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Michigan State University

African American Studies Research Guide: Literature


This tab provides links to both (1) reference books and (2) online reference collections related to African American literature.

African-American Women Writers (

From Recreate by Marsha Hatcher

African American women writers have helped bring the black woman's experience to life for millions of readers. They've written of what it was like to live in slavery, what Jim Crow America was like, and what 20th and 21st century America has been like for black women. On the following paragraphs, you'll meet novelists, poets, journalists, playwrights, essayists, social commentators, and feminist theorists. They're listed from the earliest to the latest.

50 Books That Every African American Should Read (Huffington Post)

Whether you’re traveling on vacation, sunbathing on the beach, or simply lounging in the park, nothing beats a good book in the summertime. Still, with so many options at one’s disposal, deciding on a title can prove difficult.

Huffington Post BlackVoices has compiled an extensive book list, featuring a range of genres including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, science-fiction and the autobiography.

From Ralph Ellison to Jesmyn Ward, many of the authors have been heralded with national awards in the United States. Others, such as Zadie Smith and Tsitsi Dangarembga, have broken literary ground abroad in countries such as Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Uganda. Stemming back to 1789 with Olaudah Equiano’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” these 50 titles have heavily contributed to contemporary narratives about the black experience across the globe.

100 Must Read African American Books

Black Drama

Black Drama : African, African American, & Diaspora 1850 to PresentThis edition of Black Drama, Second Edition contains approximately 1,462 plays by 233 playwrights, together with detailed, fielded information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. The database also includes selected playbills, production photographs and other ephemera related to the plays.  Some 600 of the plays are published here for the first time, including a number by major authors.  The plays themselves have been selected using leading bibliographies and with the editorial advice of James V. Hatch, co-author with Errol G. Hill of A History of African American Theatre and a leading expert in this area.

For more specialized online collections, be sure to scroll down the middle column of this page for Specialized Online Collections.

Slave Narratives

Slave narratives are an important part of American literature. Writers like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs helped to dispel many of the misconceptions of slavery, as they revealed personal experiences. These books tell their stories...  Article by Esther Lombardi from

Noteworthy titles

The curse of caste, or, The slave bride : a rediscovered African American novel / by Julia C. Collins ; edited by William L. Andrews and Mitch Kachun.  Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2006.  139pp.  Main Library Stacks PS1359.C563 C65 2006 : In 1865, The Christian Recorder, the national newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serialized The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, a novel written by Mrs. Julia C. Collins, an African American woman living in the small town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The first novel ever published by a black American woman, it is set in antebellum Louisiana and Connecticut, and focuses on the lives of a beautiful mixed-race mother and daughter whose opportunities for fulfillment through love and marriage are threatened by slavery and caste prejudice.  The text shares much with popular nineteenth-century womenʼs fiction, while its dominant themes of interracial romance, hidden African ancestry and ambiguous racial identity have parallels in the writings of both black and white authors from the period. Begun in the waning months of the Civil War, the novel was near its conclusion when Julia Collins died of tuberculosis in November of 1865. In this firs-ever book publication of The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, the editors have composed a hopeful and a tragic ending, reflecting two alternatives Collins almost certainly would have considered for the closing of her unprecedented novel. In their introduction, the editors offer the most complete and current research on the life and community of an author who left few traces in the historical record and provide extensive discussion of her novelʼs literary and historical significance. Collinsʼs published essays, which provide intriguing glimpses into the mind of this gifted but overlooked writer, are included in what will prove to be the definitive edition of a major new discovery in African American literature, religion, womenʼs history, community life and race relations during the era of the United States emancipation.

