Explore Black History Month with Book Recommendations
February is Black History Month, and Student Services Librarian Nancy Wallace is back with book recommendations. Last year, Nancy recommended books that looked at the Black American experience from 1619 to the present. This year, she decided to look at individual experiences in the form of autobiographies and personal essays, as well as her own fan interests in baseball, comics and graphic novels, and speculative fiction.
We invite you to explore her selected titles below, many of which are available at Shields Library and through our Interlibrary Loan service. You can also view them on display near the Circulation Desk.
Becoming, Michelle Obama, 2018
As the first Black First Lady, Michelle Obama became the focus for Americans’ relationship with and understanding (and misunderstanding) of Black femininity, her body and hair and clothes scrutinized and othered. Reading about her journey, and how she weathered these attacks, resonated with me as a Black woman who, like Michelle, grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and attended a predominantly white university far from home.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015
I first encountered author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates through his blog on The Atlantic in the early 2000’s. His voice is powerful and speaks across genres from memoir to essays to novels to comics. Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015, is framed as a letter to his son Samori about his life journey as a Black man in America, and what it means to grow up in a world that doesn’t believe your life matters.
Thick: And Other Essays, Tressie McMillan Cottom, 2019
Another writer I discovered in the early blog days, Tressie McMillan Cottom is an academic and intellectual whose writing is firmly grounded in her experience as a Black woman. In Thick she writes about moments from her reality: about beauty, family, writing, sexuality, and class, all centered in Blackness. Her sociology is lived, not observed, and in sharing her stories she helps make me feel seen and heard.
Invisible Men: Life in Baseball’s Negro Leagues, Donn Rogosin, 1983
Baseball in the US is seen as a white game, and it’s not hard to see why: on Opening Day in 2022, American-born Black players made up 7.2 percent of MLB rosters. But before Jackie Robinson became the first Black man to play in the majors, Negro League baseball was a source of both entertainment and racial pride, with millions of fans across the country watching players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neil. Rogosin interviewed players and places them at the center of his history of segregated Black baseball in the United States and the Caribbean from 1920 through 1946.
Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson, 2013
Growing up, comics were a guilty pleasure of mine; my parents considered them a waste of money, so I only read them when someone else brought them to school; Storm from the X-Men was my favorite. Black Comics is a deep dive into a unique medium, from newspaper strips to superhero comics to graphic novels and manga, focusing on how themes of race, gender, and community have changed over time. It’s a fascinating look at Black representation in comics beyond Storm and Black Panther.
The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. 2019
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, but as I read the Harry Potter books when they were released, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to find that the main characters in Rowling’s wizarding world were white. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas turns a critical lens on the young adult fantasy genre and the “imagination gap,” that keeps authors—and readers—from envisioning fully realized Black characters in their fantasy worlds, and how Black writers and fans are insisting on making our own spaces in speculative fiction.
I hope potential readers will enjoy these books as much as I have.— Nancy Wallace, Student Services Librarian