Books of the Month


Interested? It’s easy—we choose a new book (or two) every month. Pick one, and get your own copy (don’t buy from Amazon! Check out our Black-owned bookstores or local libraries resources to find one).

Then, find a local book club chapter, start an unofficial chapter, or join our monthly book club Zoom meetings.

Below you’ll find additional resources and questions for each book, so you can always read on your own.

Happy reading.

October


Blood Child
by Octavia E. Butler

Focuses:
Short Stories
Fiction
Fantasy
Years ago a group known as the Terrans left Earth in search of a life free of persecution. Now they live alongside the Tlic, an alien race who face extinction; their only chance of survival is to plant their larvae inside the bodies of the humans.

When Gan, a young, boy, is chosen as a carrier of Tlic eggs, he faces an impossible dilemma: can he really help the species he has grown up with, even if it means sacrificing his own life?

Blood Child is Octavia E. Butler’s shattering meditation on symbiosis, love, power, and tough choices. It won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula, and Science Fiction Chronicle awards and is widely regarded as one of her greatest works.


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My Sister, The Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Focuses:
Fiction
Thriller
Mystery

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first.

Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other...


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September


Belly of the Beast
by Da'Shaun L. Harrison

Focuses:
Culture
History
Black America
To live in a body both fat and Black is to exist at the margins of a society that creates the conditions for anti-fatness as anti-Blackness. Hyper-policed by state and society, passed over for housing and jobs, and derided and misdiagnosed by medical professionals, fat Black people in the United States are subject to sociopolitically sanctioned discrimination, abuse, condescension, and trauma.

Da’Shaun Harrison–a fat, Black, disabled, and nonbinary trans writer–offers an incisive, fresh, and precise exploration of anti-fatness as anti-Blackness, foregrounding the state-sanctioned murders of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people in historical analysis. Policing, disenfranchisement, and invisibilizing of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people are pervasive, insidious ways that anti-fat anti-Blackness shows up in everyday life. Fat people can be legally fired in 49 states for being fat; they’re more likely to be houseless. Fat people die at higher rates from misdiagnosis or nontreatment; fat women are more likely to be sexually assaulted. And at the intersections of fatness, Blackness, disability, and gender, these abuses are exacerbated.

Taking on desirability politics, the limitations of gender, the connection between anti-fatness and carcerality, and the incongruity of “health” and “healthiness” for the Black fat, Harrison viscerally and vividly illustrates the myriad harms of anti-fat anti-Blackness. They offer strategies for dismantling denial, unlearning the cultural programming that tells us “fat is bad,” and destroying the world as we know it, so the Black fat can inhabit a place not built on their subjugation.


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Let the homie pick:
Sage



Heavy
by Kiese Laymon

Focuses:
Relationships
Black America

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling.

By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

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Let the homie pick: Taylor Rooks



The Skin I'm in
by Sharon G Flake

Focuses:
Racism
Culture

Identity
Maleeka Madison is a strong student who has had enough of being teased about her "too black" skin and handmade clothes. So when she starts seventh grade, she decides to adopt a sassier attitude and a tougher circle of friends. The last thing she expects is to get "messed up" with another "freak," but that's exactly what happens.

After a new teacher, whose face is disfigured from a skin disease, enters her life, will Maleeka be able to learn to love the skin she's in?


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August


Autobiography of Malcom X
by Alex Haley

Focuses:
Culture
History
Black America
Through a life of passion and struggle, Malcolm X became one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. In this riveting account, he tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca, describing his transition from hoodlum to Muslim minister. Here, the man who called himself "the angriest Black man in America" relates how his conversion to true Islam helped him confront his rage and recognize the brotherhood of all mankind.

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Looking For Lorraine
by Imani Perry

Focuses:
Revolution
Neocolonialism
Racism

Lorraine Hansberry, who died at thirty-four, was by all accounts a force of nature. Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, her short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work—until now. In 2018, Hansberry will get the recognition she deserves with the PBS American Masters documentary "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart" and Imani Perry's multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.