Reference Books

100 Most Popular African American Authors : Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies.  Westport, Conn. : Libraries Unlimited, 2007.  361pp. Main Library PS153.N5 D74 2007 : Of interest to high school readers and older, this volume consists of profiles of 100 popular, contemporary African American authors, mostly those who have become prominent in the past 25 years, but with some seminal figures such as Alex Haley, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. The profiles, which are presented alphabetically, provide brief biographies and discussions of their works, along with complete lists of their publications. Authors were chosen with an emphasis on popular fiction, durability, and US orientation in mind. A sampling of those profiled: Octavia Butler, Walter Moseley, Omar Tyree, Zane, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Bebe Moore Campbell, Edwidge Danticat, Terry McMillan, and Alice Walker. The book is indexed by author/title and genre. Profiles are based on sources such as existing reference works, periodicals, and author web sites. Drew is a freelance writer and editor.

African American dramatists : an A-to-Z guide / edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson.  Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2004.  527pp.  Main Library PS338.N4 A69 2004 : In addition to offering biocritical sketches for 61 writers from the last 150 years, this title has a selected bibliography for further research and an index (primarily author and title). Signed entries follow a general format: biographical information, overview of major works and themes, description of the critical reception, and bibliographies of dramatic works by the artist and studies of those dramatic works. The average length of each entry is about 8 pages, but the length ranges from 4 to 21 pages. The usual names are present--James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright--as well as writers who are commanding more attention, among them Pearl Cleage, Angelina Weld Grimke, and Suzan Lori-Parks. The essays are generally clear and readable....Although there are other competing sets, African American Dramatists includes some writers who are seldom covered elsewhere. Among other sources for African American dramatists are Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers (Greenwood, 1990) and its companion, Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays (Greenwood, 1988); this pair has the greatest overlap with African American Dramatists, with 54 shared entries. The Dictionary of Literary Biography (Gale, 2005) and Contemporary Authors (Gale, 2005) combine to provide 49 shared entries. Greenwood's set American Playwrights, 1880-1945 (1994) and its companion, American Playwrights since 1945 (1989), though, share only 8 persons with African American Dramatists.

The Cambridge History of African American Literature (online). Cambridge University press, 2011.  860pp.  : The first major twenty-first century history of four hundred years of black writing, The Cambridge History of African American Literature presents a comprehensive overview of the literary traditions, oral and print, of African-descended peoples in the United States. Expert contributors, drawn from the United States and beyond, emphasize the dual nature of each text discussed as a work of art created by an individual and as a response to unfolding events in American cultural, political, and social history. Unprecedented in scope, sophistication and accessibility, the volume draws together current scholarship in the field. It also looks ahead to suggest new approaches, new areas of study, and as yet undervalued writers and works. The Cambridge History of African American Literature is a major achievement both as a work of reference and as a compelling narrative and will remain essential reading for scholars and students in years to come.

The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (online).  Oxford University Press, 2002.  : Online searchable guide to African American literature. Includes biographies of writers, critics and literary characters and plot summaries of major works. Abridged and updated edition of the Oxford Companion to African American Literature.

Contemporary Black American playwrights and their plays : a biographical directory and dramatic index / Bernard L. Peterson, Jr.  New York : Greenwood Press, c1988.  625pp.  Main Library PS153.N5 P43 1988 : This major reference work lists over 700 black Americans who have written for the theater, film, television, and radio from 1950 to the present. Coverage, which includes brief biographical data and an annotated list of plays, ranges from such national figures as Lorraine Hansbury and Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) to those whose work has been produced by local, nonprofessional groups. A particularly helpful feature is a mailing address for each writer. . . A comprehensive bibliography completes this essential purchase for drama and black studies collections.

Early Black American playwrights and dramatic writers : a biographical directory and catalog of plays, films, and broadcasting scripts / Bernard L. Peterson, Jr. New York : Greenwood Press, 1990. 298pp. Main Library PS153.N5 P44 1990 : Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers: A Bibliographical Directory and Catalog of Plays, Films and Broadcasting Scripts addresses an often overlooked area in the history of the American theater, the contributions of early black playwrights and dramatic writers. It covers authors who were active from the antebellum period to World War II, and although primarily theatrical in scope, it does include useful biographical entries on African-American screenwriters, such as Oscar Micheaux, Carlton Moss and Clarence Muse. Useful chronological and title indexes.

Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance / Aberjhani and Sandra L. West ; foreword by Clement Alexander Price. New York : Facts On File, Inc. ; c2003. 424pp.  Main Library PS153.N5 A24 2003 : Contains approximately 370 alphabetically arranged entries covering the emergence of new ideas in literature, political thought, civil rights, racial pride, and the arts during New York City's Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. The book includes an introduction; A-to-Z entries; a chronology, a glossary of slang; a bibliography and lists of sources for further reading, listening, and viewing; a subject index; a general index; 12 maps; and more than 105 black-and-white photographs.

Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance / Cary D. Wintz, Paul Finkelman, editors. New York : Routledge, 2004. 2 volumes.  Fine Arts, Art Reference (4 West) NX512.3.A35 E53 2004 : The Harlem Renaissance, of great interest as the most creative period in African American cultural life, illustrates how African Americans functioned in the first half of the 20th century--culturally, socially, artistically, economically. Wintz and Finkelman's encyclopedia exceeds in power and scholarship all other reference works on the Harlem Renaissance. Coverage, described in the preface, is broad, deep, and scholarly. Besides a seven-page alphabetical list of entries, the editors include an eight-page thematic list of entries that includes persons (singers, actors, playwrights, publishers), works (plays, films, theater), and topics (concepts, ideologies, events, themes). The topic "Harlem" is divided into cultural and political categories, and "Harlem Renaissance" into geographical pieces (Boston, California, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas, Philadelphia, the South, Texas, and Washington, DC).

The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore / edited by Anand Prahlad. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2006.  3 volumes.  Main Library GR111.A47 G74 2006 : African American culture draws upon a rich body of traditions from Africa, Latin America, and the South, and folklore is fundamental to the African American heritage. The first work of its kind, this definitive encyclopedia comprehensively overviews African American folklore. Included are roughly 700 alphabetically arranged entries by more than 100 expert contributors on such topics as folktales, music, art, foodways, spiritual beliefs, proverbs, and many other subjects. Entries cite works for further reading, and the encyclopedia concludes with a bibliography of major works

Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. 5 volumes.  Reference (1 East)  PS153.N5 G73 2005 : This handsomely packaged set provides coverage of the foundations, development, and proliferation of African American literature, from Colonial times to the present. Crucial to an understanding of this unique body of literature is attention to the historical, social, and political climate in which it took root. Accordingly, these alphabetically arranged and extensively cross-referenced entries focus on subjects as widely divergent as sermons, the Underground Railroad, affirmative action, Mojo, hip-hop, the Black Panther Party, and the Vietnam War, in addition to the expected topics on individual writers and their works....[t]he depth and breadth of the 1,029 entries make this an invaluable resource.

Handbook of African American Literature. Hazel Arnett Ervin. University Press of Florida, 2004.  This is the first comprehensive resource devoted to the analysis, interpretation, history, and appreciation of African American literature. The definitive book on the subject, it will be indispensable to students, scholars, and libraries at all levels. The handbook features an A to Z compilation of 415 literary terms, ages, movements, periods, and cultural sources, all cross-referenced. Terms include techniques, genres, themes, forms, well-known phrases, modes of discourse, theoretical concepts, and diction from music and linguistics. Definitions provide substantive discussion and cite specific examples from the works of major critics and major and minor writers from the 1700s to the present. Up-to-date and relevant, the guide includes information from the colonial and reconstruction periods to the postmodern era and from cultural sources ranging from folk legends to hip-hop music. Eight full-length essays, which serve as introductions to important aspects of literary theory and criticism, cover major terms--ambiguity, memory, signification, repetition, collective unconscious, representation, influence, and literary history. In addition to discussions of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, the book describes the Chicago Renaissance of the 1930s to 1950s, the New Renaissance of the 1950s, and the new black aesthetics of the 1980s. An especially compelling feature of the book is a literary timeline, divided into sections for African, African American, and Anglophone Caribbean literature that illustrates what was written during the same years in different parts of the world. The book also lists awards and honors given to African American authors. Long overdue, Hazel Arnett Ervin's accessible handbook fills a void in literary arts and letters, a tribute to the rich vernacular tradition that has evolved from African American oral and written expression. Hazel Arnett Ervin is associate professor of English and linguistics at Morehouse College.

