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The Importance of Reading Black Literature

February 1st marks the start of Black History Month. It’s a chance to celebrate Black achievement, and it serves as a reminder of how widespread systemic racism still is and gives visibility to those creating change. There are lots of ways you can get involved to celebrate, learn, and support the Black community this month and beyond. You can educate yourself on Black History, shop from Black-owned businesses, start discussions with your family and friends, the list goes on. 

You can also support Black writers. Supporting Black writers and creators can go a long way to amplify Black voices. Reading also is a path to empathy and understanding. For Black History Month and throughout the year, we encourage you to read Black Literature. It’s all a win-win, especially if you’re a book lover! 

The Voices of Black Storytellers Have Historically Been Marginalized 

Reading books by Black authors is especially important in a world where the voices of Black storytellers have historically been excluded from mainstream media and publishing. According to The New York Times, People of Color wrote just 11% of the books published in 2018. According to Lee and Low Books, only 5% of authors in the publishing world identify as Black/African American, in an industry where 76% of publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are white.

Lee and Low Diversity in Publishing 2019 report - Industry Overall data

But why does the traditional publishing industry often exclude Black voices? A big reason books written by Black authors are often dismissed by agents is because they are too “niche.” They are “too Black” or “not Black enough.” Throughout literary history, Black voices have been passed over countless times. This poor representation should alarm all readers. Inequalities of authorship leads to one-sided storytelling. And while self-publishing has been changing that over the years, we still have a long way to go if we want to give equal weight to authors of all races and creeds. 

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The Importance Of Reading Books Written By Black Writers

Reading books by Black writers is important in helping us better understand the world around us as well as what it means to be Black. We learn by understanding the richness of human experience and by exposing ourselves to new perspectives. Stories that help break down barriers of inequality, stereotypes, and bias. It’s stories that foster inclusiveness and generate empathy when they are told. When we don’t tell the stories that reflect the diverse identities within our society and omit these experiences, we erase these identities and silence so many voices. 

Reading stories of the Black experience by Black authors is important because only a Black person can tell you what it’s truly like to live in their skin. Through the power of storytelling, Black authors help us understand their struggles and triumphs, as well as their everyday life experiences. By celebrating and supporting Black authors and publishers, we make room for authentic storytelling that reflects Black experiences, identities, and voices.  

The Importance of Reading All Kinds Of Authors 

It’s essential that we as readers engage with Black literature beyond narratives of Black struggle. Racism is not the only thing to know about what it means to be Black. “Black Lives Matter” means the whole of Black lives; not just the suffering and persecution. Not just Black deaths and racism. But the joy, sorrows, love, struggles to fit in, triumphs, all of these matter. 

Traditional publishing has played a big role in the commodification of Black pain. Ever since the protests of June 2020, following the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, books about anti-racism, white supremacy, and the Black experience filled up libraries and bookstores. But in general, the most well-known books written by Black writers focus on these “othered” experiences. In the world of traditional publishing, Black authors are more valuable when they write about their experiences with racism, police brutality, discrimination. This leads to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the single-story, in which the work of minority authors is used merely to highlight differences and reinforce stereotypes. It’s time to stop solely viewing Blackness through the prism of racism and slavery. We must engage in the fullness of the Black experience. 

Definitely don’t underestimate the power of Black fiction. Reading fiction can help one to relate with people with lives different from their own. It helps you put yourself in the shoes of a character, even when you have a different perspective. Studies have also shown that long-term readers of literary fiction exhibit an increase in empathy. 

However, don’t stop reading “issue books.” These books provide much-needed insights into the realities and issues. These stories deserve every ounce of recognition they receive. But it’s also important to recognize that all kinds of Black stories matter. We need to read books where Black characters go on adventures, fall in love, solve mysteries, be heroes and do everyday things like everyone else. It’s important that we recognize that the Black experience cannot be defined by one moment or incident. Black readers themselves need to see themselves in narratives outside of racism, slavery, Jim Crow, and police brutality. So do non-Black readers. 

What You Should Do This Black History Month

Read Books by Black Authors 

This one’s obvious. Read books by Black authors and make sure you read a variety of books. Fantasy, mystery, cookbooks, nonfiction, etc. 

Share Books Written By Black Authors

Reading books by Black writers is one thing, but sharing that book truly helps to amplify Black voices. I have a couple of family members and friends who have always made amazing book recommendations. Word of mouth is powerful. Everything they recommend, I make a priority to read because I know I’ll be glad I did. In general, people are much more likely to pick up a book that is recommended by someone they know. Make sure to tell your friends and family about the books you’re reading this month by Black authors. Share the books you’ve enjoyed and start a conversation about them with your friends. 