After the success of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry used her prominence in myriad ways: challenging President Kennedy and his brother to take bolder stances on Civil Rights, supporting African anti-colonial leaders, and confronting the romantic racism of the Beat poets and Village hipsters. Though she married a man, she identified as lesbian and, risking censure and the prospect of being outed, joined one of the nation's first lesbian organizations. Hansberry associated with many activists, writers, and musicians, including Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, among others. Looking for Lorraine is a powerful insight into Hansberry's extraordinary life—a life that was tragically cut far too short.

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July


Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

Focuses:
Culture
History
Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi's magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer

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June


The Hip Hop Wars
by Tricia Rose

Focuses:
Culture
Music
Black America
Hip hop is a distinctive form of black art in America-from Tupac to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar, hip hop has long given voice to the African American experience. As scholar and cultural critic Tricia Rose argues, hip hop, in fact, has become one of the primary ways we talk about race in the United States.

But hip hop is in crisis. For years, the most commercially successful hip hop has become increasingly saturated with caricatures of black gangstas, thugs, pimps, and hos. This both represents and feeds a problem in black American culture. Or does it? In The Hip-Hop Wars, Rose explores the most crucial issues underlying the polarized claims on each side of the debate: Does hip hop cause violence, or merely reflect a violent ghetto culture? Is hip hop sexist, or are its detractors simply anti-sex? Does the portrayal of black culture in hip hop undermine black advancement?

A potent exploration of a divisive and important subject, The Hip Hop Wars concludes with a call for the regalvanization of the progressive and creative heart of hip hop. What Rose calls for is not a sanitized vision of the form, but one that more accurately reflects a much richer space of culture, politics, anger, and yes, sex, than the current ubiquitous images in sound and video currently provide.


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A Little Devil In America
by Hanif Abdurraqib

Focuses:
Politics
American Culture
Poetry

At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech, she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound and lasting reflection on how Black performance is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. Each moment in every performance he examines—whether it’s the twenty-seven seconds in “Gimme Shelter” in which Merry Clayton wails the words “rape, murder,” a schoolyard fistfight, a dance marathon, or the instant in a game of spades right after the cards are dealt—has layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance.

Abdurraqib writes prose brimming with jubilation and pain, infused with the lyricism and rhythm of the musicians he loves. With care and generosity, he explains the poignancy of performances big and small, each one feeling intensely familiar and vital, both timeless and desperately urgent. Filled with sharp insight, humor, and heart, A Little Devil in America exalts the Black performance that unfolds in specific moments in time and space—from midcentury Paris to the moon, and back down again to a cramped living room in Columbus, Ohio.

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Monster
by Walter Dean Myers

Focuses:
Judicial System
Justice
Black America

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of "the system," cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.

As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, the reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers's writing at its best.

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Youth Pick


May


The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale


Focuses:
Police Brutality
Civil Rights
Legizlation
Recent years have seen an explosion of protest against police brutality and repression—most dramatically in Ferguson, Missouri, where longheld grievances erupted in violent demonstrations following the police killing of Michael Brown. Among activists, journalists, and politicians, the conversation about how to respond and improve policing has focused on accountability, diversity, training, and community relations. Unfortunately, these reforms will not produce results, either alone or in combination. The core of the problem must be addressed: the nature of modern policing itself. “Broken windows” practices, the militarization of law enforcement, and the dramatic expansion of the police’s role over the last forty years have created a mandate for officers that must be rolled back.

This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice—even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives—such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction—has led to reductions in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.


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Facing the Rising Sun
by Gerald Horne


Focuses:
War
Culture
Racism
On November 1942 in East St. Louis, Illinois a group of African Americans engaged in military drills were eagerly awaiting a Japanese invasion of the U.S.— an invasion that they planned to join. Since the rise of Japan as a superpower less than a century earlier, African Americans across class and ideological lines had saluted the Asian nation, not least because they thought its very existence undermined the pervasive notion of “white supremacy.” The list of supporters included Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and particularly W.E.B. Du Bois.

Facing the Rising Sun tells the story of the widespread pro-Tokyo sentiment among African Americans during World War II, arguing that the solidarity between the two groups was significantly corrosive to the U.S. war effort. Gerald Horne demonstrates that Black Nationalists of various stripes were the vanguard of this trend—including followers of Garvey and the precursor of the Nation of Islam. Indeed, many of them called themselves “Asiatic”, not African. Following World War II, Japanese-influenced “Afro-Asian” solidarity did not die, but rather foreshadowed Dr. Martin Luther King’s tie to Gandhi’s India and Black Nationalists’ post-1970s fascination with Maoist China and Ho’s Vietnam.

