Black History month is upon us and I have some excellent suggestions for a variety of reading taste. First, let us start with Life Upon these Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It is a comprehensive account of the first blacks arriving to the Americas along with the conquistadors and progresses in timeline fashion to Barack Obama’s presidency.
The book includes a variety of visuals including maps, manuscripts, sheet music, cartoons, posters, portraits, film stills, etc. Gates said after looking through the book that he is, “struck by the sheer diversity of African American expression throughout our nation’s history - how there has never been only one way to be black, religiously, politically, socially, artistically, professionally, sexually, or stylistically.”
Speaking of stereotyping, how many of us black and white, believe that black people do not like water? In the fiction book, A Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate, main character Josie Henderson loves water so much she becomes a scientist who studies dolphins. Her only problem is the alcohol that consumes her father and then her brother. Julia Glass said of her, “[she] can write fat and hot, then lush and tender, then just plain truthful and burning with heart.”
I like the term “burning with heart” and I can say that Jay-Z writes his lyrics as if his heart is aflame. Pick up his book Decoded and sit back and read about the grittiness that is success from this street smart genius. It is a unique format that not only gives you the lyrics but also offers up the lyricist’s own reasons for the rap.
In his song Streets is Watching he raps, “…why risk myself I just write it in rhymes, And let you feel me, and if you don’t like it then fine.” He explains, “In the end, I make it even more autobiographical by talking about my own transition from someone living in the life to someone telling its stories in rhyme, where disagreements don’t lead to death.”
Children will be engrossed by the picture book Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H. Shapiro. Guyton grew up in Detroit where he pick up discards of others and turned them into usable objects. This habit became art and as he aged he transformed his neighborhood one house at a time. "When trouble still sizzled in one discarded home, Tyree coated it in dots and squares of pink, blue, yellow, and purple, then perched a magenta watchdog on the porch."
Pick up an African American book and enrich yourself.