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DU Faculty Recommends Books for Black History Month

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Janette Ballard

Feature  •
books in a row

Black History Month is an opportunity to expand your reading horizons with a few great books by Black authors.

We asked Katherine Crowe, associate professor and curator of Special Collections and Archives in University Libraries, and Maik Nwosu, professor and chair in the Department of English and Literary Arts for some of their favorites. Says Crowe of her favorite books: “I like them, I learn something from them, I keep coming back to them.” Nwosu, who studies African, African diaspora, and world literatures, adds a couple of his top picks by international writers. All titles are available through University Libraries unless otherwise noted.

The summaries below are taken from the publishers’ descriptions.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

All That She Carried book cover

by Tiya Miles

Penguin Random House, 2021 

In 1850s South Carolina, before nine-year-old Ashley was sold, her mother, Rose, gave her a sack filled with just a few things as a token of her love. Decades later, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth, embroidered this history on the bag, including Rose's message that "It be filled with my Love always." Historian Tiya Miles carefully follows the paths their lives took to write a unique, innovative history of the lived experience of slavery in the United States. As she follows Ashley's journey, Miles metaphorically “unpacks” the sack, revealing the meanings and significance of everything it contained. “All That She Carried” was the winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Homie: Poems 

Homie book cover by Danez Smith

by Danez Smith

Graywolf Press, 2020

Homie is Danez Smith's anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith's close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness and diagnosis, it can be hard to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family—blood and chosen—arrives with just the right food and some redemption.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name 

ZAMI book cover

by Audre Lorde

Crossing Press, 1982

Lourde, a revolutionary Black feminist, coined the term “biomythography” to describe this work—a combination of history, biography and myth. “Zami” is a fast-moving chronicle, from Audre Lorde’s vivid childhood memories growing up in Harlem in the 1930s to her coming of age in the late 1950s. The nature of Lorde’s work in cyclical, and “Zami” especially relates the linkage of women who had shaped her.

Libertie: A Novel 

Libertie book cover

by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Algonquin Books, 2021

Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her mother, a physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie will go to medical school and practice alongside her. But when a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.

An Extraordinary Union: A Novel of the Civil War 

An Extraordinary Union book cover

by Alyssa Cole

Kensington Publishing Corp., 2017

Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South to spy for the Union Army. There she meets Malcolm McCall, a detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service. Two undercover agents who share a common cause—and an undeniable attraction—Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy's favor. (This book is not available through DU but loanable through Prospector; the e-book and audio are also available on the Libby app.)

At Night All Blood Is Black 

At night all blood is black book cover

by David Diop

New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020

A “'Chocolat” soldier with the French army during World War I, Senegalese Alfa Ndiaye's friend Mademba Diop is injured in battle. Diop begs Alfa to kill him and spare him the pain of a long and agonizing death in No Man's Land. Unable to commit this mercy killing, madness creeps into Alfa's mind. To avenge the death of his friend and find forgiveness for himself, every night Alfa sneaks across enemy lines to find and murder a blue-eyed German soldier. As rumors circulate that Alfa is a soul-eater, how far will he go to make amends to his dead friend? The English translation of Diop’s French book won the International Booker Prize in 2021.

Girl, Woman, Other 

Girl, woman, other book cover

by Bernardine Evaristo

Penguin, 2020

“Girl, Woman, Other,” winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 (making Evaristo the first Black woman recipient), is a celebration of the diversity of Black British experience. Moving, hopeful and inventive, this story is a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and the legacy of Britain's colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean. The 12 central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.

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