So I guess I'll throw out my ten books. But just to be ignorant, I'm going to list eight.
1.) Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston--I always hated the exhibitionism of Native Son. I felt like Richard Wright was basically using black people as a prop to make a point to white people. Their Eyes, on the other hand, struck me as the best aspects of the Afrocentric idea, and certainly that part of it which I carry with me today--the notion of writing, and thus existing, on your own terms.
2.) The Orgins Of The Urban Crisis, Thomas Sugrue--A brilliant corrective to the whole "Negroes and Coleman Young ruined Detroit" myth. Sugrue debunks Detroit's golden age by depicting the city's deep-seated institutional racism, and illustrates the complexities of white flight, and effectively argues that the exodus began almost two decades before the 67 riots.
3.) When And Where I Enter, Paula Giddings--This is just masterful and colorful history of black women in America. It was the first place I really learned about Ida B. Wells, feminist, militant, and later Garveyite, packing a pistol while investigating lynchings. Beautiful book, and in no small measure the reason for my son's very existence.
4.) Battle Cry Of Freedom, James MacPherson--They need to make people read MacPherson's history of the Civil War in order to vote in this country. I don't think I've read an 800plus page book that moved so smoothly. This is the greatest work of history I've ever had the privilege of reading.
5.) The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forche--Heh. I spent much of college trying to ape this book. Once I realized I would never write anything as beautiful as "The Return," I gave up poetry.
6.) Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow--I think about this book almost once every day. Books like Ragtime really define, for me, how writers should deal with inserting the politics into books. Doctorow's pinko-commie leanings definitely shine through, but the book is so damn beautifully written that you almost don't notice. On another note, this book--weirdly enough--was actually a guide for me when I went to write my memoir.
7.) Crabgrass Frontier, Kenneth Jackson--Much like Sugrue's book, Jackson's history of American suburbs is just a superb take-down of much of the mythology surrounding the fall of the American city in the 70s and 80s. I think Jackson's greatest contribution is how he outlines the distorting effects of red-lining on black people, and on cities themselves. I'm waiting for someone to write an entire history of housing segregation, covering red-lining, restrictive covenants, the whole gamut. This is the closest that I've seen to that.
8.) Drown, Junot Diaz--Much like Their Eyes, Drown was a book that really convinced me that that your voice, the one native to your neighborhood, was OK. There's a story in there called "No Face," about a kid whose face is so mangled that he wears a mask. But, a'la M.F. Doom, No Face has super-powers (or imagines himself having super-powers) that allow him to avoid the neighborhood bullies. I can't recall the line, but at the end of the story, the boy comes home to his little brother who says something like, "Where have you been all day?" And the boy just says to him, "I've been fighting evil."
Man, looking back over this list, I really need to read some books about white people. My canon is culturally biased and reflects the perspective of sheltered African-American who is embarrassingly ignorant of the White Experience.
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