3 Book Boxes to Celebrate Black History Month
February is such a rich opportunity for readers.
In the past, my go-to genre centered around finding a sweet, classic romance to read. I wanted to read about feisty females and the gallant gentlemen that inevitably fell head-over-heels for them. I wanted picnics on sprawling lawns, carriage rides through the country, and a few funny shenanigans to give me the warm feelings of sentimentality I was looking for because it was February and I am a mood reader. (If that's your jam for February, check out the 10 Book Recs PL Guest Blogger, Lynda, shared last week here.)
After watching the t.v. series Parks & Rec, my February ferver started side-eyeing buddy books because of Leslie Snopes love of celebrating Galentine's Day (Feb. 13th). Inspiring literary friendships like Frodo and Sam, Helen and Jane, & the unforgettable March sisters became another go-to category of love story, one focused on companionship more than romantic love. (See if your favorite fictional friends made my list here.)
In recent years, however, I've discovered a completely new go-to for February reading, one that not only inspires, but one that opens my eyes to a different perspective than my own. I'm talking about books written by black authors sharing their unique experiences as black Americans. From slave narratives to contemporary experiences, I am all in for celebrating Black History Month through the pages of books sharing the unique experiences of our friends and neighbors.
In PL's Monthly Book Club, we're learning and laughing our way through a third classic novel, one completely different in subject and vibe as the previous two we've shared.
If you're looking to learn, to be inspired, to walk a mile in another's shoes, I've got three distinctly different book boxes to help YOU celebrate Black History Month in a unique and unforgettable way.
Passing Book Box (featuring Nella Larsen's 1929 classic)
The author: Nella Larsen (1891-1964) was the daughter of a Danish immigrant mother and black West Indian father who was absent for most of Nella's life. (It is unclear whether he left or died.) When Nella was 3, her mother married a fellow Danish immigrant (whose last name became her own) and the family moved to a predominantly white Scandinavian neighborhood, welcoming Nella's sister into the family. Because of Nella's skin color, the family experienced discrimination and eventually moved. In this highly segregated time following the Civil War, when an increasing number of blacks migrated to the north, Nella lived a sort of island existence - isolated between black and white worlds.
Because she could never be white like her family, and they could never be black like her, Nella was adrift. Her mother, desiring to give her daughter an educational advantage, sent Nella to a black university in Tennessee - her first experience inside the black community. Yet she still felt separate, as her life experiences proved a chasm between herself and her classmates, most of whom were descendants of former slaves. After being expelled for a dress code violation, Nella went to Denmark to continue her education, though three years later she still struggled to discover her place in the world, the experiences of which directly influenced the direction Passing (her second published novel) took.
The novel: "Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past—even hiding the truth from her racist husband.
The novel treasure: I was intentional in picking this particular novel treasure because I wanted it to be significant and symbolic, a reusable item many of us still enjoy using three years later. And I know you will, too!
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Book Box (featuring Harriet Jacobs' 1861 narrative)
The author: I invite you to spend a little time in the Carolinas this month with author Harriet Jacobs and her family, a woman with hopes and dreams not unlike yours who happened to be born and raised in the South prior to emancipation.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is HER story, told in memoir fashion as she grew up in the broken system of southern slavery until she is set finally free from her chains.
Harriet Jacobs is the woman you need to meet this month.
The novel: "In clear and unshrinking prose, Harriet Jacobs—writing under the pseudonym Linda Brent—relates the story of her girlhood and adolescence as a slave in North Carolina and her eventual escape: a bildungsroman set in the complex terrain of a chauvinist, white supremacist society. Resolutely addressing women readers, rather than men, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl seeks to make white women understand how the threat of sexual violence shapes the lives of enslaved Black women and children. Equal parts brave and searing, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a triumph of American literature." -Penguin Random House synopsis
The novel treasure: As with the Passing Book Box, I wanted the novel treasure that accompanied Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl to hold value, something as "weighty" and remarkable as the author's first-hand account. And I think I nailed it.
Black No More Book Box (featuring George Schuyler's 1931 cheeky satire)
The author: George S. Schuyler (1895–1977) was an influential African American author, journalist, and social commentator of the Harlem Renaissance (a contemporary of Nella Larsen above). He is best known for our third featured novel, Black No More, a satire that explores race and identity through a fictional process that transforms black skin to white. Schuyler's writing often tackled issues of race, politics, and social justice with a sharp wit and satirical edge that make reading his works entertaining as well as thought-provoking.
The novel: "It’s New Year’s Day 1933 in New York City, and Max Disher, a young black man, has just found out that a certain Dr. Junius Crookman has discovered a mysterious process that allows people to bleach their skin white—a new way to “solve the American race problem.” Max leaps at the opportunity, and after a brief stay at the Crookman Sanitarium, he becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man who is able to attain everything he has ever wanted: money, power, good liquor, and the white woman who rejected him when he was black.
Lampooning myths of white supremacy and racial purity and caricaturing prominent African American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marcus Garvey, Black No More is a masterwork of speculative fiction and a hilarious satire of America’s obsession with race." -Penguin Random House synopsis
The novel treasure: I paired this satirical novel that sought to answer the question, What would happen if every black person in American turned white? through the unlikely conduit of cosmetology with a modern-day twist. We'll call it the 21st century equivalent of the novel's fad. (You're going to get a kick out of it!)