Toni Morrison is my absolute favorite writer of all time, with her novel Sula being my favorite novel by her. I’m also in love with Song of Solomon, and Paradise. I just finished her novel, Jazz, last week, and I plan on picking up Tar Baby sometime this summer. 2015 will be the year of the re-read, when I pick up the Bluest Eye and Beloved. Yes, Morrison is serious enough for me to schedule reading her novels a year in advance.

She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Beloved, and became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

I’ve enjoyed Morrison’s writing, but hearing her speak is also a definite treat. She is one of the smartest public intellectuals I have ever had the pleasure of listening to, thanks to Youtube. In honor of her birthday, check out this interview with Charlie Rose, which starts off a little testy when she’s asked if she’ll ever veer away from the subject of race in her writing. I love how she segue’s into how studying African writers helped her focus on writing solely for the pleasure and benefit of Black readers.

 

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I’m a novel kinda gal, but I have slowly come to realize that non-fiction can be just as fascinating as fiction, especially if written in a narrative, conversational tone. This kind of engaged writing usually goes hand in hand with memoirs and essay collections. I recently mapped out my annual reading list and noticed that the amount of memoirs and essay collections on it had grown tremendously, compared to three years ago, when the non-fiction books previously amounted to zero.

This list of 10 titles, pulled from my 2014 Must Read Shelf on Goodreads.com,  is a small testament to the variety of Black life in America. I thought it would be great to share these during Black History Month.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon (2013)

“Author and essayist Kiese Laymon is one of the most unique, stirring, and powerful new voices in American writing. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a collection of his essays, touching on subjects ranging from family, race, violence, and celebrity to music, writing, and coming of age in Mississippi. This collection introduces Laymon as a writer who balances volatile concepts on a razor’s edge and chops up much-discussed and often-misunderstood topics with his scathing humor and fresh, unexpected takes on the ongoing absurdities, frivolities, and calamities of American life.”

howtoslowlykillyourselfandothersinamerica

I finished Kiese Laymon’s novel, Long Division, late last year and enjoyed it, but I’m mostly interested in Laymon’s essays. I was initially introduced to his writing online, and he does an excellent job of turning America on its head when writing of the damaging effects of racism.

 

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage (April 8, 2014)

“In this inspiring memoir, the award-winning playwright and bestselling author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day reminisces on the art of juggling marriage, motherhood, and politics while working to become a successful writer. This fascinating memoir follows her journey from a columnist for a local weekly (bought by Larry Flynt) to a playwright and Hollywood script writer, an artist at the crossroads of culture and politics whose circle came to include luminaries like Richard Pryor, Avery Brooks, Phylicia Rashad, Shirley Franklin, and Jesse Jackson.”

thingsIshouldhavetoldmydaughter

Pearl Cleage is like that aunt who keeps it real and tells you the truth with a whole lot of love. Her books, Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot (1993), What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (1997; Oprah Book Club Pick), and I Wish I Had a Red Dress (2001), all had tremendous impact on my growth as a woman during my early 20s. I’m sure this memoir, set to be released in April, will not disappoint. CAN NOT WAIT!

 

Ready for Revolution: The Life and Times of Stokely Carmichael by Stokely Carmichael (2003)

“Ready for Revolution recounts the extraordinary course of Carmichael’s life, from his Trinidadian youth to his consciousness-raising years in Harlem to his rise as the patriarch of the Black Power movement.  In his own words, Carmichael tells the story of his fight for social justice with candor, wit, and passion — and a cast of luminaries that includes James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Fidel Castro, among others.”

ReadyFor Revolution

I am fascinated by the the Black Power movement, so why not read about the life of the man who originally coined the phrase, “Black Power.” Carmichael (1941-1998), who later changed his name to Kwame Toure, is credited with being the father of the movement, but his achievements are often overlooked. I read a little about him in a recent article on TheRoot.com, but I’m ready for more.

 

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (1955)

“Since its original publication in 1955, this first nonfiction collection of essays by James Baldwin remains an American classic. His impassioned essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written.”

NotesOfANativeSon

I’ve read a couple of James Baldwin’s (1924-1987) novels, but none of his essays, which I am told are his best work. Yes, I know I’m missing out and should be ashamed, but I recently picked this up at a library sale and instantly added it to my reading list

 

Mozart and Leadbelly by Ernest Gaines (2005)

“In this collection of stories and essays, the beloved author of the classic, best-selling novel A Lesson Before Dying shares the inspirations behind his books and his reasons for becoming a writer. From his depiction of his childhood move to California — a move that propelled him to find books that conjured the sights, smells, and locution of his native Louisiana home — to his description of the real-life murder case that gave him the idea for his masterpiece, this wonderful collection is a revelation of both man and writer.”

mozartandleadbelly

Ernest Gaines, author of A Lesson Before Dying, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and A Gathering of Old Men, is one of my favorite writers, so why in the world would I pass up a collection of essays about his life and writing process? I get excited just thinking about reading this one.

 

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

ZAMI is a fast-moving chronicle. From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her . . . Lorde brings into play her craft of lush description and characterization. It keeps unfolding page after page.”

zami

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a very talented and well-known Black lesbian poet, essayist, activist, feminist who I knew very little about until my social media circle of writers and feminists began tweeting about her influence a few years back. I’m ready to learn more about here now, and this looks like a good start.

 

Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton (1973)

“Eloquently tracing the birth of a revolutionary, Huey P. Newton’s famous and oft-quoted autobiography is as much a manifesto as a portrait of the inner circle of America’s Black Panther Party. From Newton’s impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system, from his role in the Black Panthers to his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail,Revolutionary Suicide is smart, unrepentant, and thought-provoking in its portrayal of inspired radicalism.”