The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (online). William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris.   Oxford University Press, 1997.

Oxford Companion to African American Literature (2001).  Presents more than 400 biographies of authors, critics, literary characters, and historical figures, and 150 plot summaries of major works.  A breathtaking achievement, it covers an enormous range of writers - from Sojourner Truth to Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison to Toni Morrison. It contains entries on major works (including synopses of novels) and also incorporates information on literary characters, as well as on character types such as Aunt Jemima and Brer Rabbit. Icons of black culture are addressed, including Muhammad Ali, John Coltrane, Marcus Garvey, Jackie Robinson, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman. There are general articles on poetry, fiction, and drama; on autobiography, slave narratives, Sunday School literature, and oratory; as well as on a wide spectrum of related topics.

For more reference works on African American Art and Culture, visit the Reference Tools tab.

Specialized Online Collections

African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907: The Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection presents a panoramic and eclectic review of African-American history and culture, spanning almost one hundred years from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin W. Arnett, Alexander Crummel, and Emanuel Love. Courtesy of the Library of Congress American Memory Project.

African American Poetry Database, 1760-1900.  Covering a wide range of topics from slavery and abolition to love and death, this collection provides a unique portrait of early America through the reflections of African-American poets during the 18th and 19th centuries. It contains a variety of poetic styles and types including elegies, odes, ditties, hymns, and sonnets.

African American Thought and Culture, see Black Thought and Culture

African American Women Writers of the 19th Century.  A digital collection of some 52 published works by 19th-century black women writers. A part of the Digital Schomburg, this collection provides access to the thought, perspectives and creative abilities of black women as captured in books and pamphlets published prior to 1920.

Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535 - 1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia. Created from the Library Company of Philadelphia's acclaimed Afro-Americana Collection - an accumulation that began with Benjamin Franklin and steadily increased throughout its entire history - this unique online resource provides researchers with more than 12,000 printed works. These essential books, pamphlets and broadsides, including many lesser-known imprints, hold an unparalleled record of African American history, literature and culture. This collection spans nearly 400 years, from the early 16th to the early 20th century. Critically important subjects covered include the West's discovery and exploitation of Africa; the rise of slavery in the New World along with the growth and success of abolitionist movements; the development of racial thought, including political protest and resistance to racism; descriptions of African American life -- slave and free -- throughout the Americas; and slavery and race in fiction and drama. Also featured are printed works of African American individuals and organizations.

Antislavery Literary Project. Antislavery literature represents the origins of multicultural literature in the United States. It is the first body of American literature produced by writers of diverse racial origins. It encompasses slave narratives, lectures, travel accounts, political tracts, prose fiction, poetry, drama, religious and philosophical literature, compendia, journals, manifestoes and children's literature. There is a complex and contradictory range of voices, from journalistic reportage to sentimental poetry, from racial paternalism and stereotyping to advocacy of interracial equality, from religious disputation to militant antislavery calls. In its whole, this literature is inseparable from an understanding of democratic development in US society.  The goal of the Antislavery Literature Project is to increase public access to a body of literature crucial to understanding African American experience, US and hemispheric histories of slavery, and early human rights philosophies. These multilingual collections contribute to an educational consciousness of the role of many antislavery writers in creating contemporary concepts of freedom.

Black American Feminisms : An Annotated Bibliography.  "The multidisciplinary subject bibliography of black American feminist writings that follows is an effort to combat the erasure of black feminist subjectivity and thought through the promotion and use of the literature for the general public, students, scholars and life-long learners seeking information on African American feminism and African American feminist interpretations of a broad range of issues. The bibliography documents and validates an intellectual tradition that is continuously ghettoized within black studies, women's studies and society as a whole. Moreover, the bibliography serves to ensure a place for black American feminist thought in the social change discourse, ensuring that black women's contributions in art, politics and society are preserved and perpetuated."

Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia, see Afro-Americana imprints, 1532-1922 [electronic resource] : from the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Black Drama (2nd edition) contains approximately 1,462 plays by 233 playwrights, together with detailed, fielded information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. The database also includes selected playbills, production photographs and other ephemera related to the plays.   Some 600 of the plays are published here for the first time, including a number by major authors.  The plays themselves have been selected using leading bibliographies and with the editorial advice of James V. Hatch, co-author with Errol G. Hill of A History of African American Theatre and a leading expert in this area.

Black Thought and Culture contains 1,297 sources with 1,098 authors, covering the non-fiction published works of leading African Americans. Particular care has been taken to index this material so that it can be searched more thoroughly than ever before. Where possible the complete published non-fiction works are included, as well as interviews, journal articles, speeches, essays, pamphlets, letters and other fugitive material.

A Celebration of Women Writers : African American Writers.  The Celebration of Women Writers recognizes the contributions of women writers throughout history. Women have written almost every imaginable type of work: novels, poems, letters, biographies, travel books, religious commentaries, histories, economic and scientific works. Our goal is to promote awareness of the breadth and variety of women's writing. All too often, works by women, and resources about women writers, are hard to find. We attempt to provide easy access to available on-line information. The Celebration provides a comprehensive listing of links to biographical and bibliographical information about women writers, and complete published books written by women. A compilation of web sites compiled by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Evans Digital Collection (Early American Imprints, Series I : 1639-1800).  Browse "Blacks as authors" for primary works written by figures such as Aethopian, Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), Olaudah Equiano (b. 1745), Johnson Green (1757-1786), James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Prince Hall (1748-1807), Jupiter Hammon (1711-ca.1800), Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Absalom Jones (1746-1818), John Marrant (1755-1791), Joseph Mountain (1758-1790), Thomas Powers (1776/7-1796), Stephen Smith (1769/70-1797), Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784).

Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects (1773).  The poems of Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) are read and studied by students and scholars in a variety of disciplines (American literature, African-American Studies, African Studies, and Women’s Studies), but the first edition has not previously been freely accessible in a digital facsimile without a fee or subscription. Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773) is the first book published by an African-American author, and the frontispiece portrait of Wheatley is the only surviving work by the African-American slave artist Scipio Moorhead (born ca. 1750). Thomas Cooper Library’s copy, acquired with support from the College of Arts & Sciences and from library endowments, is the first copy recorded in WorldCat for any library in South Carolina.  Courtesy of the University of South Carolina Rare Books and Special Collections.

Twentieth Century African American Poetry.  A database of modern and contemporary African American poetry, featuring almost 9,000 poems by 62 of the most important African American poets of the last century, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde and Rita Dove.

Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture. This website from the University of Virginia presents a vast multimedia archive of primary material, 1830 to 1930, organized around Harriet Beecher Stowe's seminal work. Educators should preview the material, particularly the various representations of race and slavery in the archive, to determine what is appropriate for use in their own classroom discussion.

VG/Voices from the Gaps.  A website based in the English Department at the University of Minnesota and dedicated to bringing together marginalized resources and knowledges about women artists of color to serve secondary and college education across the world.  This link highlights African-American women.  For additional categories, click here.

Children's Literature : Recommended Reads from the Civil Rights Era

Popular Books Taking Place in the Civil Rights Era.   Possible orders for MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection 

A Chair for My Mother : a novel by Vera B. Williams ... 2007.  Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. :  After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save and save until they can afford to buy one big, comfortable chair that all three of them can enjoy. "A superbly conceived picture book expressing the joyful spirit of a loving family

