Here are some books on the Black experience to add to your bookshelf

collage of book covers

The year 2020 was a time of both rest and unrest. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, we were kept apart physically even as racial injustice brought us together in protests and online discussion. When we couldn’t talk about current events in person, we turned to books and literature as sources of information and catharsis, says Melissa Pearson, assistant teaching professor of English at Northeastern.

“Every time these atrocities happen, people try to go somewhere to make sense of it all,” Pearson says.

In June and July, amid a surge of Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, books by Black authors about Black experiences consistently topped The New York Times Best Sellers list and Amazon charts. Award-winning nonfiction that examined Black experiences through the lens of history, such as Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, quickly rose in popularity. The books are important because they tell Black stories from Black perspectives, says Pearson.

“Black history, Black culture, Black futurism has in many ways been whitewashed or told through the lens of the white narrative,” Pearson says. “It’s very important that we get primary accounts of the Black experience.”

This reading list, composed of books from a collection by Northeastern University’s Snell Library, The New York Times Best Sellers list, and Amazon chart-toppers, is a small sample of books to read to help gain insight into Black literature and Black experiences. It features works from several genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult, and children’s books.

As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s crucial to continue reading Black literature, Pearson says. “The stories have to be told from top to bottom, from bottom to top, from outside to inside to get more than just one story.”

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Books released in 2020

These books were published last year, drawing on modern experience and inequalities to tell the stories of Black men and women. Featuring a wide range of genres, from chart-topping memoirs like Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” to heart-stopping fiction like Jasmine Guillory’s romance novels, books released in 2020 are a good starting point for diving into Black literature.

Anti-racist readings, biographies, and memoirs

After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black men and women, protests erupted across the country and people flocked to virtual bookshelves to learn more about Black experiences. Biographies, memoirs, and anti-racist guides began climbing bestseller lists, providing a deeper look into historical precedents, white privilege, and the marginalization of minority communities.

The New York Times best sellers

These books made an appearance on The New York Times Best Sellers list in 2020. Some graced the list for a week or two, while others, like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” and Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” remained on the list for more than 70 weeks.

Amazon’s most-sold books in 2020

Quarantined indoors, readers increasingly turned to Amazon to deliver their newest books. These appeared on Amazon’s most-sold lists throughout 2020.

Recommendations from Northeastern’s Snell Library

Northeastern’s Anti-Racism Guide features a comprehensive list of texts from multiple genres recommended by university librarians. All books can be found in Northeastern’s library.