Black History Month Books 2023

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

Words falter when describing this memoir from a veteran emergency room physician. Yes, she is an African American doctor inhabiting a professional space still dominated by white men. Yes, she writes of a tense encounter with the police officers who bring a suspect of color into the E.R. against his will. Yes, she weaves the realities of systemic racism into the clinical realities of many of her patients. Yet her story is really a visceral exploration of how we, the collective human we, navigate through grief and through trauma. By sharing her own story about growing up in an abusive household and its aftereffects on her life and career, she offers insight into what it means to heal what is broken. Harper ultimately offers a foundation of hope for anyone who has experienced pain, loss and trauma. It is simply an exquisite book.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

It is fair to say that this literary debut from Nathan Harris found wide acclaim; it was longlisted for the Booker Prize and praised by former president Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. This is a work of historical fiction, set in Georgia in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. George Walker, a cantankerous white landowner, hires two freedmen brothers Prentiss and Landry and offers them a fair wage for their work. Prentiss and Landry form an unlikely bond with the Walker family, which leads to a powder keg of resentment within the community, which will inevitably lead to violent consequences for all the characters. Landry, whose PTSD has left him functionally mute, finds a haven in the form of a pond in the nearby woods. Harris’ prose shines in these quiet moments, almost creating a dream-like scene where one intuitively senses the elusiveness of this respite. These brief interludes alone are enough of a reason to read this novel.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

This is the second short-story anthology from critically acclaimed author, Danielle Evans. I am generally wary of short story collections, as the stories run the risk of either not being distinctive enough or alternatively going off the rails and having no sense of cohesion. Evans deftly walks that tightrope, exploring personal and familial complexities through racial, cultural and political lenses. One of the stories I most enjoyed was Alcatraz, which follows an unlikely family reunion between a black and white side of the family to tour the place where their shared relative was imprisoned. The story explores how this legacy disproportionately impacts the black line of the family. The title of the work refers to the novella which introduces us to Cassie, an employee at the Department of Historical Corrections. Genie, a former department employee and perpetual professional rival of Cassie, goes rogue and names the white residents once responsible for burning a black man’s man house in small-town Wisconsin. The chain reaction from this correction lands both Cassie and Genie in a situation where they might have to face a modern-day white supremacist.

On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

This new novel by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton follows a widowed mother, Vivian and her three young adult daughters, Ruth, Esther and Chloe in the 1950’s Fillmore district of San Francisco. The three sisters are talented singers and through Vivian’s hard-driving ambition, they are poised to get an agent who can take them on a national tour. Yet, Vivian’s dreams are about to clash with the husband and family for which Ruth longs. Meanwhile, Esther’s activism deepens when developers enter the Fillmore and begin offering hard cash for neighborhood properties. Through the eyes of one family, this is ultimately about gentrification’s effects on a tight-knit community of color.

His Name is George Floyd by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Originally begun as a series by veteran Washington Post reporters, Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, this biography follows the life of George Perry Floyd. Conducted after hundreds of interviews with Floyd’s family, friends and associates, this work depicts Floyd’s life and unique challenges – everything from his leadership within a close-knit community from Houston’s Third Ward to his broken athletic dreams and later to his substance use and incarceration. While telling Floyd’s unique life journey and subsequent death at the knee of Derek Chauvin, the authors highlight the commonality of challenges plaguing black men in America. This is a critical work for anyone committed to the ongoing work of racial justice.

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash @mana5280

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