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Blackening Up My Bookshelf

The year 2021 was a great year for me as far as reading went. The year before that I read the book “On Writing” by Stephen King, and he said that good writers didn’t just write a lot , they read a lot as well. So last year, I did my best to read a lot more new books. According to my Goodreads account, I read thirteen books. That accounts to almost a book a month last year, which isn’t too bad. I also read a lot of books on Audible, something that’s fairly new to me. I used to be a bit of a snob and thought that listening to a book didn’t count as “reading” it. I got over that and last year I read five books on Audible. So that’s a total of eighteen books. But more important than reading books, I paid attention to whose books I was reading.

I made a conscious effort starting in 2020, to do what I call “Blackening up my bookshelf.” What does that mean? That means that I am going to be intentional about buying and reading books from Black authors. That’s not to say that I’m only going to read from them exclusively, if you check out my “Want To Read” book shelf on Goodreads, you’ll see that’s not the case at all.

Just know this: the content you take in informs how you see and interact with the world. Why did so many people believe that black folks didn’t have souls or were less than human? The writers and scientists of that time all generated materials that were consumed by the masses that said so. When “science” supports your bias that Black people are more violent and meant to be subservient, then that’s what you tend to go with. But even back in those days when it was Dangerous for Black folks to even hold a book in their hands, many were writing about how they saw the world. The tradition of the Black author has a rich history of speaking truth to power in a time where Blacks were taught they didn’t belong in America. There were writers with skin as dark as mine taking up space and this made it safe for performers like myself to do so.

I honestly don’t remember what got me on this path of striving to read from more Black writers, but I’m so glad I’m on this journey. Three of my favorite reads from last year came from hip hop artists and poets who have transformed into authors. These are three of my favorite artists, so it was easy to follow them from the stage to the page.

It gives me a sense of pride to see so many black people with and without degrees writing books and taking up space on these bookshelves and my Amazon cart. There’s something about seeing people who look like you and speak like you, writing in a way that connects and relates to you. In 2019, the first Bible written by an African American hit the marketplace. The Tony Evans Study Bible is a part of History now.

In April of last year, I realized I had a blind spot in my reading. I was making sure I read books from Black folks, but I realized I was only reading from Black men. Wow. I know with all the amazing black women in the world, they have something dope to say! I know there’s some great stuff I could learn from them. So in April, for National Poetry Month, I asked my friends on social media what Black women poets I should be reading besides the obvious Dr. Maya Angelou. My mans Raphael recommended Eve L. Ewing’s “1919.” I went ahead and ordered it and was blown away. Ewing talked about the race riots in Chicago that took place in 1919 and narrated it through the vehicle of poetry! I was shook and made sure to not just read the book, but I rated and reviewed it as well.

Please note: ratings and reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon matter to authors and you can do those for free. I was on the phone with a library director as we discussed her library carrying my chapbook “Equilibrium.” She asked if it was available on Amazon and if it had any reviews. As I was on the phone with her she looked up my book on Amazon! Fortunately I had about three people leave reviews on that particular platform. So yeah, those reviews and ratings matter a lot to some people.

Since I started on this quest to blacken up my bookshelf, I believe I have learned a lot. One of the first things I have learned is that Black people can talk about a lot more than race, race relations, and racism. Black writers, just like Black people in general, aren’t a monolith. There is a beautiful spectrum, a width and depth to the Black voices of the world, and I am so glad that many of them are writing books.

There are also folks who have been writing but are new to me. I Googled black mystery/detective writers and found a few. I’ve downloaded a title that I can’t wait to get into. Apparently, Malter Mosley had been writing suspense/mystery novels since the 1990s but I’m just now hearing about him! There’s no telling the treasure trove of black authors before my time that I’m missing out on. As much as I’m loving reading the works of contemporary Black voices, I’m just as excited to read the works of folks from the past.

For the books that have captured me, I plan to write reviews about them. I’ve already written an article about some of them, so make sure you check that out. If there is a Black writer you think I should check out, let me know their name and book that you want me to read. I may not get to everyone but I would love to connect with you by reading what you love to read.

Of the thirteen physical books I read last year, only two weren’t written by Black writers. Of the audiobooks I listened to, only one wasn’t by a Black person. And for those who would take issue with me choosing to focus on the books of Black writers, ask yourself this: Why isn’t there a white authors section in the bookstore? It’s because they are the standard, it’s understood that their work makes up the majority of everything. Black writers are still a bit of an anomaly, but the reach and influence is growing. We write more than romance novels and tales from the hoods that we’ve survived. There are great books being written in the nonfiction genre, theological works, and many more. As a Black author myself, I’m seeing how important it is to support others who look like me. If I want folks to read my book and recommend it to others, I need to do the same.

I’ve already made plans to spend $100 on poetry books by Black Women in the first quarter of the year, specifically women who are on my friends list on Facebook. It’s equally important to support the dope Black writers that I have proximity to as it is to support those with a national reach. This is the journey I am on and I invite you to join me. If you are white, when is the last time you read a book from a Black author that wasn’t centered on race? Maybe it’s time you broaden the horizons of your bookshelf and try something different. I promise there is a book from a Black author that you will love, you just have to find it and give it a chance. If you do take me up on this offer, let me know what you are reading and how you are liking the book.

For those who care: here is my Goodreads profile, where you can see what I have read, what I’m currently reading, and what I want to read

Current Read: “Crazy Faith” by Michael Todd

Current Audible read: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

Curent Listen: Any and everything from IMRSQD. I’ve liked 25 of his songs on Spotify, and his music has had a grip on me for the past couple of days.

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