Based upon exhaustive research, including the trial transcripts of the pro-Tokyo African Americans who were tried during the war, congressional archives and records of the Negro press, this book also provides essential background for what many analysts consider the coming “Asian Century.” An insightful glimpse into the Black Nationalists’ struggle for global leverage and new allies, Facing the Rising Sun provides a complex, holistic perspective on a painful period in African American history, and a unique glimpse into the meaning of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


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April


This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed
by Charles E. Cobb Jr.


Focuses:
Freedom
Civil Rights
Capitalism
Visiting Martin Luther King Jr. at the peak of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, journalist William Worthy almost sat on a loaded pistol. "Just for self defense," King assured him. It was not the only weapon King kept for such a purpose; one of his advisors remembered the reverend's Montgomery, Alabama home as "an arsenal."

Like King, many ostensibly "nonviolent" civil rights activists embraced their constitutional right to selfprotection-yet this crucial dimension of the Afro-American freedom struggle has been long ignored by history. In This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed, civil rights scholar Charles E. Cobb Jr. describes the vital role that armed self-defense played in the survival and liberation of black communities in America during the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s. In the Deep South, blacks often safeguarded themselves and their loved ones from white supremacist violence by bearing-and, when necessary, using-firearms. In much the same way, Cobb shows, nonviolent civil rights workers received critical support from black gun owners inthe regions where they worked. Whether patrolling their neighborhoods, garrisoning their homes, or firing back at attackers, these courageous men and women and the weapons they carried were crucial to the movement's success.

Giving voice to the World War II veterans, rural activists, volunteer security guards, and self-defense groups who took up arms to defend their lives and liberties, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed lays bare the paradoxical relationship between the nonviolent civil rights struggle and the Second Amendment. Drawing on his firsthand experiences in the civil rights movement and interviews with fellow participants, Cobb provides a controversial examination of the crucial place of firearms in the fight for American freedom.

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Let the homie pick:
Mutual Aid 4 The Homies





Cane
by Jean Toomer


Focuses:
Poetry
Culture
Racism
Jean Toomer's Cane is one of the most significant works to come out of the Harlem Renaissance, and is considered to be a masterpiece in American modernist literature because of its distinct structure and style. First published in 1923 and told through a series of vignettes, Cane uses poetry, prose, and play-like dialogue to create a window into the varied lives of African Americans living in the rural South and urban North during a time when Jim Crow laws pervaded and racism reigned. While critically acclaimed and known today as a pioneering text of the Harlem Renaissance, the book did not gain as much popularity as other works written during the period.

Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes believed Cane's lack of a wider readership was because it didn't reinforce the stereotypes often associated with African Americans during the time, but portrayed them in an accurate and entirely human way, breaking the mold and laying the groundwork for how African Americans are depicted in literature. For the first time in Penguin Classics, this edition of Cane features a new introduction, suggestions for further reading, and notes by scholar George Hutchinson, and National Book Award Foundation 5 Under 35 novelist Zinzi Clemmons contributes a foreword.


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Let the homie pick: Paul Mooney






March


The Three Mothers
by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Focuses:
Black Motherhood
Injustice
In her groundbreaking and essential debut The Three Mothers, scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates Black motherhood by telling the story of the three women who raised and shaped some of America's most pivotal heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin.

Much has been written about Berdis Baldwin's son James, about Alberta King's son Martin Luther, and Louise Little's son Malcolm. But virtually nothing has been said about the extraordinary women who raised them, who were all born at the beginning of the 20th century and forced to contend with the prejudices of Jim Crow as Black women.

Berdis, Alberta, and Louise passed their knowledge to their children with the hope of helping them to survive in a society that would deny their humanity from the very beginning--from Louise teaching her children about their activist roots, to Berdis encouraging James to express himself through writing, to Alberta basing all of her lessons in faith and social justice. These women used their strength and motherhood to push their children toward greatness, all with a conviction that every human being deserves dignity and respect despite the rampant discrimination they faced.

