Black History Month: Favourite Books

As you may all know, February is Black History Month in the U.S. and in Canada. If you didn't know, this month is made to celebrate the contribution of black people and their culture, but also to celebrate our history. So, it got me thinking of how black people, more specifically how black authors, have inspired so many of us with their words and their work. That is why I have asked some fellow black HCuO writers to share their favourite works written by a black author, but also why that book is close to their heart. Here are their answers: 

I remember discovering Maya Angelou in Tyler Perry's movie Madea's Family Reunion. At the time, I was only 10 years old and didn't fully understand the power of her words. The poem Phenomenal Woman holds a special place in my heart. My mother over the years has, more than once, recited parts of the poem to me. Being a young black woman can hold its challenges and throughout the years, with the help of different role models, I have learned to truly appreciate myself and my blackness. I always looked up to Maya Angelou. I appreciate her wisdom, her confidence and truly believe that she is in fact a phenomenal woman. This is such a beautiful and empowering poem that every woman should read it at least once in her lifetime.
- Orphane B.
French Team

My favourite black author is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Although I love to read, I have to admit I am not familiar with that many black authors so I took this as an opportunity to explore what for me, was an untapped market. I had first heard of Chimamanda in Beyonce's song Flawless where she spoke the monologue comparing girls and boys that I committed to memory. She had brought to light questions that I also had just about gender roles and society as a whole (plus having Beyonce's lyrics woven through never hurt anyone). 
So when I picked up the book The Thing Around Your Neck I had high expectations - I wasn't disappointed. Chimamanda develops rich characters through 12 stories that every person can relate to in some way. Being the daughter of two Nigerian immigrant parents and born and raised in Canada, it was amazing to see Nigeria's culture being brought to life in a way that didn't start with "back in my day...". I found I was able to relate to so many aspects of the book including the cultural customs that she explained, whether it was the Nigerian food she talked about, the names of the characters she used that looked like mine, the stark imagery with which she described Nigeria that took me back there. It was refreshing to read about scenarios concerning feminism, interracial relationships, immigration, war, and basic human emotions from a Nigerian perspective in an African setting, because I felt that she had the same questions as me: all of the things I had questioned about my own culture but was too afraid to ask or discuss with my family. It's very difficult to take aspects of African culture that are so steeped in tradition and stories, that are so opposite to the Western culture and make it relatable while examining these differences. Chimamanda does this flawlessly and while this is the first book of her's that I've read, it will certainly not be the last. 
- Bumni A
Fashion and Beauty Team

My favorite poem is Phenomenal Woman written by Maya Angelou. Growing up I was always the girl who was loud, outgoing and confident but this changed when I moved to a new country and then puberty hit.  This phase of life came with a lot of insecurities that I didn’t fit the standard of beauty in the country I’d just moved to, that my hair was too nappy, my skin was too dark, and my lips were too big and that my stretch marks that I developed in my teens were taboo, then I found Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman.
When I read this I first thought finally a poem I can understand, no hidden meaning, no arbitrary symbols just the words of a talented woman who unapologetically learnt to love herself.  I read these words like an affirmation: “I'm a phenomenal woman, yes I’m only 5’3 but I’m Phenomenal, Yes I have scars on my legs and  a scar on my left cheek but these are reflections of a  fun childhood spent running around the neighbourhood. I am a phenomenal.”
I learnt from Ms. Angelou that my beauty was not in the way others saw me, it was not valid only when recognized by others. It simply was, because I am and what I am is Phenomenal.
This poem was the first time I realized that poems were not just pretty words on paper but that they had the power to move the reader, to tears, laughter and a wide array of emotions. Maya Angelou might have penned these words as an affirmation for herself, they might just have been a creative flow triggered by a small detail of life but for many young women like myself they were beautiful words to live by.

- Deborah S
News Team

Picking one book is always the hardest for an English major #EnglishMajorProblems! Some of my favourite black authors are probably Toni Morrison and Jamaica Kincaid and I've recently discovered Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Gary Fisher. Amazing. However if I had to choose one novel I absolutely loved it would be Plum Bun by Jesse Redmon Fauset.
The novel is about a young, biracial girl named Angela who moves from Philadelphia to New York City in the 1920s to pursue drawing. What got me hooked on this book is that she decides to pass as a white girl, because she is so fair, but in doing so she has to cut off everyone from her life, including her little sister, Virginia, who is the embodiment of #BlackGirlMagic. The central issue for Angela is that she has to decide if the status and privilege that comes with whiteness is worth losing her family, her art, and her freedom.
My favourite things about this novel are the descriptions of New York City and the fact that the novel was written during the Harlem Renaissance. This was a movement for African-Americans not only in the world of literature but music, art, and culture.
Plum Bun really captures the feeling of newness and potential in black culture at this time but doesn't shy away from current issues involving race, sexism, and white feminism. That's what I love about this novel. It's still relevant.
- Kaysey D
Fashion and Beauty Team

There are many remarkable artists to have graced this world but none have shaken all that we know to be sure and stable, like black artists. Words have a resounding power to enlighten, to move, to inspire, to educate, and motivate. Black writers have always had a niche for their honesty and capability to capture so much, through something as little, but powerful, as words. ABCs once learned, absorbed, and stumbled over, are now extended and manipulated by Black writers. Occupying a space supposedly reserved for the white and male and heterosexual, Black writers’ presence alone shakes the foundations of normativity. Drawing from the pool of Black writers, I have had the honour of reading and listening to, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maya Angelou, Eartha Kitt, Kendrick Lamar, Audre Lorde, Tupac Shakur, James Baldwin, and Gwendolyn Brooks, are those who put my heart on the rocks, encouraging me to feel past barriers. Black artists write from experience, pain, love, and joy. This Black History Month, I ask you to put your heart on the rocks as well. Feel what we feel, if only for a moment.
- Annette E
News Team

And, you may be asking yourself, what is my favourite book written by a black author?  Here is my answer:

During my last semester at CEGEP, my french teacher asked us to read the book The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrisson. It was both the most beautiful and the saddest thing I'd ever read.  The story is about a young black girl who believes that the only way to be "pretty" is by being white and so she wants blue eyes. She goes through a lot, especially with her family situation wherein her father is abusive. The Bluest Eye has made me realize that I am a beautiful young black women, and I don't have to try and please anybody but myself regarding my beauty and my self-worth. I am not what others think of me. 
- Gloria C-P
Editor of the French Team 

 

Picture credits: Cover, 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5