In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. After many years of sponsoring a “Negro History Week” during the second week of February, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in February 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Today, Black History Month is “an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history.” For Black History Month, we would like to share some extraordinary and profound books written by African American authors in the last year.
Hunger | Memoir
Roxane Gay is the author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, Bad Feminist, and Difficult Women. She also writes the World of Wakanda for Marvel, and is an opinion writer for the New York Times. In 2017, she published Hunger, a New York Times bestseller. The book is a “searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself.”
Here’s HarperCollins’s official summary: “Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life.”
Gay is currently working on several books, as well as television and film projects.
We Were Eight Years In Power: An american Tragedy | Nonfiction
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist, blogger, and memoirist best known for his book Between The World And Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015. He also received a MacArthur Fellowship for “interpreting complex and challenging issues around race and racism through the lens of personal experience and nuanced historical analysis.” In 2017, Coates came out with his newest book on domestic politics: We Were Eight Years In Power.
Here is Penguin Random House’s official summary of the book: “‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s ‘first white president.’ But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.”
Coates lives in New York with his wife and son. Since 2016, he has written Marvel’s Black Panther comic book, and this summer will start writing comics for Captain America. You can find out more about Coates (and why you should pick up We Were Eight Years In Power) from his recent profile in the New York Times.
Sing, Unburied, Sing | Fiction
Jesmyn Ward is a novelist, essayist, and memoirist recently made extra famous for winning the National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing, a novel that examines the “ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.”
Simon & Schuster’s official summary: “Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.”
Now an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward is known for her fearlessness and lyrical writing – and has even been called “the standout writer of her generation.” You can learn more about Ward and her other books, Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped, in our November Quote of the Week feature.