These three mothers taught resistance and a fundamental belief in the worth of Black people to their sons, even when these beliefs flew in the face of America's racist practices and led to ramifications for all three families' safety. The fight for equal justice and dignity came above all else for the three mothers.

These women, their similarities and differences, as individuals and as mothers, represent a piece of history left untold and a celebration of Black motherhood long overdue.


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How We Get Free
by Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor

Focuses:
Feminism
Liberation
The Combahee River Collective, a group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the anti-racist and women's liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. In this collection, founding members of the organization and contemporary activists reflect on the legacy of its contributions to black feminism and its impact on today's struggles.



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February


The End of White World Supremacy
by Roderick D. Bush

Focuses:
Black Liberation
Capitalism

In The End of White World Supremacy, Rod Bush engages readers in a rich intellectual conversation, creating a quilt where each panel contains a story, a point, an example of its own, yet when one stands back, broader themes emerge. To benefit from the book, one needs to consider both the specifics of each conversation as well as the perspective of the whole discussion.

Bush, who died in 2013, was an activist as well as a scholar. In the 1970s, when he was a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, he became involved in the Black Liberation movement. He moved to California in 1979 to devote himself to community work. He later completed his doctorate in sociology at Binghamton University (at the Braudel Center), and then taught at Seton Hall and St. John’s Universities. In recent years, he was a member of the national council of the Black Radical Congress and the Executive Board of the Left Forum.




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Here I Stand
by Paul Robeson

Focuses:
Equality
Society
Robeson's international achievements as a singer and actor in starring roles on stage and screen made him the most celebrated black American of his day, but his outspoken criticism of racism in the United States, his strong support of African independence, and his fascination with the Soviet Union placed him under the debilitating scrutiny of McCarthyism. Blacklisted, his famed voice silenced, Here I Stand offered a bold answer to his accusers. It remains today a defiant challenge to the prevailing fear and racism that continues to characterize American society.




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Let the homie pick:
Dr. CBS




January


No Name In The Street
by James Baldwin

Focuses:
Racism
Injustice
This stunningly personal document and extraordinary history of the turbulent sixties and early seventies displays James Baldwin's fury and despair more deeply than any of his other works.  In vivid detail he remembers the Harlem childhood that shaped his early conciousness, the later events that scored his heart with pain—the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his sojourns in Europe and in Hollywood, and his retum to the American South to confront a violent America face-to-face.



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I Can’t Date Jesus
by Michael Arceneaux

Focuses:
Equality
LGBT
Identity
Equality for LGBT people has come a long way and all, but voices of persons of color within the community are still often silenced, and being black in America is…well, have you watched the news?

With the characteristic wit and candor that have made him one of today’s boldest writers on social issues, I Can’t Date Jesus is Michael Arceneaux’s impassioned, forthright, and refreshing look at minority life in today’s America. Leaving no bigoted or ignorant stone unturned, he describes his journey in learning to embrace his identity when the world told him to do the opposite.



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Let the homie pick: Quinta Brunson



December


The Assassination of Fred Hampton
by Jeffrey Haas

Focuses:
Police Brutality
Racism
Injustice
It’s around 7:00 A.M. on December 4, 1969, and attorney Jeff Haas is in a police lockup in Chicago, interviewing Fred Hampton’s fiancée. She is describing how the police pulled her from the room as Fred lay unconscious on their bed. She heard one officer say, “He’s still alive.” She then heard two shots. A second officer said, “He’s good and dead now.” She looks at Jeff and asks, “What can you do?”

The Assassination of Fred Hampton is Haas’s personal account of how he and People’s Law Office partner Flint Taylor pursued Hampton’s assassins, ultimately prevailing over unlimited government resources and FBI conspiracy. Not only a story of justice delivered, the book puts Hampton in a new light as a dynamic community leader and an inspiration in the fight against injustice.



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1919
by Eve L. Ewing

Focuses:
Poetry
Segregation
Racism
The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the most intense of the riots that comprised the “Red Summer” of violence across the nation’s cities, is an event that has shaped the last century but is widely unknown. In 1919, award-winning poet Eve L. Ewing explores the story of this event—which lasted eight days and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and almost 500 injuries—through poems recounting the stories of everyday people trying to survive and thrive in the city. Ewing uses speculative and Afrofuturist lenses to recast history, and illuminates the thin line between the past and the present.



