What we can learn from Black authors

I am not an avid reader. For a long time, graphic novels with fantastical illustrations were the only stories I found worth reading. When I started high school, I thought it was time to give more reading a try. So, I decided not to leave my reading experience in the hands of my English teachers, and I visited my high school library.

I read Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart and became familiar with the names Okonkwo, Nwoye, and Ikemefuna. But after I returned the book to the library, I felt somewhat deprived. For me, Black history usually started with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but in his novel, Achebe shared stories of pre-colonial life in Western Africa. As a place populated with tribes all bearing different languages, customs, and traditions, I was rarely given the chance to explore West African culture outside of Achebe’s words. His story wasn’t a fictious work to me, in my mind it must have always existed. Reading it made me realize all that I had been missing. 

In another trip to the library, I found James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name. I discovered how effective well-crafted essays can be. Baldwin’s words rung as a deep analysis of the American psyche—in ways that are more complex than any history or psychology class put together. “No one is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart: for purity, by definition, is unassailable,” he writes. His words are profoundly relevant as checking our biases becomes more of a common practice.

My reading journey continued with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel that explores the vastness of the diasporic experience. Then, I time-travelled to the Antebellum South in Kindred, a science-fiction story only Octavia Butler could think of. And finally, after letting go of what was weighing me down, I learned how to fly with Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Black literature taught me everything I know about literature. I will always cherish the emotions these novels evoked and the ideas they left me with. I often wonder: would I have ever discovered these authors within a school’s curriculum? Black literature exists outside of the bounds of Black history month. With this, I think about books banned from the shelves of countless libraries around the world.

So, to writers like Baldwin, Achebe, Morrison, Butler, Adichie and all the rest I am left to discover—thank you for telling me how you see the world. Thank you for showing me that amid pain and destruction, there is also love and wonder. To readers like myself, I hope you find the value in literature—especially in the pages that you haven’t discovered yet. The new Black perspectives, experiences, and tales that we read educate us on individual human experiences that will forever bind us. The more time we take to understand each other, the better off we will be.


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