The Colored Car / Jean Alicia Elster.  Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 2013. 207pp. MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection PS3605.L77 C6 2013 : In The Colored Car, Jean Alicia Elster, author of the award-winning Who's Jim Hines?, follows another member of the Ford family coming of age in Depression-era Detroit. In the hot summer of 1937, twelve-year-old Patsy takes care of her three younger sisters and helps her mother put up fresh fruits and vegetables in the family's summer kitchen, adjacent to the wood yard that her father, Douglas Ford, owns. Times are tough, and Patsy's mother, May Ford, helps neighborhood families by sharing the food that she preserves. But May's decision to take a break from canning to take her daughters for a visit to their grandmother's home in Clarksville, Tennessee, sets in motion a series of events that prove to be life-changing for Patsy. After boarding the first-class train car at Michigan Central Station in Detroit and riding comfortably to Cincinnati, Patsy is shocked when her family is led from their seats to change cars. In the dirty, cramped "colored car," Patsy finds that the life she has known in Detroit is very different from life down south, and she can hardly get the experience out of her mind when she returns home --l ike the soot stain on her finely made dress or the smear on the quilt squares her grandmother taught her to sew. As summer wears on, Patsy must find a way to understand her experience in the colored car and also deal with the more subtle injustices that her family faces in Detroit. By the end of the story, Patsy will never see the world in the same way that she did before. Elster's engaging narrative illustrates the personal impact of segregation and discrimination and reveals powerful glimpses of everyday life in 1930s Detroit. For young readers interested in American history, The Colored Car is engrossing and informative reading

Darkest Child : a novel by Delores Phillips.  2004.  Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. : Phillips's searing debut reveals the poverty, injustices and cruelties that one black family suffers—some of this at the hands of its matriarch—in a 1958 backwater Georgia town. Thirteen-year-old Tangy Mae Quinn loves her mother, Rozelle, but knows there's "something wrong" with her—which, as it soon becomes clear, is an extreme understatement. As the novel opens, Rozelle is getting ready to give birth to her 10th child (by a 10th father) and thinking about forcing the obedient Tangy Mae, who longs to stay in school, to take over her housecleaning job. Using a large cast of powerfully drawn characters, Phillips captures life in a town that serves as a microcosm of a world on the brink of change. There's Junior, the perpetual optimist, who wants to teach people to read and write so they can understand the injustices of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan; Hambone, a here today/gone tomorrow rabble-rouser whose anger against white men and their laws inflames those around him; and Miss Pearl, the only true friend to the Quinn family. At the dark heart of the story is Rozelle, the beautiful mixed-race head of the Quinn family whose erratic mood swings, heart-wrenching cruelty and deep emotional distress leave an indelible mark on all her children. Through all the violence and hardship breathes the remarkable spirit of Tangy Mae, who is wise beyond her years; forced to do unspeakable things by her mother and discriminated against by the town's whites, she manages to survive and to rescue a younger sister from the same fate.

The Help: a novel by Kathryn Stockett.  2010.  Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. : Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step....Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from  Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone... Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted  inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after,  though she knows both their hearts may be broken....Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in  Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But  her new boss has secrets of her own....Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why?  Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and  their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed...In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.  The book has also been made into a movie which is available in the MSU Library Digital and Multimedia Collection.

Henry's Freedom Box : A True Story from the Underground Railroad.  Ellen Levine. 2007. 40pp. MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection  picture PZ7.L57833 Hen 2007  : A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist....Henry Brown doesn't know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves' birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday -- his first day of freedom.

The Letter Writer by Ann Rinaldi.  2010.  Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. :Eleven-year-old Harriet Whitehead is an outsider in her own family. She feels accepted and important only when she is entrusted to write letters for her blind stepmother. Then Nat Turner, a slave preacher, arrives on her family’s plantation and Harriet befriends him, entranced by his gentle manner and eloquent sermons about an all-forgiving God. When Nat asks Harriet for a map of the county to help him spread the word, she draws it for him—wanting to be part of something important. But the map turns out to be the missing piece that sets Nat’s secret plan in motion and makes Harriet an unwitting accomplice to the bloodiest slave uprising in U.S. history....Award-winning historical novelist Ann Rinaldi has created a bold portrait of an ordinary young girl thrust in to a situation beyond her control.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Doreen Rappaport.  2007.  30pp.  MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection  picture E185.97.K5 R36 2001. : This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin's Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America-and the world-forever.

Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Wilson. New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2000. 133pp.  MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection.  PZ7.W868 Mi 2000   . : For Lafayette and his brothers, the challenges of growing up in New York City are compounded by the facts that they've lost their parents and it's up to eldest brother Ty'ree to support the boys, and middle brother Charlie has just returned home from a correctional facility....Lafayette loves his brothers and would do anything if they could face the world as a team. But even though Ty'ree cares, he's just so busy with work and responsibility. And Charlie's changed so much that his former affection for his little brother has turned to open hostility....Now, as Lafayette approaches 13, he needs the guidance and answers only his brothers can give him. The events of one dramatic weekend force the boys to make the choice to be there for each other--to really see each other--or to give in to the pain and problems of every day.

No Laughter Here by Rita Williams-Garcia. 2003. Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. : Even though they were born in different countries, Akilah and Victoria are true best friends. But Victoria has been acting strange ever since she returned from her summer in Nigeria, where she had a special coming-of-age ceremony. Why does proud Victoria, named for a queen, slouch at her desk and answer the teacher's questions in a whisper? And why won't she laugh with Akilah anymore?...Akilah's name means "intelligent," and she is determined to find out what's wrong, no matter how much detective work she has to do. But when she learns the terrible secret Victoria is hiding, she suddenly has even more questions. The only problem is, they might not be the kind that have answers....In this groundbreaking novel, Coretta Scott King Honor winner Rita Williams-Garcia uses her vividly realistic voice to explore an often taboo practice that affects millions of girls around the world every year. Readers will identify with headstrong, outspoken Akilah, whose struggle to understand what's happened to Victoria reveals a painful truth in an honest and accessible way.

One Crazy Summer / by Rita Williams-Garcia.  New York, NY : Amistad, [2010]  218pp.  Children' and UA Literature Collection  PZ7.W6713 On 2010  :  In this Newbery Honor novel, New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them....Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She's had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer....This moving, funny novel won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain.  1893. Various versions are available in the MSU Libraries.  Some are online, some in Special Collections, etc.   Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. : Switched at birth by a young slave woman attempting to protect her son from the horrors of slavery, a light-skinned infant changes places with the master's white son. This simple premise is the basis of Pudd'nhead Wilson, a compelling drama that contains all the elements of a classic 19th-century mystery: reversed identities, a ghastly crime, an eccentric detective, and a tense courtroom scene....First published in 1894, Twain's novel bristles with suspense. David "Pudd’nhead" Wilson, a wise but unorthodox lawyer who collects fingerprints as a hobby, wins back the respect of his townspeople when he solves a local murder in which two foreigners are falsely accused. Witty and absorbing, this novel features a literary first — the use of fingerprinting to solve a crime. This gem was Twain's last novel about the antebellum South; and despite its frequent injections of humor, it offers a fierce condemnation of racial prejudice and a society that condoned slavery.

The Secret Life of Bees : a novel by Sue Monk Kidd. 2008.  Available via interlibrary loan or for purchase from Amazon. : Fans of  Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt will love Sue Monk Kidd’s Southern coming of age tale. The Secret Life of Bees was a New York Times bestseller for more than 125 weeks, a Good Morning America “Read This” Book Club pick and was made into an award-winning film starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys. Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed.... When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting / illustrated by David Diaz.  San Diego : Harcourt Brace, 1999, c1994.  MSU Children' and UA Literature Collection   picture PZ7.B91527 Sm 1999 :  : In a night of rioting, Daniel and his mother are forced to leave their apartment for the safety of a shelter. “Diaz has not been afraid to take risks in illustrating the story with thickly textured paintings against a background of torn-paper and found-object collage. Without becoming cluttered or gimmicky, these pictures manage to capture a calamitous atmosphere that finally calms. . . . Both author and artist have managed to portray a politically charged event without pretense or preaching

Who's Jim Hines? / Jean Alicia Elster.  Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 2008. 134pp. on order : In 1935 Detroit, a twelve-year-old African American boy learns about the realities of racial injustice while working for his father's wood company during the Great Depression.

Be sure to check out the Literature, Juvenile tab for more recommendations.

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Erik Ponder
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