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November


Class Struggle In Africa
by Kwame Nkrumah

Focuses:
Colonization
Imperialism
Africa
Recent African history has exposed the close links between the interests of imperialism and neo-colonialism and the African bourgeoisie. This book reveals the nature and extent of the class struggle in Africa, and sets it in the broad context of the African Revolution and the world socialist revolution.



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Our History Is The Future
by Nick Estes

Focuses:
Liberation
Culture
How two centuries of Indigenous resistance created the movement proclaiming “Water is life”
In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenous protest movement in the twenty-first century. Water Protectors knew this battle for native sovereignty had already been fought many times before, and that, even after the encampment was gone, their anticolonial struggle would continue. In Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement. Our History Is the Future is at once a work of history, a manifesto, and an intergenerational story of resistance.




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October


Prison By Any Other name
by Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law

Focuses:
Judicial System Reform Prison Industrial
Electronic monitoring. Locked-down drug treatment centers. House arrest. Mandated psychiatric treatment. Data-driven surveillance. Extended probation. These are some of the key alternatives held up as cost-effective substitutes for jails and prisons. But many of these so-called reforms actually widen the net, weaving in new strands of punishment and control, and bringing new populations, who would not otherwise have been subject to imprisonment, under physical control by the state.

As mainstream public opinion has begun to turn against mass incarceration, political figures on both sides of the spectrum are pushing for reform. But—though they’re promoted as steps to confront high rates of imprisonment—many of these measures are transforming our homes and communities into prisons instead.



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Let the homie pick:
K



September


Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

Edited by Alice Wong

Focuses:
Disability
Culture
One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture.

From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond: this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love.



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Let the homie pick: Walela Nehanda



Capitalism & Disability

Selected writings by Marta Russell

Focuses:
Disability
Capitalism
Policy
Spread out over many years and many different publications, the late author and activist Marta Russell wrote a number of groundbreaking and insightful essays on the nature of disability and oppression under capitalism. In this volume, Russell’s various essays are brought together in one place in order to provide a useful and expansive resource to those interested in better understanding the ways in which the modern phenomenon of disability is shaped by capitalist economic and social relations.



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August


Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

By Toni Morrison

Focuses:
Racism
Literature
Morrison shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree—and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires. According to the Chicago Tribune, Morrison "reimagines and remaps the possibility of America." Her brilliant discussions of the "Africanist" presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition.



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Let the homie pick: Brianna



The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett

Focuses:
Colorism
Identity
Family
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.



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Abolition Reading: Black August Booklist


A List of 14 Books Promoting Black Liberation
In the late 1970’s the observance and practice of Black August left the prisons of California and began being practiced by Black/New Afrikan revolutionaries throughout the country. Black August is a time to study history, particularly our history in the North American Empire. During the month, people wouldn’t use radios or television, would fast between sun up and sun down, and practice other measures of self-discipline.

Read along with us during Black August. 



View the list



July


Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex

By Eric Stanley & Nat Smith

Focuses:
Prison Industrial Complex
Gender
Pathologized, terrorized, and confined, trans/gender non-conforming and queer folks have always struggled against the prison industrial complex. Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith bring together current and former prisoners, activists, and academics for a new understanding of how race, gender, ability, and sexuality are lived under the crushing weight of captivity. Through a politic of gender self-determination, this collection argues that trans/ queer liberation and prison abolition must be grown together.

Sample discussion prompt: In what ways has trying to end domestic violence hurt our communities and/or made the prison industrial complex stronger?



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Let the homie pick: CheGossett



Are Prisons Obsolete?

By Angela Davis

Focuses:
Prison Industrial Complex
Racism
With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison.

Sample discussion prompt: If jails and prisons are to be abolished, then what will replace them?

Watch:
Our LA chapter facilitator Michael Anderson unpacks important themes and questions



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June


Race Music: Black Cultures From Bebop to Hip-Hop

Dr. Guthrie Ramsey


Focuses:
Music
American Culture
Black Identity


This powerful book covers the vast and various terrain of African American music, from bebop to hip-hop. Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., begins with an absorbing account of his own musical experiences with family and friends on the South Side of Chicago, evoking Sunday-morning worship services, family gatherings with food and dancing, and jam sessions at local nightclubs. This lays the foundation for a brilliant discussion of how musical meaning emerges in the private and communal realms of lived experience and how African American music has shaped and reflected identities in the black community.



