While there are many ways to learn and celebrate, honor and remember, for readers one of the best is through the pages of fiction and nonfiction. Here are five titles for African American History Month—all of which trace the past while commenting on the present.
- White Girls by Hilton Als (McSweeney’s).
In this wide-ranging collection—its topics include Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Flannery O’Connor—Als offers readers a mashup of film, music, literature, and art writ large. Through assured prose and a personal voice, the collection of essays and other forms of writing also mines a landscape of gender, race, sexuality, and culture.
- The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson (Amy Einhorn: Putnam).
In this deft and expressive novel set in the late 1940s, Regina Robichard, a lawyer working for Thurgood Marshall, travels to Mississippi to find out what happened to an African American World War II vet who has been murdered. She is drawn to the case, in part, through an attachment she has to a novel she loved as a child, whose author instigated the investigation.
- March. Bk. 1, by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin (text) & Nate Powell (illus.) (Top Shelf). The first of an expected trilogy, this visual memoir of Congressman Lewis covers his childhood through the lunch counter sit-ins of 1959. The stunningly rich black-and-white artwork is realistic yet inspirational in design and is presented in a variety of dynamic panel layouts.
- Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe (Soho).
Faced with troubles everywhere he turns in New York City, Nigerian-born Ike decides to return to his homeland and steal a statue of a god worshipped in his village for centuries. His scheme is to sell it to an art dealer in New York. Nothing goes as planned in this wrenching novel of the immigrant experience, cultural alienation, and abiding loss.
- Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury USA).
Achingly sad and brilliantly achieved, Ward’s memoir of five men she has known who have died—through drugs, accidents, and despair—is a resonant chronicle of how racism, poverty, and the staggering odds of ever beating both take their toll. Ward details her life, and the lives of the men—including her brother—in crystalline prose.