RevolutionarySuicide

As I stated before, I’m fascinated by the Black Power Movement, but particularly the progress made by the Black Panther Party (BPP). Though Newton’s work in the BPP (1942-1989) has always been an inspiration to me, my personal studies of the Party have only included memoirs by Elaine Brown (A Taste of Power), Assata Shakur (Assata), and Eldridge Cleaver, along with a few documentaries. Now I’m ready to broaden my knowledge and start from the very top.

 

Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby (2013)

“Samantha Irby explodes onto the page in her debut collection of brand-new essays about being a complete dummy trying to laugh her way through her ridiculous life of failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s Disease, and more, all told with the same scathing wit & poignant candor long-time readers have come to expect from her notoriously hilarious blog, www.bitchesgottaeat.com.”

bitchesgottaeat

I wrote about this essay collection when it was released because I was so excited that Samantha Irby was able to branch outside of her hilariously entertaining blog. Soon thereafter, I won a copy of the book from Goodreads.com. So why haven’t I read it yet? I’m lazy and bogged down with a million, books but I’m reading it this year. I promise! And you should too!

The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker by Alice Walker (2010)

“The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker includes compelling conversations between acclaimed writer Walker and other significant literary and cultural figures. Each conversation represents a different stage in Walker’s artistic and spiritual development; taken together, they offer an unprecedented angle of vision on her career as well as on her personal and political development.”

The-World-Has-Changed-Alice-Walker

Thanks to the recent PBS American Masters documentary about her life, my interest in Alice Walker outside of The Color Purple is growing. With this being her 70th year on earth, I thought it might be good to delve into more of her writing. This collection of conversations, spanning from 1973 to 2009, looks like a great start.

 

Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (2013)

“He is one of our most ubiquitous cultural tastemakers, and in this, his first book, he reveals his own formative experiences–from growing up in 1970s West Philly as the son of a 1950s doo-wop singer, to finding his own way through the music world and ultimately co-founding and rising up with the Roots.  Mo’ Meta Blues also has some (many) random (or not) musings about the state of hip hop, the state of music criticism, the state of statements, as well as a plethora of run-ins with celebrities, idols, and fellow artists, from Stevie Wond”er to KISS to D’Angelo to Jay-Z to Dave Chappelle to…you ever seen Prince roller-skate?!?

MoMetaBlues

How could I do a list of memoirs and not include this musical gem? Last year, I saw a lot of people talking about how much they enjoyed this memoir, which convinced me to add it to this list. I’m very interested in what this well-known drummer has to say!

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The last installment of my Novel Must Reads is finally here. I think these last seven novels may be my most most anticipated reads on the list. Can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Click HERE for Part I

Click HERE for Part II

 

 

Forty Acres

15. Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith (2014) – This book comes out in July 1, and though I’ve never heard about the author and can’t find much about him online, I’m still REALLY intrigued by the synopsis: “Martin Grey, a smart, talented black lawyer working out of a storefront in Queens, becomes friendly with a group of some of the most powerful, wealthy, and esteemed black men in America. They invite him for a weekend away from it all… [where] Martin finds out that his glittering new friends are part of a secret society dedicated to the preservation of the institution of slavery, but this time around, the black men are called ‘Master’. Joining them seems to guarantee a future without limits; rebuking them almost certainly guarantees his death.” (more)

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More goodness in the form of my 2014 Must Read List. Click HERE for Part I.

 

the good lord bird

8. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013) – James McBride’s novel about a young boy slave who travels the land disguised as a girl, while following the abolitionist John Brown, recently won the National Book Award. I’ve been wanting to read this ever since: “An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.” (full synopsis)

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21 Novels That I Absolutely Positively Swear I’m Going To Read in 2014

January 15, 2014

I make promises to read specific books every year…and every year I fail. 2013 was no exception. Though I still met my goal of 45 books, only 15 of those were from my list of Must Reads. I’m easily distracted by new shiny titles, but here I am again, promising to get my ish together […]

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45th NAACP Image Award Nominations for Literature (2014)

January 10, 2014

The NAACP Award Nominations were announced yesterday, and of course the first thing I always look for are the nominations for best literature. Very disappointed that The Good Lord Bird by James McBride isn’t nominated. It won the National Book Award for goodness sake!! And yet again, Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah was passed up for another […]

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First Line Friday: Black Girl in Paris

January 9, 2014

“Paris. September 1986. Early morning. She is lying on her back in a hard little bed with her eyes closed, dreaming in French. Langston was here. There is a black girl in Paris lying in a bed on the fifth floor of a hotel in the Latin Quarter. Her eyes are closed against the soft […]

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Happy Birthday, Zora Neale Hurston

January 7, 2014

  “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality.” Today marks the 123rd anniversary of Zora Neale Hurston’s birth, and Google has honored her with  her very own doodle! One of the namesakes of this blog, Zora has inspired countless women to be exemplary, fierce, headstrong, proud. […]

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Favorite Reads of 2013

January 7, 2014

With this being the seventh day of 2014, I’m somewhat late with my Favorite Reads of 2013, but better late than never…as was the case last year when I never got around to doing a wrap up of my 2012 reads. I’m excited about my favorite reads. Looking over my ratings on Goodreads.com, I had […]

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First Line Friday: The Last King

November 22, 2013

“The first time I saw Cotton play I was nine years old.”   And so begins The Last King, Nichelle Tramble’s follow up to The Dying Ground. My book club chose The Dying Ground for our November literary selection, and since the book was based in Oakland, I figured it would be a good idea […]

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