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Let the homie pick: Shakira



Blood In My Eye

George Jackson


Focuses:
Prison Industrial Complex
Racism


Blood In My Eye was completed only days before its author was killed. George Jackson died on August 21, 1971 at the hands of San Quentin prison guards during an alleged escape attempt. At eighteen, George Jackson was convicted of stealing seventy dollars from a gas station and was sentenced from one year to life. He was to spent the rest of his life -- eleven years-- in the California prison system, seven in solidary confinement. In prison he read widely and transformed himself into an activist and political theoretician who defined himself as a revolutionary.



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May


Assata: An Autobiography

Assata Shakur

Focuses:
Police Brutality
Judicial System
Racism
This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of JoAnne Chesimard long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials



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Let the homie pick: Blake and Hella Black Podcast




April


War Against All Puerto Ricans

Nelson Antonio Denis

Focuses:
Puerto Rico
Colonization
Revolution
Through oral histories, personal interviews, eyewitness accounts, congressional testimony, and recently declassified FBI files, War Against All Puerto Ricans tells the story of a forgotten revolution and its context in Puerto Rico’s history, from the US invasion in 1898 to the modern-day struggle for self-determination. Denis provides an unflinching account of the gunfights, prison riots, political intrigue, FBI and CIA covert activity, and mass hysteria that accompanied this tumultuous period in Puerto Rican history.



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Let the homie pick: Yahdon Israel (founder of Literaryswag book club)



Mean

Myriam Gurba

Focuses:
Sexual assault
Racism
Coming-of-age
True crime, memoir, and ghost story, Mean is the bold and hilarious tale of Myriam Gurba’s coming of age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana. Blending radical formal fluidity and caustic humor, Gurba takes on sexual violence, small towns, and race, turning what might be tragic into piercing, revealing comedy. This is a confident, intoxicating, brassy book that takes the cost of sexual assault, racism, misogyny, and homophobia deadly seriously.



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March


Love WITH Accountability

Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Focuses:
Child Sexual Abuse
Healing
Community
Love WITH Accountability features compelling writings by child sexual abuse survivors, advocates, and Simmons’s mother, who underscores the detrimental impact of parents/caregivers not believing their children when they disclose their sexual abuse. This collection explores disrupting the inhumane epidemic of child sexual abuse, humanely.



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Let the homie pick: Dawud, facilitator for SCI Coal Township prison chapter




As Black As Resistance

Zoé Samudzi & William C. Anderson

Focuses:
Black liberation
Politics
Anarchism
Anticapitalism
Over the course of United States history, resistance against oppression and the gains made from various struggles for everyone's equality have often been Black led. However, liberal politics and the lack of strong leftist political power are two problems impeding the continued progress of Black America. Expanding on their original essay The Anarchism Of Blackness, Samudzi and Anderson make the case for a new program of transformative politics for Black Americans, one rooted in an anarchistic framework likened to the Black experience itself. This is not a compromising book that negotiates with intolerance. As Black as Resistance is a declaration for everyone who is ready to continue progressing towards liberation for all people.



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February


Sister Outsider

Audre Lorde

Focuses:
Intersectional feminism
Racism
US imperialism
In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.

These landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is . . . ”



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Magical Negro

Morgan Parker

Focuses:
Black experience Womanhood
Magical Negro is an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception. They connect themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification, while exploring and troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans. Focused primarily on depictions of black womanhood alongside personal narratives, the collection tackles interior and exterior politics―of both the body and society, of both the individual and the collective experience. In Magical Negro, Parker creates a space of witness, of airing grievances, of pointing out patterns. In these poems are living documents, pleas, latent traumas, inside jokes, and unspoken anxieties situated as firmly in the past as in the present―timeless black melancholies and triumphs.



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January


Die Nigger Die!

