15 books to read during the lockdown

By Alexander Durie

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel mixes magical realism and history as a young enslaved man learns he has the mystical power to free people through memory and water. This debut novel is a compelling call for freedom from the famous Baltimore-born author and journalist who many pundits have called the modern James Baldwin.

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

This Pulitzer-Prize winning novel from 1982 has become a modern classic for its depictions of toxic masculinity and black trauma. It tells the story of the bond between two African American sisters in rural Georgia in the early 20th century, and was adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Oprah three years after the book’s release.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone moves backwards and forwards in time to give readers a personal insight the role of community in a Brooklyn family while tackling issues of class, gender and identity.. This 2019 novel has already received huge praise and was an instant New York Times Bestseller.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist is a landmark book for a new generation of activists. Kendi deconstructs systemic racism and its relationship with class and culture, helping readers understand the roots of racism in order to imagine an anti-racist society.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

While all of Toni Morrison’s oeuvre could be included in this list, Song of Solomon stands out from the rest of the Nobel Prize winner’s amazing writing for the remarkable coming-of-age depiction of its protagonist Milkman, up there with Huckleberry Finn as an American classic.

Another Country by James Baldwin

Just like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin is one of those writers whose whole body of work should be required reading. While Go Tell It on the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son deal more directly with identity and race in the US, Another Country conveys Baldwin’s artful prose while taking the reader between New York and Paris in one of the most formative periods of Baldwin’s life. 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

There’s a famous saying that Catcher in the Rye is to young white boys what the Autobiography of Malcolm X is to young black boys. But the two are so far from apart. Malcolm X’s Autobiography teaches resilience, compassion and determination from a man who was born into adversity, spent time in prison, taught himself to read, found his religion and became a leading figure in the Civil Rights movement – a rise that would ultimately cost his own life.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Another American classic, this 1952 book tells the existential tale of a black man during the height of the Jazz age in New York navigating a white world that cannot see him as worthy and human.

Discourse on colonialism (Discours sur le colonialisme) by Aimé Césaire

The essay in Discourse on colonialism by Aimé Césaire is a must-read for anyone interested in postcolonial and critical race theory. First published in France in 1950 by the anticolonial publisher Présence Africaine, the essay reads more like a manifesto asserting the wrongdoings of colonialism by the father of Négritude movement.

Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon

A student of Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon is – like his Martinican mentor – essential for anyone interested in arguments that critically deconstruct colonialism. Using his experience in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, Frantz Fanon analyses how the violence of the coloniser passed on to the colonised in his seminal book Black Skin, White Masks.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is arguably the most famous and praised book by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who has become widely famous for her TED Talk and eponymous essay We Should All Be Feminists. Americanah tackles race, identity, dreams and diaspora from Nigeria to the United States.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi has been praised as one of the best modern black women writers . The 2017 debut of the Ghanian-American writer crosses continents and multiple generations – from the slavery-era Gold Coast to the Harlem Jazz Age and the Mississippi plantations – to tell a uniting story of family and becoming.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Oddo-Lodge

Just like How to Be an Antiracist, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race  is an excellent modern book tackling institutional racism. The brilliant British writer and journalist Reni Oddo-Lodge adds incisive historical context to bring forth a much-needed discussion on prejudice and discrimination.

If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance by Angela Davis

If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance is an essential collection of essays for anyone interested in learning more about the life and incarceration of the famous activist from the Black Panther Party Angela Davis.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

This 2014 book by the American poet Claudia Rankine blends poetry, criticism and images to analyse ongoing racial aggressions in today’s society, in particularly those perpetuated by the media.

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