Follow Black Writers On Social Media

When you read something you enjoy or learn from, recommend it on public platforms. Social media plays a big role in promoting books and spreading the word. Follow Black writers on social media. Don’t just follow them on social media, engage and interact with their content, and share their posts. Are you on Tik Tok? Create a video showing off your favorite books by Black authors. Share books you’re excited about with your social networks, your friend circles, and your book clubs.  

Books by Black Authors To Start Reading 

Not sure which books by Black authors to read? Here are some books we love: 

POETRY

The Beauty In My Bare Bones

The Beauty in My Bare Bones, is a collection of poetry explicitly expressing the feelings that a lot of people have in common but seldom express, such as the recognition of depression, heartbreak, self-discovery, and much more.

The Beauty in my Bare Bones cover

COOKBOOK

Cooking to the Rhythm of the Streets

Creole recipes prepared with love. Inspiration from family, friends and New Orleans culture

Cooking to the Rhythm of the Streets cover

HISTORY

Hidden Legacies: African Presence In European Antiques

‘Hidden Legacies: African Presence in European Antiques’ emphasizes the historical significance and underwhelming acclaim that collectibles depicting African subjects receive.

Hidden Legacies: African Presence In European Antiques cover

MEMOIRS

In Search of the Crown

Black Hair Care In Color is the second photo book of Arial Robinson. This book of drawings that explores color through hair products. Hair is a big part of black culture. Our hair tells a story and many times speaks for us before we can. Our hair tells stories of passion and courage and strength.

In Search of the Crown cover

ARTISTS

Black Hair Care In Color

Black Hair Care In Color is the second photo book of Arial Robinson. This book of drawings that explores color through hair products. Hair is a big part of black culture. Our hair tells a story and many times speaks for us before we can. Our hair tells stories of passion and courage and strength.

Black Hair Care In Color cover

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

James Baldwin

James Baldwin is one of 20th America’s greatest and most underappreciated writers. Born into poverty, Baldwin pushed against America’s race restrictions. He expatriated to Europe but his heart remained in The States.

James Baldwin A Broadstrokes Biography

Celebrating & Supporting Black Writers Beyond Black History Month 

Reading Black literature and supporting Black writers is a great way to celebrate Black History Month, but this shouldn’t end when March arrives. Reading different kinds of stories (nonfiction, fantasy, poetry, etc) by Black writers is important and is a path towards progress and understanding. But it’s also important to remember that the work does not stop when you close the book. Take the words of Black writers as a call to action to directly contribute to the movement for Black lives. Volunteer at your local organizations, shop for Black-owned businesses, speak out against injustices by having “uncomfortable” conversations, and continually educate yourself. 

Are there books by Black authors you personally love? Let us know in the comments! Are you a Black author that has published with Lulu? We’d love to consider your book for a feature; if you’re interested, submit a request!  Remember to also check out our bookstore for more great books by Black authors.

Happy Reading!

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Naveen is a Social Media Specialist at Lulu which basically translates to being paid to spend time on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tik Tok, and Twitter. When she’s not focused on brainstorming content ideas for Lulu, you’ll find her cooking up a snazzy skincare recipe in her room.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading Black Literature”

  1. Of course it is easy to look back over many decades and throw around derogatory adjectives about terminology that today is not acceptable. But let’s face a few facts about literature written about Indigenous people. Where is the black literature back in, say, pre-WWII? In contrast Idriess wrote 53 books and 11 were devoted specifically to Aboriginal people. True – he used condescending language but he did not invent it – that’s how things were. So what do you want to do? Throw out books about Aboriginal life and culture because they were written by whites? In those days that’s all there was – black literature is a recent development.

  2. Intelligently articulated, article emphasing the Black history month, insights into the struggles. And trauma associated with our people; I’ve recently thought of writing a book ,based on my heritage as a Aboriginal person ,discovering a artifact that has lead myself back. To an ancient Warrior of our people, which cataclysmically brings a non fiction story to life profoundly concerning my ancestors and the Warrior in a co- existing traditional ritual of my people. With much research after reading a book being written by a 1950′ s White Australian author Ion Idriess .With distasteful , racist commentary of buffoonery and condescending racist elements present in his book. The Red Chief by Ion Idriess.

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