Jamil Al-Amin

Focuses:
Revolution
Militarism
60s Civil Rights movement
More than any other black leader, H. Rap Brown, chairman of the radical Black Power organization Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), came to symbolize the ideology of black revolution. This autobiography—which was first published in 1969, went through seven printings and has long been unavailable—chronicles the making of a revolutionary. It is much more than a personal history, however; it is a call to arms, an urgent message to the black community to be the vanguard force in the struggle of oppressed people. Forthright, sardonic, and shocking, this book is not only illuminating and dynamic but also a vitally important document that is essential to understanding the upheavals of the late 1960s.



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Let the homie pick:
Najma Sharif





Sabrina & Corina

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Focuses:
Family
Latina experience
Trauma
Coming-of-age
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.



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December 2019


The Wretched of the Earth

Frantz Fanon

Focuses:
Colonization
Marxism
Oppression
The Wretched of the Earth is a brilliant analysis of the psychology of the colonized and their path to liberation. Bearing singular insight into the rage and frustration of colonized peoples, and the role of violence in effecting historical change, the book incisively attacks the twin perils of postindependence colonial politics: the disenfranchisement of the masses by the elites on the one hand, and intertribal and interfaith animosities on the other. Fanon’s analysis, a veritable handbook of social reorganization for leaders of emerging nations, has been reflected all too clearly in the corruption and violence that has plagued present-day Africa.



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Let the homie pick: Sam Cruz




Persepolis
(The Story of a Childhood)

Marjane Satrapi

Focuses:
Islamic Revolution

Coming-of-age
Family
In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.



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November 2019


Parable of the Sower

Octavia E. Butler

Focuses:
Dystopian fiction
American society
Survival
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others' emotions.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith... and a startling vision of human destiny.



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Let the homie pick: Kehlani




How to Cure a Ghost

Fariha Róisín

Focuses:
Relationships
Self-love
Identity
Following in the footsteps of such category killers as Milk and Honey and Whiskey Words & a Shovel I, Fariha Róisín’s poetry book is a collection of her thoughts as a young, queer, Muslim femme navigating the difficulties of her intersectionality. Simultaneously, this compilation unpacks the contentious relationship that exists between Róisín and her mother, her platonic and romantic heartbreaks, and the cognitive dissonance felt as a result of being so divided among her broad spectrum of identities.



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October 2019


Faces & Masks (Memory of Fire, Vol. 2)

Eduardo Galeano

Focuses:
History of the Americas
Colonization
The second volume of Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy, Faces and Masks is an astonishing Latin American-eye view of the New World in the making. Here is the tangled, cataclysmic history of our hemisphere from the 1700s up to the dawn of our present century, told through characters as resonant and compelling as Simon Bolívar, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and Billy the Kid. With its brilliant and imaginative blend of journalism, scholarship, and political passion, Faces and Masks is a panoramic interpretation of the Americas no work of history has previously imagined.



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Let the homie pick: Earl Sweatshirt




Faces in the Crowd

Valeria Luiselli

Focuses:
Nonlinear storytelling
Mexican experience
In Mexico City, a young mother is writing a novel of her days as a translator living in New York. In Harlem, a translator is desperate to publish the works of Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet. And in Philadelphia, Gilberto Owen recalls his friendship with Lorca, and the young woman he saw in the windows of passing trains. Valeria Luiselli's debut signals the arrival of a major international writer and an unexpected and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.



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September 2019


Don’t Call Us Dead

Danez Smith

Focuses:
Sexuality
Police Brutality
Racism
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality―the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood―and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America―“Dear White America”―where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.



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The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

Michael W. Twitty

Focuses:
Southern cuisine
Slavery
Memory
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.



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August 2019


Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire

Focuses:
Education
Poverty
Liberation
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of the foundational texts in the field of critical pedagogy, which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.

The methodology of the late Paulo Freire has helped to empower countless impoverished and illiterate people throughout the world. Freire's work has taken on especial urgency in the United States and Western Europe, where the creation of a permanent underclass among the underprivileged and minorities in cities and urban centers is increasingly accepted as the norm.



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We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

Samantha Irby

Focuses:
Memoir
Relationships
Comedy
Whether Samantha Irby is talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets; explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette (she’s “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”); detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes; sharing awkward sexual encounters; or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms (hang in there for the Costco loot!); she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.



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