Although the month of February is coming to a close, the importance of Black History Month should be recognized and discussed all throughout the year. The professors in the English department have provided some book recommendations that highlight different perspectives, narratives, and experiences. We hope you enjoy and possibly find a new favorite book!
Between the World and Me (2015)
Dr. Corkery recommends this book by Ta-Nehisi Coates that is presented as an epistolary novel, as it is a letter between the narrator of the story and his 13-year-old son. The intention of the letter is to prepare his son for his upcoming life as a Black man in the United States. Through the composition of this letter, the author goes through his personal, ancestral, and American history to deliver “an impassioned appeal to his son’s understanding of the truth about his racial identity in this country.”
When asked why he recommends this book, Dr. Corkery mentions that he points this book out to other teachers because of his use of it in his English composition courses. He states:
“Coates creates an ethos for himself that allows him to critique American race relations and expose many harsh truths about being Black in this country. He creates an image of himself as a concerned parent looking out for his son, not the angry black man. So, we hear many difficult critiques that might be hard for mainstream audiences to accept. Yet, audiences are invited to identify with him as a parent. His ranting and emotion come across as devotion and love for his boy, not hate for the country.”
Stamped from the Beginning (2016)
This novel, written by Ibram X. Kendi, is a recommendation by Dr. Mayers. He summarizes the novel as “a rich and detailed history of how racist polices lead to racist ideas, and how these ideas have become woven into the fabric of American society.” The author’s website states that this fast-moving narrative “uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists.” This includes figures such as the Puritan minister Cotton Mather all the way up to American political activist Angela Davis, whose lives show how thinkers throughout history have either cemented or challenged racist ideas in America.
Dr. Mayers recommends this book because it “provides an excellent example of how meticulous scholarly work can both be readable and thought provoking.” He further states that “Kendi’s work challenges us all-regardless of our own racial identities and histories-to consider how racist ideas have shaped the ways we look at the world.”
This debut novel, by author Yaa Gyasi, is recommended by Dr. Pfannenstiel. She summarizes the story as “starting with two sisters in Africa, the book follows generations experiencing race across two continents.” The title of the book connects to an old African-American belief that “death allowed an enslaved person’s spirit to travel back to Africa” (Miller). The book splits the experiences of two sisters whose lives have taken two incredibly different paths in both Africa and America, and how their experiences bring up the discussion of different cultural and societal issues.
Dr. Pfannenstiel recommends this novel because:
“This book offers historical perspectives of race and the experience of race across generations. The stories are beautiful, the movement of people influenced by race, socio-economic status, and gender help the reader connect with the struggles and weight of complex life decisions. It is a beautiful book about family.”
Miller, Laura. “A Sprawling Epic of Africa and America.” The New Yorker, 23 May 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/30/yaa-gyasis-homegoing.