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Knowledge is power. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The complete summer reading syllabus on Black Lives Matter

By Selina Cheng

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:

Genre Year Title Author
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