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Black Lives Matter. Black Voices Matter. Black Stories Matter. This month we’re sharing a few of the works by Black authors we have been learning from lately. Let us know on social media the Black voices and stories you’re reading this month (we’re @PenguinClassics everywhere).
Nonfiction—History: The Light of Truth by Ida B. Wells
This collection of Black journalist Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching writings is the broadest and most comprehensive collection of writings available by an early civil and women’s rights pioneer, featuring her articles exposing the horrors of lynching, essays from her travels abroad, and her later journalism.
Nonfiction—Memoir: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
Black Panther Party cofounder and leader Huey P. Newton’s oft-quoted autobiography Revolutionary Suicide traces the birth of a revolutionary, from his impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system to his role in the Black Panthers and his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail.
Nonfiction—Essays: The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
Believing that one can know the “soul” of a race by knowing the souls of individuals, W. E. B. Du Bois’ book of essays combines history and stirring autobiography to reflect on the magnitude of American racism and to chart a path forward against oppression, and introduces the now-famous concepts of the color line, the veil, and double consciousness.
Fiction—Classic: Passing by Nella Larsen
Set in 1920s Harlem, Nella Larsen’s second and final published novel is a powerful tale on the fluidity of racial identity that continues to resonate today, as it follows the reunion of childhood friends Irene and Clare, both light-skinned Black women, and Clare’s risky decision to “pass” as a white woman and hide her Black heritage from her racist white husband.
Fiction—Modern Classic: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature that broke the silence around sexual and domestic abuse, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia, narrating their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
Fiction—Historical: The Marrow of Tradition by Charles W. Chesnutt
Based on a historically accurate account of the Wilmington, North Carolina, “race riot” of 1898, African American author and civil rights activist Charles W. Chesnutt’s innovative novel is a fictional account of the rise of the white supremacist movement and a passionate portrait of the betrayal of Black culture in America.
Fiction—Comedy/Satire: Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay
Buried in the archive for almost ninety years, Claude McKay’s Jazz Age novel Romance in Marseille traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers—collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American—fighting for pleasure and liberty even when stolen, shipped, and sold for parts, and explores the heritage of slavery amid an unforgiving modern economy.