Thursday, June 4, 2020

What to Read. Now.

A few of the faves from my shelves! 
I consider questions to be good things. I see questioning as a sign of humility and a desire to understand. When I was a reporter I always ended interviews the same way: “Is there something I failed to ask you? What else do I need to know?”

So the fatigue expressed by Black people … especially students of color attending predominately white schools … who say they are SICK of explaining racism to Whites who ask, left me stranded. As a professional question asker, I wondered: what do I do now? 

How do I learn/change/grow if my very questions cause offense?

Luckily, my husband and I have trusted Black friends who didn’t mind setting us straight when we broached this with them.

“Read,” they told us. “It’s all been said. It’s all been explained. Over and over and over. It’s right there. Read.”

As a reader/writer/visiting-author-educator, turning to books comes naturally, and sharing good reads is ... well, almost a bit of a fault. I'm always thrusting a volume or two at someone. So this blog post is devoted to a few resources out there, a few books I’ve loved/learned from, and suggestions from others. 

Dr. Nell Irvin Painter's The History of White People explores the concept of "whiteness" through history and examines how being "white" is a social construct that changes over time. Check out her website to see the full list of her books and articles, plus links to interviews. Her latest book, Old in Art School, is a wonderful memoir about her decision, after a distinguished career as a history professor/scholar, to lean into her love of painting and get her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design.

My book group read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me and James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time together. It was pretty devastating to read these profound accounts side-by-side and see how much hasn't changed.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo will challenge you. Make you mad, make you defensive. Which is the point. I, for one, struggle to square DiAngelo's assertion that white liberals who think they aren't racist are somehow a more egregious group than the Sheriff Joe Arpaios and Earl Lees of this world. But hey: that's just my fragility. At any rate, this book changed the way I think, helped me reevaluate my words and actions and motivated me to set a higher bar for myself. Instead of smugly thinking "I'm not like those lynching sheriffs!" I'm trying to be on my guard for "Karen"-like or Amy Cooper-like biases within myself.

The Fire is Upon Us by Nicholas Buccola brings to life the famous debate about race in America at the Cambridge Union between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr.  I've linked to the review here: says it all, this is a fascinating read.

2019 and 2020 releases!

Covid-19 wiped out half my book tour for How to Build a Heart, which meant I missed appearing on a panel in March at the Virginia Festival of the Book with poet/YA novelist Morgan Parker. I still managed to read her star-reviewed Who Put This Song On? and her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poetry collection Magical Negro. Expect to be startled: both are amazing. Also cancelled at the Festival was Jaquira Díaz who has just published a memoir, Ordinary Girls, about growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. Visit the Virginia Humanities Council Shelf Life page to hear their interview with Jaquira and other authors who were scheduled to appear this year.

Resources and More Reading

From the Library of Congress Books and Beyond program, October 2015, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely discuss their book, All American Boys.  Not only is this story about police violence and systemic racism a must-read for all young adults right now, but Jason and Brendan are must-see presenters! They relate wonderfully to young people, and even if your school can't afford to bring them in "live," you can share this terrific video with your students.

The Beacon Press, founded in Boston in 1854, is an independent publisher of serious non-fiction. Their books promote values of free speech and thought; diversity; religious pluralism; anti-racism and diversity. Go to their website and be AMAZED at the wonders you'll find there!

The Brown Bookshelf is a fabulous source for books for children and students. Designed to promote awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers, it's a great place to find wonderful blog posts as well as titles ranging from picture books to young adult novels.

Educator Lesley Roessing has written a terrific book for teachers called Talking Texts, which includes lists, topics and How-tos. Check out her Facebook page for her latest excellent suggestions. She's put together a wonderful YA list for novels that deal with "Society. Social Justice and Moral Dilemmas."

Stone Bookworms: An Anti-Racist Reading List This blogpost from Stone Bookworms has a bunch of great titles and reviews, but also additional resource links.

"The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates. "The" article from The Atlantic.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The movie was very good; the book is life changing. It's a must-read, about the work of the courageous civil rights lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative.

Honestly? I'm realizing this list is potentially endless. So, I'll end the blog the way I end my interviews: What have I missed? Tell me what I don't know. Comment away.