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Black History Month: a reading list

February marks the celebration of Black History Month in the United States and Canada, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in US history.

The first variation of Black History Month was initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson (founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life) in 1926 titled Negro History Week, which took place during the second week of February. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History later expanded the February celebration in the early 1970’s, renaming it Black History Month. However, it was not until 1976 that the month of February was designated as Black History Month by President Gerald Ford, continuing to be observed every year.

To help you celebrate Black history this month and throughout the rest of the year, we’ve put together a reading list to get you started.

  1. The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart
    The National Book Award winning biography of Alain Locke, using previously unavailable primary sources and oral interviews with those who knew Locke personally to advance the work of gay and gender ambiguous artists in the Harlem Renaissance and other artistic movements. In announcing a New Negro in the creative industries of American modernism, Locke shifted the discussion of race from the problem-centered discourses of politics and economics.
  2. Some of These Days: Black Stars, Jazz Aesthetics, and Modernist Culture, James Donald
    Some of These Days provides a cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance’s vast influence abroad, moving beyond simple biography to recreate the rich community of artists who interacted with-and were influenced by world’s first two major African American stars, Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson.
  3. Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists, Lisa E. Farrington
    Creating Their Own Image offers the first comprehensive history of African-American women artists, spanning from slavery to the Harlem Renaissance and the tumultuous civil rights era, right up to the present day. Weaving together an expansive collection of artists, styles, and periods, Lisa Farrington argues that for centuries African-American women artists have created an alternative vision of how women of colour can, are, and might be represented in American culture.
  4. I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, Edited by Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-SheftallThis collection of Lorde’s personal and political writing features many never-before-published works, including Lorde’s landmark 1988 essay, A Burst of Light. With personal reflections by Alice Walker, bell hooks, and others, I Am Your Sister offers new insights into Lorde’s writings.
  5. Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American RootsMaurice Peress
    American conductor, Maurice Peress, recounts American music in the twentieth century and explores its African American roots. Midway through, Peress himself becomes part of the story as he describes his work with George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Leonard Bernstein.
  6. An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, Mary Schmidt Campbell
    Mary Schmidt Campbell offers readers an enlightening insight into one of the most important and underappreciated visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden. Bearden’s work provides an exquisite portrait of memory and the African American past; according to Campbell, it also offers a record of the narrative impact of visual imagery in the twentieth century, revealing how the emerging popularity of photography, film and television depicted African Americans during their struggle to be recognised as full citizens of the United States.
  7. Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora, Joanna Dee Das
    Joanna Dee Das makes the argument that Katherine Dunham, was more than just a dancer and choreographer – she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. As an African American woman, she broke barriers of race and gender, most notably as the founder of an important dance company that toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades.
  8. Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field, Mark Burford
    Drawing on previously unexamined archival and media sources, Mark Burford explores Mahalia Jackson’s journey from church singer in New Orleans to celebrity gospel singer.
  9. The African Imagination in Music, Kofi Agawu
    In this accessible introduction, The African Imagination in Music breaks down the key elements of sub-Saharan music and invites general readers to participate in the scholarship surrounding it.
  10. Between the Lines: Literary Transnationalism and African American Poetics, Monique-Adelle Callahan
    Between the Lines examines the role of women poets of African descent in shaping the history of the Americas. Focusing on three women whose poetry wrestled with the sociopolitical predicaments of the late nineteenth century, Between the Lines ventures a broader definition of African American literature by placing it in a hemispheric context. This represents the first extended/comprehensive study of Cuban poet Cristina Ayala and includes previously undisclosed translations of her poems.
  11. The Transformation of Black Music: The rhythms, the songs, and the ships of the African Diaspora, Sam Floyd, Melanie Zeck, and Guthrie Ramsey
    The Transformation of Black Music explores the dynamic musical practices of the past thousand years that emerged in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora. With an emphasis on the value of black music, this book takes readers on a journey that has never before been attempted in a single volume alone.
  12. African Affairs Journal
    The top ranked journal in African Studies, African Affairs takes an interdisciplinary approach to the politics and international relations of sub-Saharan Africa. A virtual issue is dedicated to the February 2019 political elections in Nigeria.

Featured image credit: “Knowledge” by Alfons Morales. Public domain via Unsplash.

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