makes the case that multiple forces have conspired to deepen the impoverishment of black communities, crystallizing the untenable position of Black America and offering thoughts on a better way forward.


Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith

An awarding-poet presents a collection of works that opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police—a place where suspicion, violence and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth.


Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

A leading young black feminist illuminates how organized anger, friendship, and faith can be powerful sources of positive feminist change, explaining how targeted rage has shaped the careers of such African-American notables as Serena Williams, Beyoncé, and Michelle Obama.


Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman

Farming While Black is the first comprehensive “how to” guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture.


Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

A collection of both previously unpublished works and classic essays includes discussions of recent cultural and political events, social networking, libraries, and the failure to address global warming.


Fences by August Wilson

During the 1950s Troy Maxson struggles against racism and tries to preserve his feelings of pride in himself.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

After the empire Sanze collapses and the vast continent Stillness becomes ravaged by a red rift which darkens the sky, Essun, whose daughter has been kidnapped by her murderous husband, crosses Stillness in a desperate attempt to save her daughter.


The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Warns citizens to examine the actual state of America, the role of blacks, and race relations after a century of Emancipation.


The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race by Jesmyn Ward, ed.

Presents a continuation of James Baldwin’s 1963 “The Fire Next Time” that examines racial issues from the past half-century through essays, poems, and memoir pieces by some of the current generation’s most original thinkers and writers.


Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

Activist, teacher, author and icon of the Black Power movement Angela Davis talks Ferguson, Palestine, and prison abolition.


From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

An indispensable contribution to the movement for racial justice in “postracial” America.

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin

As World War II raged overseas, Harlem witnessed a battle of its own. Brimming with creative and political energy, Harlem’s diverse array of artists and activists launched a bold cultural offensive aimed at winning democracy for all Americans, regardless of race or gender. In Harlem Nocturne, esteemed scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin tells the stories of three black female artists whose creative and political efforts fueled this movement for change: novelist Ann Petry, a major new literary voice; choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus, a pioneer in her field; and composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams, a prominent figure in the emergence of Be-Bop. As Griffin shows, these women made enormous strides for social justice during the war, laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement before the Cold War temporarily froze their democratic dreams. A rich account of three distinguished artists and the city that inspired them, Harlem Nocturne captures a period of unprecedented vitality and progress for African Americans and women in the United States.


Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

An essayist and novelist explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.


High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris

The author of The Africa Cookbook presents a history of the African Diaspora on two continents, tracing the evolution of culturally representative foods ranging from chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul.


The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

Traces the idea of a white race, showing how the origins of the American identity were tied to the elevation of white skin as the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence, and how even intellectuals insisted that only Anglo Saxons were truly American.


Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

A collection of essays taking 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.


How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

A best-selling author, National Book Award-winner and professor combines ethics, history, law and science with a personal narrative to describe how to move beyond the awareness of racism and contribute to making society just and equitable.


How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones

Written from the crossroads of sex, race, and power in America, [this is a] coming-of-age memoir and a … reflection of the nation as a whole.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The author and poet recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums.


Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin

More than 100 recipes that paint a rich, varied picture of the true history of African American cooking–from a James Beard Award-winning food writer


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.


Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Dana, a black woman, finds herself repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she must make sure that Rufus, the plantation owner’s son, survives to father Dana’s ancestor.


Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful by Kwame Brathwaite

Powerful portraits from the 1960s “Black Is Beautiful” movement; Accessible fusion of fashion, art, and social history; The first book on this influential African American photographer, now being widely recognized


The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander

The acclaimed poet reflects with gratitude on her life after the sudden death of her husband, discussing her personal quest for meaning and understanding, her renewed devotion to her teenage sons, and meditating on the blessings of love and family.


Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr.

Examines the debates surrounding the criminal justice system and its activities involving mass incarceration, aggressive police tactics, and their impact on at-risk people of color and beleaguered law-enforcement officers.


Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

An authoritative biography of Malcolm X draws on new research to trace his life from his troubled youth through his involvement in the Nation of Islam, his activism in the world of Black Nationalism, and his assassination.


Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad

The host of the “Good Ancestor” podcast presents an updated and expanded edition of the Instagram challenge that launched a cultural movement about taking responsibility for first-person racism to stop unconsciously inflicting pain on others.


Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Recounts the loss of five young men in the author’s life to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the misfortune that can follow those who live in poverty, sharing her experiences of living through the dying as she searches through answers in her community.


Monument: Poems: New and Selected by Natasha Trethewey

The author, a two-term U.S. poet laureate, uses verse to give witness to unsung icons such as working class African American women.


My Song: A Memoir by Harry Belafonte

The popular singer and former UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador shares the story of his life and career, from his impoverished childhood in Harlem and Jamaica and his racial barrier-breaking career to his commitment to numerous civil causes.


Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

A highly personal meditation on race, sex and American culture by the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic traces her upbringing and education in upper-class African-American circles against a backdrop of the Civil Rights era and its contradictory aftermath.


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

Argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Follows the experiences of two African-American teenagers at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.


Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor

Examines the important historical role of the “black travel guide to America” published from 1936 to 1966, celebrating the courage of black-safe businesses that advanced race relations by including themselves in Green Book listings.


Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, adapted by John Jennings, art by Damian Duffy

The award-winning team behind the #1 best-seller Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation now offer an adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian novel Parable of the Sower.


Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison

The author of Beloved explores the significance of African Americans in the American literary imagination, examining the works of Cather, Poe, Twain, Hawthorne, and Melville to argue that American literature’s central characteristics are responses to an Africanist presence.


Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

The author of Black Stats chronicles the experiences of school age black girls across the United States and discusses how to address policies, practices and a cultural illiteracy that push these students out of school and into unsafe and unstable futures.


A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A black family is united in love and pride as they struggle to overcome poverty and harsh living conditions, in the 1959 play about an embattled Chicago family.


Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

A journalist and activist who was profiled in a 2011 Marie Claire feature outlines bold perspectives on the realities of being young, multi-racial, economically challenged and transgender in today’s America, recounting her disadvantaged youth and decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery at the age of 18 before pursuing a career and falling in love.


S O S: Poems 1961–2013 by Amiri Baraka

Fusing the personal and the political in high-voltage verse, Amiri Baraka was one of the preeminent literary innovators of the past century. This volume comprises the fullest spectrum of his rousing, revolutionary poems, from his first collection to unpublished pieces composed during his final years.


Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez

Covering over thirty years of work, Shake Loose My Skin is a stunning testament to the literary, sensual, and political powers of the award-winning Sonia Sanchez


Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature.


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

A current, constructive, and actionable exploration of today’s racial landscape, offering straightforward clarity that listeners of all races need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide.


Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

A comprehensive history of anti-black racism focuses on the lives of five major players in American history, including Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson, and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists.


Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Chronicles America’s post-Civil War struggle for racial equality and the violent counterrevolution that resubjugated black Americans throughout the twentieth century, as seen through the visual culture of the era.


The Street by Ann Petry

Explores the life and dreams of a young woman who struggles to raise her son in a suffocating ghetto world of racism, human degradation, and uncontrolled violence.


Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson

The author examines the poverty, violence, and drug culture impacting the Portland, Oregon community of his youth, examining the large and small cultural forces that shaped his family.


Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Living in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2008, a group of factory workers struggles to keep their present lives in balance, unaware of the financial crisis looming in their near futures, in a play that presents a stark look at America’s economic decline.


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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.


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

The sociologist describes her childhood and her experiences as an African American woman dealing with issues of race, gender, sexism, violence, and economic inequality.


The Tradition by Jericho Brown

The Tradition explores cultural threats on black bodies, resistance, and the interplay of desire and privilege in a dangerous era.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South.


Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis

A collection of poetry which analyzes the role of the black woman through time


Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

A collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet discusses what it means to be a citizen, a mother, and an artist in an American culture arbitrated by wealth, men, and violence.


The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In an epic history covering the period from the end of World War I through the 1970s, a Pulitzer Prize winner chronicles the decades-long migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West through the stories of three individuals and their families.


The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes

In these acrid and poignant stories, Hughes depicted black people colliding–sometimes humorously, more often tragically–with whites in the 1920s and ’30s.


Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman

Traces a lesser-known time of radical transformation of black life in early 20th-century America, revealing how a large number of black women forged relationships, families and jobs that were more empowered and typically indifferent to moral dictates.


We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Offers an updated definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.


We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina L. Love

Argues that to achieve educational justice, educators must teach students about racial violence, oppression, resistance, joy, and how to make sustainable change in their communities.


Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim, ed.

The founder of the popular online book club curates a collection of original essays from today’s best black female voices, including Jesmyn Ward, Lynn Nottage, Jacqueline Woodson, Gabourey Sidibe, Morgan Jerkins, Tayari Jones and Rebecca Walker.


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

The co-founder of presents a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the direct impact of racism on his life, the shifting definition of black male identity, and the ongoing realities of white supremacy.


Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories by Kathleen Collins

A collection of newly found stories by the late playwright and filmmaker explores race, gender, family, and sexuality.


When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

A memoir by the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement explains the movement’s position of love, humanity, and justice, challenging perspectives that have negatively labeled the movement’s activists while calling for essential political changes.


Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community is the last book Martin Luther King, Jr. penned before his assassination in 1968. It’s a series of essays in which Dr. King addresses the status of the Civil Rights movement, its progress, what has held it back and what he believes it will take to move it forward.


White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.


Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Born into post-apocalyptic Africa to a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people.


Looking for more reading suggestions? Use What Do I Read Next? to receive personal recommendations from JMRL librarians.

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