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The complete summer reading syllabus on Black Lives Matter

Knowledge is power. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
By Selina Cheng
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s been a difficult summer in the United States, marred by a string of heartbreaking and inexplicable killings. After the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement officers earlier this month, there were the retaliatory killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Last week, on July 20, another unarmed black civilian was shot while trying to assist an autistic man.

“Only we can prove that we have the grace and the character and the common humanity to end this kind of senseless violence, to reduce fear and mistrust within the American family, to set an example for our children,” said US president Barack Obama in a July 17 statement.

Over the past year, librarians around the country have been working to do that, creating lists of the books that Americans can read in order to take a step back from tragedy and gain perspective and history on the nation’s complex issues of race, policing and civil rights. With their help, Quartz has compiled a broad syllabus of Black Lives Matter readings, spanning from fiction for young adults to history tomes.

As New York teacher and conservationist Algeria Barclays writes in a blog post, fiction has a unique power to create empathy—especially when it comes to divisive and deeply personal issues like race and inequality. “You step into someone’s life when you read a novel, even when you’re reading the story of someone who is radically different from yourself,” she says.

In the syllabus below, Quartz includes 52 titles recommended by California Oakland Library’s list Institutional Racism: History and Context, created by librarian Amy Sonnie; Minnesota’s Hennepin County Library’s Read This: #BlackLivesMatter Reads for Teens by Chelsea Couillard-Smith; the Kansas’s Lawrence Public Library’s Black Lives Matter book list by Polli Kenn; and the Young Adults Library Services Association’s Black Lives Matter: Building empathy through reading by Barclays.

But first, here are a few recurrent titles, from the books that were most frequently recommended:

1) Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 bestseller, Between the World and Me: The book of letters from a father to his teenage son is Coates’ reflection on race in America through personal experience and deep history. “It is at turns very academic, but also very personal, so I think it covers the whole reading experience,” says Kenn, who included the title in her recommendations for the Lawrence Public Library.

2) Kekla Magoon’s 2014 novel How it All Went Down is another librarians’ favorite, in which a chorus of narrative voices describe police brutality, showing the complexity of weaving a single truth from different perspectives.

3) Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiely’s 2015 teen fiction All American Boys is told from the alternative narratives of a black and a white teen: After one is brutalized by a police officer, the other finds himself torn between the man who raised him and loyalty to his classmate.

4) Michelle Alexander’s 2012 non-fiction work, The New Jim Crow, argues that black success—as embodied by celebrities like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey—does not reflect the realities of an enduring “racial caste” in the US, perpetuated by the US criminal justice system.

5) US Congressman John Lewis’s March: Book One, published in 2013, is a graphic novel and the first tome of the trilogy that recounts Lewis’s childhood, how he came to meet Martin Luther King and became the youngest leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Couillard-Smith says this title is on her top recommendations for teens. “Just because they are teenagers doesn’t mean they do not have an important role in social justice,” she says.

6) Walter Dean Myer’s 2009 novel Monster recounts the tale of a teenage boy trapped in the juvenile criminal justice system after being accused of involvement in a murder-robbery. The novel comes in form of a screenplay interspersed with journal entries written in the voice of the protagonist.

7) Marilyn Nelson’s 2009 A Wreath for Emmett Till is a series of of 15 sonnets, written in memory of the 14-year-old boy whose 1955 lynching in Mississippi spurred the Civil Rights Movement. His killers were acquitted for the murderous crime.

The full list:

autobiography
2012
The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. DuBois
biography
2009
Claudette Colvin
Philip M. Hoose
fiction
2015
Stella By Starlight
Sharon M. Draper
fiction
2015
Stand your Ground
Victoria Christopher Murray
fiction
2015
Jam on the Vine
LaShonda K. Barnett
fiction
2015
Disgruntled
Asali Solomon
fiction
2015
Blue Talk & Love
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
fiction
2015
All American Boys
Jason Reynolds
fiction
2014
Revolution
Deborah Wiles
fiction
2014
How it Went Down
Kekla Magoon
fiction
2012
Crow
Barbara Wright
fiction
2012
Copper Sun
Sharon M. Draper
fiction
2010
Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty
G. Neri
fiction
2010
One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-Garcia
fiction
2010
Invisible man
Ralph Ellison
fiction
2009
Monster
Walter Dean Myers
fiction
2009
Black Boy
Richard Wright
fiction
2006
Hush
Jacqueline Woodson
historical fiction
2014
Lies We Tell Ourselves
Robin Talley
historical fiction
2013
March: Book One
John Lewis
historical fiction
2012
Gathering of Waters
Bernice L. McFadden
historical fiction
2011
Chains
Laurie Halse Anderson
historical fiction
2010
The warmth of other suns: the epic story of America’s great migration
Isabel Wilkerson
historical fiction
2009
The Rock and the River
Kekla Magoon
history
2003
Getting Away With Murder
Chris Crowe
letters
2015
Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
letters
1963
The Fire Next Time
James Baldwin
memoir
2010
Unbought and Unbossed
Shirley Chisholm
non fiction
2017
Making all Black Lives Matter: reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century
Barbara Ransby
non fiction
2016
The Fire This Time: a New Generation Speaks About Race
Jesmyn Ward
non fiction
2016
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
Joy DeGruy
non fiction
2016
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching
Mychal Denzel Smith
non fiction
2016
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black liberation
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
non fiction
2016
A Good Time for the Truth
Diverse
non fiction
2015
The Beast Side
D. Watkins
non fiction
2015
Black Lives Matter
Sue Bradford Edwards
non fiction
2014
The Half Has Never Been Told: slavery & the making of American capitalism
Edward Baptist
non fiction
2014
Racism without Racists: color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
non fiction
2013
No Choirboy
Susan Kuklin
non fiction
2013
News for All the People : the epic story of race and the American media
Juan González and Joseph Torres
non fiction
2012
The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander
non fiction
2012
The Meaning of Freedom
Angela Y. Davis
non fiction
2012
Sister outsider
Audre Lorde
non fiction
2012
Savage Inequalities: children in America’s Schools
Jonathan Kozol
non fiction
2011
12 Angry Men: true stories of being a Black man in America today
ed. Parks and Hughey
non fiction
2010
How Race Survived History: from settlement & slavery to the Obama phenomenon
David Roediger
non fiction
2007
Golden Gulag: prisons, surplus, crisis, and opposition in globalizing California
Ruth Gilmore
non fiction
2003
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
Beverly Daniel Tatum
non fiction
1996
Killing Rage: ending racism
Bell Hooks
poetry
2014
Citizen
Claudia Rankine
poetry
2009
We Troubled the Waters
Ntozake Shange
poetry
2009
A Wreath for Emmett Till
Marilyn Nelson

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