Have Books, Will Travel: Through African-American History

There is something to be said about a community of people who have been able to endure enslavement, the centuries of inequitable treatment that followed and the derivative systemic racism that continues to exist. In spite of the odds, African Americans have managed to create a fascinating, and often coveted, culture heavily influenced by their unique American experience, all the while rooted in the land they were stolen from; a culture that has impacted the nation at every turn, from music to medicine, literature to legislature and all manner of areas in between. Make no mistake: African-American history, though set aside to be celebrated during the month of February each year, is American history.

In this edition of Have Books, Will Travel, we present books that capture that history; depicting what it means to endure the trial and triumph, pain and promise, heartache and hope that is commonly found in the stoic African-American experience.

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The Revolution Will Be Written: A New Class of Contemporary African-American Authors

From medicine to the arts and all areas in between, African Americans have contributed to the distinct fabric of the United States of America. The culture’s significance has been nationally celebrated during the month of February since its inception in 1970, however, its impact on literature alone could easily span a complete calendar year.

Frederick Douglass overcame the decree that it be illegal for slaves to read, penning his best-known work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. W.E.B. Dubois overcame segregated academia to become the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard and produce his acclaimed essay collection, The Souls of Black Folks. Zora Neale Hurston burst onto the scene of the Harlem Renaissance with the classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Nikki Giovanni amplified the frustration felt during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements with the eloquent prose of her collections, Black Judgement and Re:creation…and current African American authors continue to carry the torch, using literature as an expansive tool to express social commentary, celebrate shared experiences, grieve lives assaulted and lost due to ignorance and injustice and inspire new generations to continue to push forward with pride.


Below is a mere fraction of our favorite contemporary African-American authors, each of whom are doing their part in securing a place for people of color in the “Best of” literary lists for this era.

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3 Must See Movies This Black History Month

Anyone who knows me at all understands that I am a movie junkie. So when thinking about Black History Month, I can’t help but think one of the best ways to celebrate is to go down to your local cinema and check out some of the great films that are out about black-American culture and black-American history.

The first movie you should check out is Hidden Figures. This is the true story of mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were all employed by NASA and were the masterminds of calculating trajectories and orbits to get the first American, astronaut John Glenn, in to space. Katherine Johnson was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2015 by President Barack Obama for her work with the space program. Continue reading

Black History Month: Authors’ Birthdays

February is Black History Month and is also a month during which several notable African-Americans have birthdays.  Below are some of these heroes and some of their words—words from works worth remembering throughout the year. 

February 1:  Langston Hughes—Harlem Renaissance poet, short-story author, lyricist for the musical Street Scene
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.
(from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes)

February 4:  Rosa Parks—NAACP secretary, heroine of the Civil Rights Movement
“People have said over the years that the reason I did not give up my seat was because I was tired.  I did not think of being physically tired.  My feet were not hurting.  I was tired in a different way…I was tired of Jim Crow laws, of legally enforced racial segregation.”  (from Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth)

February 9:  Alice Walker—novelist, poet, essayist 
“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering about the big things and asking about the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”  (from The Color Purple)

February 17:  Frederick Douglass—former slave turned Abolitionist, author and orator
”A man is worked upon by what he works on.  He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances carve him out as well.”  (from Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass)

February 18:  Toni Morrison—novelist, winner of the National Book Award, the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize
“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”  (from Beloved)

February 20:  Sidney Poitier—pioneering award-winning actor, memoirist
“If the image one holds of one’s self contains elements that don’t square with reality, one is best advised to let go of them, however difficult that may be.”  (from his autobiography The Measure of a Man)

February 23:  W.E.B. Du Bois—civil rights leader, author, editor of the NAACP magazine Crisis
”I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.  Across the color line I move arm-in-arm with Balzac and Dumas, while smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls.  From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.  So, wed with truth, I dwell above the veil.”  (from The Souls of Black Folk)  

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.


Staff Picks: Top 10 Books by African-American Authors

Black History Month is set aside to remember and celebrate important African-American people and the impact that they have had on history.  However, no celebration would be complete without remembering those African-American authors who have impacted the world with their words that deftly address the perennial concerns of all humanity.  So, I turned to our 3,000 Bibliomaniacs and asked what books written by African-American authors do you believe everyone should read.  And without further ado, here are their top 10 answers.

  1. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  2. Kindred, by Octavia Butler
  3. Native Son, by Richard Wright
  4. Beloved, by Toni Morison
  5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
  6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  7. Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  8. Going to Meet the Man, by James Baldwin
  9. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
  10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

Though I have The Color Purple, The Invisible Man and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I have to admit I have not read them yet, and I’ve been searching for Fallen Angels for months.  So, it looks like I’m in for another trip to Half Price Books.

What about you?  What’s your favorite book written by an African-American author?

Want to find out more about African-American authors? Check out Steve’s blog post later this month.

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.