Culture

Juneteenth reading list: 9 books from Black authors on the African American experience and beyond

6 minute read

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. It’s an important time to reflect not only on the experience of enslaved African Americans but the different and diverse lived experiences of Black people before and after Juneteenth. As we all know, reading allows us portals into lives and experiences that we ourselves may never have encountered and it can provide us a greater understanding of different cultures, places, and points of view.

To commemorate this historic day, members of the Cutover team have shared their Juneteenth reading recommendations from Black authors on the African American experience and beyond - from the educational to the fantastical.

 

1. The 1619 Project - A New Origin Story: Nikole Hannah-Jones & NYT Mag

 

The New York Times Magazine's award-winning "1619 Project" issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of the United States’ national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and democracy itself.”

 

2. Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome: Dr. Joy Degruy

 

“In the 16th century, from the beginning of African enslavement in the Americas until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and emancipation in 1865, Africans experienced the worst kind of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse. Emancipation was then followed by one hundred more years of institutionalized subjugation through the enactment of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, peonage, convict leasing, domestic terrorism, and lynching. Today the violations continue, and when combined with the crimes of the past, they result in yet unmeasured injury. What do repeated traumas, endured generation after generation by a people produce? What impact have these ordeals had on African Americans today?”

 

3. Beloved: Toni Morrison

 

Sethe is now miles away from Sweet Home - the farm where she was kept as a slave for many years. Unable to forget the unspeakable horrors that took place there, Sethe is haunted by the violent specter of her dead child, the daughter who died nameless and whose tombstone is etched with a single word, 'Beloved'.”

 

4. Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston

 

When sixteen-year-old Janie is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before she finally meets the man of her dreams - who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds.”

 

5. Parable of the Sower: Octavia E Butler

 

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to feel the pain of others as her own, records everything she sees of this broken world in her journal.

Then, one terrible night, everything alters beyond recognition, and Lauren must make her voice heard for the sake of those she loves.

Soon, her vision becomes reality and her dreams of a better way to live gain the power to change humanity forever.”

 

6. Honey Girl: Morgan Rogers

 

With her newly completed Ph.D. in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls' trip to Vegas to celebrate. She's a straight-A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn't know...until she does exactly that.

This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father's plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn't feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her parent's expectations, a struggling job market, and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.”

 

7. Seven Days in June: Tia Williams

 

When Eva Mercy, a single mother and bestselling erotica writer, and the enigmatic, award-winning novelist Shane Hall meet at a literary event in New York, sparks fly. But what no one knows is that fifteen years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one week together, madly in love. While they may pretend to be strangers, they can't deny their chemistry.

Over the next seven days, amidst a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect. But Eva is wary of the man who broke her heart and wants Shane out of the city so her life can return to normal. Before he disappears, though, she needs a few questions answered...”

 

8. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty: Akwaeke Emezi

 

It's the opportunity of a lifetime:

Feyi is about to be given the chance to escape the City's blistering heat for a dream island holiday: poolside cocktails, beach sunsets, and elaborate meals. And as the sun goes down on her old life our heroine also might just be ready to open her heart to someone new.

The only problem is, she's falling for the one man she absolutely can't have.”

 

9. My Sister, the Serial Killer: Oyinkan Braithwaite

 

When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel, and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defense and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…”

 

10. The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America: Shawn D Rochester

 

“In his new book The Black Tax: The Cost of being Black in America, Shawn Rochester shows how The Black Tax (which is the financial cost of conscious and unconscious anti-black discrimination), creates a massive financial burden on Black American households that dramatically reduces their ability to leave a substantial legacy for future generations. Mr. Rochester lays out an extraordinarily compelling case which documents the enormous financial cost of current and past anti-black discrimination on African American households. The Black Tax provides the fact pattern, data and evidence to substantiate what African Americans have long experienced and tried to convey to an unbelieving American public.”

--Aquilah Jourdain is a Cutover Technical Writer

Learn more about Juneteenth from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.