January 28, 2021
5 Must Read Books for Black History Month
by Allison Green
When it comes to pioneers in Black history, who do you think of? February is Black History Month and this year, on the docket for essential reading, we’ve got some classics you know and love. Our hope is that this list will help you expand your knowledge about influential Black Americans as we celebrate all of the Black history heroes out there! From pop stars to political figures to writers, these interviews are a testament to the varied important and historical expressions of the Black experience. Join us in shining the spotlight on these figures who deserve to be celebrated every day for their significant contributions to civil rights, politics, the arts, and more.
Toni Morrison was the first Black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her novels explore protagonists experiencing the roles of Black women living in racist and male dominated societies. At the center of her work is Black cultural inheritance—a complex and multifaceted force to be reckoned with.
In her collection of thought-provoking interviews, we see a side of Toni Morrison we don’t typically see. Yes, we get all of the gritty details of her writing life, but we also get a glimpse at her other careers as a teacher and as a publisher, as well as the story of her family.
Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress after campaigning under the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.” Being the daughter of immigrants from Barbados and Guyana, Chisolm deeply understood minorities. In her adult life, she had a significant impact on anti-poverty policy and educational reform.
Shirley Chisholm’s collection of interviews documents her brilliant life. Her legacy shines through as she reveals intimate details about her childhood, the inspiration behind her persistent advocacy, and her telling insights about the course of American history. We’ll leave you with this quote: “I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”
James Baldwin was many things: an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. But above all things, Baldwin was a breath of fresh air during his time as he fearlessly explored racial and social issues in his profound literary works. His bold essays on the Black experience in Western society garnered critical attention.
Baldwin’s series of interviews are the result of many revelatory conversations about his life, including details about his integrity as a writer, thinker, and individual, as well as the struggles he faced along the way.
Prince Rogers Nelson was more than a pop star, he was a Black activist. His legacy includes bold political stances with a keen focus on Black empowerment. Prince even connected his music to the fight for racial justice.
This series of interviews—with an introduction by Hanif Abdurraqib—offers a discerning, modern look at the musician’s life, artistry, and identity.
Billie Holiday was the first Black woman to work with an all-white band. To great controversy, one of her most famous songs titled “Strange Fruit” was based on a horrific lynching in the South. Many consider it one of the first protest songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Included in this collection is her last interview, given from her deathbed in a hospital where police were standing by ready to arrest her for a parole violation should she recover (more details on that inside).
This collection of conversations portrays Billie Holiday as articulate, aware, intelligent, and heroic. If you’ve ever been moved by her music, this is essential reading.
Allison Green is the social media manager at Melville House.