Earlier this week, esteemed writer Hilton Als came to Ginny’s Supper Club to discuss a hand-picked list of books. These 10 books reflect different facets of the African-American experience and explore the tensions that are born out of culture, class, and race.
“Tar Baby” by Toni Morrison
“Tar Baby” tells of the tumultuous love story between Jadine Childs and Son, who are of fiercely opposing worlds yet are irresistibly drawn to one another. Jadine is the African-American niece of servants to the wealthy white Street family, who act as her patron, paying for her education at the Sorbonne and giving her the means to live as a fashion model in Paris. Son is an African-American man on the run. The lovers leave the secluded Caribbean island where they met and go to Manhattan, where their fundamental differences in background and thinking surface, fracturing their relationship.
“Brown Girl, Brownstones” by Paule Marshall
In “Brown Girl, Brownstones”, Selina Boyce is the daughter of poor Barbadian immigrants living in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Through the many trials she and her family face, Selina must discover her own place in the world.
“Lost in the City” by Edward P. Jones
“Lost in the City” is a collection of 14 short stories that celebrate the community in which they takes place. Jones describes the lives of a varied cast of characters living in traditionally African-American neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.
“A Street in Bronzeville” by Gwendolyn Brooks
“A Street in Bronzeville” is Gwendolyn Brooks’s first collection of poems, taking place in the historic neighborhood that is the center of African-American culture in Chicago. Brooks examines the streets with a poet’s eye and makes the ordinary lives of her neighbors extraordinary.
“Annie John” by Jamaica Kincaid
“Annie John” follows the title character as she grows up in Antigua, a Caribbean island colonized by England. In this coming-of-age story, Annie must reconcile the loss of her childhood and learn how to make her own way in the world.
“Lady Sings the Blues” by Billie Holiday
“Lady Sings the Blues” is the great Lady Day’s autobiography, written after a series of conversations with ghostwriter and friend William Dufty. Holiday does not skimp on the hardships she encountered, telling the harrowing tales of her life with a simple strength. “Lady Sings the Blues” is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the woman who defined a musical genre and a time in history.
“The Gulf” by Derek Walcott
“The Gulf” is a compilation of poems by West Indian poet Derek Walcott, and examines the separation of peoples and cultures.” The Gulf” is an attempt to reconcile the opposing forces of attachment and alienation that come with the territory of having a colonial heritage.
“Go Tell It On the Mountain” by James Baldwin
In “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, John Grimes is a newly turned 14-year-old living in Harlem in the 1930s. He desperately seeks the approval of his father, who runs a storefront church. The church helps foster spirituality, community, and ultimately deep-running guilt, which are the undercurrents in John’s struggles with his father, his religion, and his approach into adulthood.
“Drown,” by Junot Diaz
Down is a series of stories that jump between the barrios of the Dominican Republic and the United States. Diaz writes each story from the perspective of a male Dominican immigrant, revealing a world of hardship and the unending fight to remain resilient.
“Cane,” by Jean Tommer
Cane is an important modernist text that captures the lives of African-Americans in the South and North through a series of vignettes, and highlights the contrasts in life and culture between the two sections of the United States.