5 Books to Read This Black History Month

It’s officially Black History Month, and while everyday is a good day to reflect and educate yourself on Black history, February is a great time to make some space in your reading list. 

Below, we’re breaking down 5 essential reads: from history to autobiographies and novels that touch on important themes, tell captivating stories, and illuminate both past and present. We’ve provided links to purchase these books at Bookshop.org, but you can also take a look at this list to see if there’s a Black-owned bookstore to support in your area.

1. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Published in 1963, the same year as the March on Washington, The Fire Next Time contains two essays by writer James Baldwin, closely examining race and its impact on American history. Baldwin’s writing is sharp and urgent, illuminating what it’s like to be Black in America and calling readers to examine the oppressive institutions that surround them.

2. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

An autobiography by poet Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name tells the story of Lorde’s coming of age in NYC. From childhood memories in Harlem to her experience at Hunter College High School, the book follows Lorde through several pivotal periods in her life, and serves as a love letter to the women she met along the way. 

3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

An ambitious debut novel by Ghanian-American writer Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing follows the stories of two families separated by the brutality of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Charting eight generations, from the American Civil War to the Jazz Age in Harlem, this book illuminates the pain and legacy of slavery. 

4. But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies by Akasha Hull, Patricia Bull-Scott, and Barbara Smith

Considered a foundational text of contemporary feminism, But Some of Us Are Brave was the first Black women’s studies reader, and features writing from scholars, activists, and writers alike. An essential read for anyone who considers themselves a feminist, the work in this book challenges the absence of Black feminist thought in women’s studies as a whole. In fact, poet Audre Lorde (whose book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name we highlighted above), recognized But Some of Us Are Brave as “the beginning of a new era, where the ‘women’ in women’s studies will no longer mean ‘white.’”

5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

An essential read for everyone in America (and beyond), The New Jim Crow makes the case that America has not ended racial caste, but rather redesigned it through mass incarceration of communities of color. Since its publication date in 2010, this book has been cited in judicial decisions and led to a new era of activism for criminal justice reform.