When you are surrounded by books and book reviews all day choosing what to read in my spare time can find me agonizing over many different titles. So how do I choose? Sometimes I will read for fun and entertainment, so my love of a good mystery usually wins. However, I believe the biggest motivator for me is to find books that take me into to the lives and experiences of others in order to understand the world in which I live. Therefore mainly I read biography, history and realistic fiction.
As I write, it is one week until African American History Month, 2011. Most of my understanding of the African American experience in this country has come from books so I want to share some that have been important to me.
Like many other high school students, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, opened my eyes to racial bigotry and its consequences. Over the years there have been many more books that have continued to educate me. To name a few: Alex Hailey’s Roots; Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman; the biographies of Maya Angelou; Alice Walker’s [i]The Color Purple; Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Jazz; Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God; and Valerie Boyd’s biography of Hurston, Wrapped in Rainbow.
This past year I have read four titles that have added to my awareness of African American life and culture.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a novel about the black women who were the enslaved mistresses of their white owners.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot documents the struggle of the Lacks’ family to understand how harvested cells from Lacks, a poor black woman who died from cervical cancer, advanced medical breakthroughs over the last 60 years.
Like Harper Lee, Kathryn Stockett is a young, white, fiction author. Her book, The Help, is about African American maids in the South at the time of the Civil Rights movement.
In Grace of Silence NPR correspondent, Michele Norris chronicles her family’s racial history, she discovered while researching the book she started out to write about race in America.
You don’t have to wait until African American History month to read books by and about African Americans but February does remind us to seek them out and add them to our reading lists.