5 Books To Read for Black History Month

TESTIFY by Douglas Manual

 

A book of elegiac ambivalence, Testify’s speaker often finds himself trapped between received binaries: black and white, ghetto and suburban, atheism and Catholicism. In many ways, this work is a Bildungsroman detailing the maturation of a black man raised in the crack-laden 1980s, with hip-hop, jazz, and blues as its soundtrack. Rendered with keen attention to the economic decline of the Midwest due to the departure of the automotive industry, this book portrays the speaker wrestling with his city’s demise, family relationships, interracial love, and notions of black masculinity. Never letting anyone, including the speaker, off the hook, Testify refuses sentimentality and didacticism and dwells in a space of uncertainty, where meaning and identity are messy, complicated, and multivalent.

CONFESSIONS OF A BAREFACED WOMAN by Allison Joseph

The poems in Allison Joseph’s latest collection are smart, shameless, and empowered confessions of the best kind. In semi-autobiographical verse highlighting in turns light-hearted and harsh realities of modern black womanhood, these poems take the reader down “A History of African-American Hair,” visit with both Grace Jones and the Venus de Milo, send Janis Joplin to cheerleading camp, bemoan a treacherous first pair of high heels, and discuss “vagina business.” Funny, but never flippant, and always forthcoming about the author’s own flaws and foibles, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman is sure to keep readers entranced, entertained, and enlightened.

 

SUCK ON THE MARROW by Camille T Dungy

 

Suck on the Marrow is a historical narrative revolving around six main characters, set in mid-19th century Virginia and Philadelphia. The book traces the experiences of fugitive slaves, kidnapped Northern-born blacks, and free people of color, exploring the interdependence between plantation life and life in Northern and Southern American towns and illuminating the connections between the successes and difficulties of a wide range of Americans, free and slave, black and white, Northern and Southern. This neo-slave narrative treats the truths of lives touched by slavery with reverence but is not afraid to question the ways the old stories have too often been told. In addition to creating new stories, Suck on the Marrow develops new ways of telling those tales.

 

PATTER by Douglas Kearney

 

For a couple struggling with infertility, conception is a war against their bodies. Blood and death attend. But when the war is won, and life stares, hungry, in the parents’ faces, where does that violence, anxiety, and shame go? The poems in Patter re-imagine miscarriages as minstrel shows, magic tricks, and comic strips; set Darth Vader against Oedipus’s dad in competition for “Father of the Year;” and interrogate the poet’s family’s stint on reality TV. In this, his third collection, award-winning poet Douglas Kearney doggedly worries the line between love and hate, showing how it bleeds itself into “fatherhood.”

 

THE BOOK OF TRAINING BY COLONEL HAP THOMPSON OF ROANOKE, VA, 1843, ANNOTATED FROM THE LIBRARY OF JOHN C CALHOUN by Percival Everett

 

Percival Everett’s The Book of Training by Colonel Hap Thompson of Roanoke, VA, 1843, Annotated From the Library of John C. Calhoun, is poetry within the harsh confines of a mock historical document—a guidebook for the American slave owner. The collection features lists of instructions for buying, training, and punishing, equations for calculating present and future profits, and handwritten annotations affirming the brutal contents. The Book of Training lays bare the mechanics of the peculiar institution of slavery and challenges readers to place themselves in the uncomfortable vantage point of those who have bought and enslaved human beings.

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