We Were Eight Years in Power
Barack Obama’s election was an unprecedented moment in U.S. history; for entirely different reasons, so was the 2016 election. This collection of essays follows not only the great political shifts in the country but also the ideas and movements that have surfaced since 2008. Told from the intimate perspective of Coates—beginning in a Harlem unemployment office and culminating in interviewing President Obama—this collection brings a great deal of understanding to blackness in America during the Obama era and now.
With a title that references the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down anti-miscegenation laws, this novel explores the unique challenges of being mixed-race in America. Warren Duffy moves back to his Philadelphia-area town from Wales after both his marriage and comic-book store fail. He returns home to more than he bargained for when he meets his daughter, who has been raised to think she’s white, though Warren came from a biracial background with a Black mother and white father. He decides to use this discovery as a chance to remake his life and teach his daughter about her ancestry.
After the resounding success of both his memoir, The Color of Water, and his novel The Good Lord Bird, McBride stuns with this short story collection. His insight into—and passion for—his characters make you feel as if you’re friends with them. Whether it’s a story about veterans, an American president, or a minister, you’ll be swept up in their narratives and disappointed when it’s time to say goodbye.
The Underground Railroad
This novel tells the story of Cora, a young slave on the verge of womanhood and an outcast in her community. She meets Caesar, another slave who convinces her to join the Underground Railroad, reimagined as an actual system of railroads that helps slaves escape to freedom. Whitehead’s story returns us to a horrific era in our nation’s history, weaving together a gripping tale of escape and a meditation on our capacity for brutality.
I Am Not Your Negro
Before his death in 1987, famed author James Baldwin wasn’t able to complete the book he envisioned about his three assassinated friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. When acclaimed filmmaker Raoul Peck began working on his documentary I Am Not Your Negro, he pieced together published and unpublished materials to create what he imagines as Baldwin’s final book.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer whose ancestors were slaves, but she gained immortality in the scientific community when her cells were taken without her permission and used for innumerable experiments and medical breakthroughs from the 1950s through present day. Skloot investigates the untold story of Henrietta’s life and works with her family to uncover the truth behind the testing that Henrietta and her family unknowingly underwent.
Zora Neale Hurston
Carla Kaplan, Ph.D.
Zora Neale Hurston, author of the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, was one of the central figures behind the Harlem Renaissance but remained virtually unknown until being rediscovered years after her death. This collection of letters sheds new understanding on the life of the brilliant and complicated writer, and how her work became so influential.
Every February, Americans celebrate Black History Month: a time to recognize the countless achievements of Black Americans, as well as their role in U.S. history. In honor of Black History Month, we’re revisiting some of our favorite books that illustrate the past, present, and future of Black lives.
Featured Image: Author Zora Neale Hurston at a book fair, New York, NY, circa 1937. PhotoQuest/Getty Images.