February is Black History Month, in which the country honors African Americans through a variety of media. From film, music, and fashion, this representation reminds us of the distinct influence of Black voices in pop culture. This year, The Gavel is celebrating Black History Month through an underrated and timeless tradition: reading. Members have listed their favorite books that highlight Black authors, protagonists, and experiences in literature. Whether you read it right away or add it to your TBR list, be sure to check out our recommendations below.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Following the lives of black identical twins, this story directly contrasts the experiences of white and Black America. The sisters first leave their small Louisiana town at the age of 16, seeking out a greater fortune in New Orleans. Ten years later, their lives have diverged in drastic ways. Desiree, fleeing an abusive marriage, moves back to her hometown with her daughter. Meanwhile in California, Stella is married to a businessman and passing for white in a glamorous yet superficial society. The moment I picked up this book, I couldn’t put it down. Bennett writes in beautiful prose and captures the true and unique meaning of being Black in America. I recommend this book to fiction-lovers, and anyone looking for a good read for spring break.
Julia Blessing, Culture Associate Editor ‘24
All About Love by bell hooks
This book is, as the title says, all about love! It explores love in different forms in an attempt to understand and apply it with ourselves, in our relationships, and in our communities. I would strongly recommend it to everyone!
Michaela Brant, Editor-in-Chief ‘23
Black Reconstruction by WEB DuBois
The first is DuBois's history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the role of race in American politics. His chief argument (among many) is that Reconstruction was the world's first workers' government (or 'Dictatorship of Labor', in his words), and that it was the closest that the US came to abolishing white supremacy. The book is beautifully written in narrative style and excellently argued. It permanently changed my view of American and even modern world history. It's a mandatory read for all Americans, especially for self-professed leftists.
Albar Shahnoor, Culture Staff Writer ‘22
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is acclaimed writer Toni Morrison’s first published novel. It follows an 11 year old Black girl named Pecola Breedlove as she navigates unspeakable tragedy, hardship, and loss during childhood. A small Ohio town, whose inhabitants (including Pecola herself) internalize whiteness as the beauty standard, serves as a microcosm example of the deeply racist terrain of post-Depression America: a terrain that has detrimental physical and psychological effects on Pecola. I enjoyed this novel because, although incredibly painful to read, it forced me to understand a human experience I could never imagine through rich language, effective symbolism, and captivating storytelling. I recommend this book to everyone but especially English and Sociology majors and aspiring writers who could learn a great deal from Morrison’s ability to harness storytelling as a device to elicit evocative emotion about racial prejudice.
Kimberly Black, Creative Staff ‘24
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
A young Black woman who babysits a white child is accused of kidnapping her while they're out at the supermarket. The book dives into this incident and the series of events that take place after it, all while exploring the concept of "woke" racism. By picking apart the acts of racism committed by people who truly believe they are not racist, Reid's novel is recommended to anyone who may need a refresher on how deeply ingrained racism truly is in our society.
Meghan Keefe, Culture Section Head ‘24
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing tells the story of two Ghanaian half-sisters who are separated by the British slave trade. Every chapter introduces a new generation of each sister's descendants. Gyasi's years of historical research provide a foundation for the themes of hardship, loss, resilience, and connection that her characters display. This novel's unique form weaves together individual narratives in a way that captures readers' hearts and provides a new perspective on a complex history.
Addie Metzger, Opinions Staff Writer ‘24
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I enjoyed it because it reveals the struggles and challenges that African American face in the US. I would recommend it to children in elementary and middle schools.
Qingyang Zhou, Culture Staff Writer ‘23
The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
This book is a delightfully blunt and refreshingly genuine account of the success story of one of the most influential rappers of our generation. I've always loved Gucci Mane and his music, but this autobiography solidified him as one of the most authentic and driven personas in rap. His unadulterated narrative, paired with bouts of admirably raw self-awareness, makes this book an absolute necessity.
Avery Fitzgerald, Culture Associate Editor ‘25
If one of our recommendations catches your eye, visit one of the Black-owned bookstores we’ve listed below! You can find more information at their websites, and have any of their best-sellers shipped straight to your door.
A femme-focused bookstore that highlights Black and Indigenous sci-fi authors.
With a coffee shop storefront in Philadelphia, Uncle Bobbie’s sells books, audiobooks, and merch.
Harriett's Bookshop, named for historical heroine Harriett Tubman, celebrates women authors, women artists, and women activists.
This Black woman-owned bookstore has an online store as well as a bookstore/wine bar storefront in the Bronx.
Loyalty was founded by Hannah Oliver Depp, a Black and queer bookseller, who has spent her career working to diversify the book industry in order for it to better serve the powerful communities of color and queerness.
An intersectional feminist community bookstore and coffee shop.
Based in Washington D.C., MahoganyBooks aims to meet the needs of readers nationwide in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora.
A Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space, committed to raising literacy rates in the Chicago community.
An Independent Bookstore in Austin, TX that emphasizes the importance of community and supporting local businesses.