Conversations about anti-racism, social justice, and the experience of black Americans are extremely important, and the push to continue to amplify black voices and educate the masses about racism and systematic oppression has led teens and adults alike to search for resources to help them be better allies and overall more informed citizens.
Consuming and thoughtfully reflecting upon novels, memoirs, poems, and more that address racism in America, social justice, and reform is one way for students to educate themselves on the experience of black Americans and find ways to constructively and effectively engage in activism.
Outside reading is not just something to do in order to look good on college applications. Reading helps broaden students’ minds and gives them a glimpse into the experiences of authors and characters that look nothing like them. It allows students to think critically about topics and issues that they previously did not understand or may not have even known about. Self-educating is a small step toward enacting real change and is by no means a blanket solution – but it is a good place to start.
Reading About Race, Anti-Racism, and Social Justice
Independent reading is a win-win for students who are getting ready to apply to college: picking up a book will encourage you to remain academically engaged while exploring texts that will expand your worldview and expose you to a wide variety of voices and experiences. Reading in general can also help students find their own voice when it comes time to pen their own personal statements and essays.
Here are some of our top picks written by black authors to add to your outside reading list this month and all year long.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
If Maya Angelou is one of your favorite authors, you can’t miss her autobiography about her childhood. The first of seven books Angelou published about her own life, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explores how strength of character and a love of books helped her survive racism and trauma. With a theme of self-empowerment against incredible odds, this unforgettable book will inspire audiences to dig deep and explore their fullest potential.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Heavy is a searing and honest memoir of growing up black in America that is both thought-provoking and poignant. Laymon talks about familial relationships, eating disorders, confusion, abuse, and his complicated and unconditional love for his mother. Memoirs and autobiographies can also be an excellent opportunity for students to explore the power that comes with telling their own story and finding their own voice.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
If you’re a fan of complex love stories, An American Marriage should be at the top of your list. The novel tells the story of two newlyweds who are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. When one of the main characters is arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison, his wife must pick up the pieces and cope with a separation that is entirely beyond her control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward into the future.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Author Angie Thomas tells the story of a fatal shooting of a black unarmed teenager, Khalil, at the hands of the police. The story is told in the voice of his best friend, Starr, and follows her experience before, during, and after the shooting. The Hate U Give explores how this event rocks the community and affects her family in unimaginable ways. It is a story of racism and fear, but also of childhood friendship and love.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me is a nonfiction book written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about the feelings, symbolism, and realities associated with being black in the US. Coates draws from an abridged, autobiographical account of his youth in Baltimore, detailing the ways in which institutions like the school, the police, and even “the streets” discipline, endanger, and threaten to disembody black men and women. Between the World and Me is a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award Winner, and one of Time’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade.
There are too many fantastic books, memoirs, essays, and more to fit in the list above, so here are some more fiction and non-fiction outside reading suggestions on race, anti-racism, and social justice for teens.
- Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health by Keith Wailoo
- Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
- Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
- From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
- How to Be an Anti-Racist and Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcom X as told to Alex Haley
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
- Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Additional Resources About Race, Anti-Racism, and Social Justice
Here are some additional reading lists, podcasts, and resources for students interested in learning more about race, racism, and how to support black communities.
Take time this month and all year long to expand your literary horizons by incorporating more black authors into your outside reading and seeking out other books that offer differing experiences and voices. For more outside reading suggestions, check out our other blog posts and additional KnowledgeBase Resources.