Julia Schoos, Editor-in-Chief
“Voice of Freedom” by Phillis Wheatley
I was first introduced to Phillis Wheatley in our very own Dr. Woodard’s class on African American Literature Through the Harlem Renaissance. While certainly not a contemporary black author, Wheatley more than deserves recognition during Black History Month. A young girl enslaved in Boston, she utilized her classical education as well as her status as a “celebrity slave” to become the first African American woman to be published—and disavow slavery in the same breath. In “Voice of Freedom” Wheatley produced a masterwork of poetry which, in its protagonist’s dialogue, bears undeniable confirmation that Phillis Wheatley is an abolitionist and most certainly abhors the dark deeds of slavery, regardless of any perceived equivocacy of her earlier poems. Through its ferocity, the poem and Wheatley herself continue to astound readers in the present just as they riveted them in the past.
Honorary mentions: anything written and created by Daveed Diggs, as well as works by Maya Angelou.
Kylie Warkentin, Managing and Website Editor
“I Remember Clifford,” performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet
Originally composed by jazz tenor saxophonist Benny Golson in memory of the immensely talented jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown after his tragic death at twenty five, “I Remember Clifford” is one of my very favorite jazz standards. And though there have been many notable interpretations of this threnody, I love this 1958 performance by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet the most. Something about the way Morgan shapes each note turns me into a melancholic sap, missing moments and people that seemed close just seconds ago.
Alyssa Jingling, Marketing Director
Guava Island, directed by Hiro Murai
My favorite work by a Black creator is the (hour-long, TV-length) musical film Guava Island, which was produced by Donald Glover. He also starred in the film (alongside Rihanna), and he created the story. His brother Stephen Glover wrote the screenplay. As a visual artist I am drawn to the scenic and costume design, but the story is also striking and beautiful. It is framed as a flashback story that Kofi (Rhianna) is telling her child about the creation of Guava Island and her relationship with Deni (Donald Glover). When narrating the creation of the island, Kofi says that “the seven gods of the seven lands created the dueling truths: love and war.” The progression and ending of the film beautifully illustrates that concept and encourages viewers to create fun, joy, and community in the face of hardships and sadness. It’s about an hour long and can be found on Amazon Prime Video (free for Prime members).
Andilynn Feddeler, Design Editor
Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples
My favorite album is Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples because it reminds me of a very pivotal couple years of my life, during which I was learning to manage my emotions, my time, and myself. He has an album for every genre and a song for every emotion—his versatility as an artist is what draws me to him, even if I don’t like everything he releases.
Christie Basson, Website Editor
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
“Standing outside the conference room, unseen by the two men waiting for others to arrive, you hear one say to the other that being around black people is like watching a foreign film without translation.”
I think every person should read Citizen by Claudia Rankine at least once. Part poetry, part memoir, part art, this book is a testament to difficulty of being Black in America. Rankine, through the course of the book, discusses micro-aggressions, police brutality, stereotyping, personal trauma – but she keeps coming back to the internal injustice built into the backbone of America and the ways in which Black citizens struggle to find their identity as Americans when they are so often mistreated. The book travels between retelling of personal experiences, her poetic musings on identity and trauma, and references to current and historic culture.
Jeff Rose, Fiction Editor
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
This short book is one of my favorite of Morrison’s works, because she writes about the complexity of Black representation in literature, often at the hands of white authors writing what they think Blackness is. This book is a treasure tome of writing advice, a masterclass in how to write about identity and people, and a testament to Morrison’s genius when it comes to race and literature. One of the quotes that stays with me as a writer is: “My vulnerability would lie in romanticizing blackness rather than demonizing it; villifying whiteness rather than reifying it. The kind of work I have always wanted to do requires me to learn how to maneuver ways to free up the language from its sometimes sinister, frequently lazy, almost always predictable employment of racially informed and determined chains.” Here, she questions her own biases as a writer, and strives to better write Blackness, and reify whiteness. Read it, reread it, then keep rereading it over the course of your writerly and readerly life.
Josephine Yi, Nonfiction Editor
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
This is the first novel in Jemisin’s afrofuturist series titled Broken Earth. The Fifth Season can (and should) be widely celebrated for its achievements in the realm of fantastical world-building alone. In this story, Jemisin utilizes elements of post-apocalyptic storytelling to reimagine and honor the supernatural-like powers and resilience of black people resisting oppressive environments and institutions.
Sara Cline, Poetry Editor
Black No More by George Schuyler
First off, the novel is a literary landmark: some scholars cite it as the first full-length satire authored by an African American, and it’s one of the earliest examples of black sci-fi / afrofuturism. The premise of the book is that a black scientist creates the technology to turn black people white. No one is safe from Schuyler’s lampoon: his caricatures and plot devices are delightfully absurd and ruthless. He runs the premise to the extreme, making the novel increasingly dark, unbelievable (and yet, at the heart of things, believable), and funny. You will be equally tickled and disturbed.
My honorable mentions include “Let Me Handle My Business, Damn” by Morgan Parker, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Cane by Jean Toomer, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston.
Kennedy Lily, General Staff
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
One of my favorite books is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I love The Bluest Eye because it is one of the first books I read that discussed the trials young, dark-skinned Black women face living in a society based on Eurocentric beauty standards. This book is an important read because it can educate people about the pressures Black people feel to assimilate into Western cultural norms.
Stephanie Pickrell, Website Staff Writer
Shahid Reads His Own Palm, poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts.
Poetry unafraid and unapologetic, of the beautiful as well as the true. Sentenced to nine years in prison at sixteen, Dwayne Betts explores the consequences of a civil system that too few think about.
What fascinated me most about these poems is the sincerity in its depictions of desire, as well as the characters that spring from the pages, ghosts, but nevertheless real. It’s a collection intended to change anyone who reads it, and I recommend that everyone does.