Juneteenth marks the day when, 157 years ago on June 19, news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved African Americans in Texas. Today, it’s a federal holiday observing the end of slavery after the Civil War.
As part of this year’s celebration, Interfaith America colleagues put together a list of books by Black authors whose stories bring joy, educate, and inspire us all. Also, check out Alexis Vaughan’s article on Interfaith America Magazine about her family’s tradition of celebrating Emancipation.
Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation by Adrienne Maree Brown
Holding Change is about attending to coordination, to conflict, to being humans in right relationship with each other, not as a constant ongoing state, but rather as a magnificent, mysterious, ever-evolving dynamic in which we must involve ourselves and shape ourselves and each other. The majority of the book is sourced from Brown’s 20-plus years of facilitation and mediation work with movement groups.
The Souls of Womenfolk by Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh
Women responded on many levels—ethically, ritually, and communally—to Southern slavery. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Wells-Oghoghomeh shows how they remembered, reconfigured, and innovated beliefs and practices circulating between Africa and the Americas. In this way, she redresses the exclusion of enslaved women from the American religious narrative. Challenging conventional institutional histories, this book opens a rare window onto the spiritual strivings of one of the most remarkable and elusive groups in the American experience.
Related: Read our interview with Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
In unlikely places of worship and work, McGhee finds proof of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: the benefits we gain when people come together across race to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own. “The Sum of Us” is not only a brilliant analysis of how we arrived here but also a heartfelt message, delivered with startling empathy, from a Black woman to a multiracial America. It leaves us with a new vision for a future in which we finally realize that life can be more than a zero-sum game.
How We Love Matters by Albert Tate
How We Love Matters is a series of nine moving letters that educate, enlighten, and reimagine discipleship in a way that flips the church on its head. In these letters that include Dear Whiteness, Dear America, and Dear Church, Tate calls out racism in the world, the church, within himself and us. These letters present an anti-racist mission and vision for believers to follow that helps us to speak up at the family table and call out this evil so it will not persist in future generations.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
“Transcendent Kingdom” is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.
This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley
Writing memorably of her own childhood and coming to self, Arthur Riley boldly explores some of the most urgent questions of life and faith: How can spirituality not silence the body, but instead allow it to come alive? How do we honor, lament, and heal from the stories we inherit? How can we find peace in a world overtaken with dislocation, noise, and unrest? In this indelible work of contemplative storytelling, Arthur Riley invites us to descend into our own stories, examine our capacity to rest, wonder, joy, rage, and repair, and find that our humanity is not an enemy to faith but evidence of it.
Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Danté Stewart
In “Shoutin’ in the Fire,” Danté Stewart gives breathtaking language to his reckoning with the legacy of white supremacy—both the kind that hangs over our country and the kind that is internalized on a molecular level. Stewart uses his personal experiences as a vehicle to reclaim and reimagine spiritual virtues like rage, resilience, and remembrance—and explores how these virtues might function as a work of love against an unjust, unloving world.
Related: Read this interview with Danté Stewart by RNS
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is a bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author’s bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, “The Water Dancer” is the story of America’s oldest struggle–the struggle to tell the truth–from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers.
Sadiyah Bashir’s self-published book “Seven” explores the identity of life through the lens of a Black Muslim woman. Using personal experiences, Bashir paints a portrait of life within these intersections. Bashir skillfully reminds us that who we are despite our trauma is simply and beautifully enough.
A New York Times bestseller and enduring classic, “All About Love” is the acclaimed first volume in feminist icon bell hooks’ “Love Song to the Nation” trilogy. “All About Love” reveals what causes a polarized society, and how to heal the divisions that cause suffering. Here is the truth about love, and inspiration to help us instill caring, compassion, and strength in our homes, schools, and workplaces.
Related: Read this beautiful piece by our colleague, LaTanya Lane, on bell hooks.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
In this charged collection of 15 essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde’s philosophies resonate more than 20 years after they were first published.
The Color of Water by James McBride
Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty, his flirtations with drugs and violence, and his eventual self- realization and professional success. “The Color of Water” touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up, a haunting meditation on race and identity, and a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son.
“Begin Again” is one of the great books on James Baldwin and a powerful reckoning with America’s ongoing failure to confront the lies it tells itself about race. Just as in Baldwin’s “after times,” argues Eddie S. Glaude Jr., when white Americans met the civil rights movement’s call for truth and justice with blind rage and the murders of movement leaders, so in our moment were the Obama presidency and the birth of Black Lives Matter answered with the ascendance of Trump and the violent resurgence of white nationalism.
The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
“The Autograph Man,” published in 2002, is the second novel by Zadie Smith. It follows the progress of a Jewish-Chinese Londoner named Alex-Li Tandem, who buys and sells autographs for a living and is obsessed with celebrities. It is a deeply funny existential tour around the hollow trappings of modernity: celebrity, cinema, and the ugly triumph of symbol over experience.
Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, “White Teeth” revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.
“On Beauty” is a hilarious, scathing, and emotionally profound novel of human aspiration and failure, an unfailingly perceptive portrait of a struggling marriage, and an empathetic depiction of adolescent struggle. It is also an outsider’s witty look at American cultural life floundering under the weight of political and cultural divisions.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
“Parable of the Sower” is the Butlerian odyssey of one woman who is twice as feeling in a world that has become doubly dehumanized. The time is 2025. The place is California, where small walled communities must protect themselves from hordes of desperate scavengers and roaming bands of people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape, and murder. When one small community is overrun, Lauren Olamina, an 18-year-old Black woman with the hereditary train of “hyperempathy”—which causes her to feel others’ pain as her own—sets off on foot along the dangerous coastal highways, moving north into the unknown.
Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition.
All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones
“All Aunt Hagar’s Children” turns an unflinching eye to the men, women, and children caught between the old ways of the South and the temptations that await them further north, people who in Jones’ masterful hands emerge as fully human and morally complex, whether they are country folk used to getting up with the chickens or people with centuries of education behind them.
In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit by Yolanda Pierce
The church mothers who raised Yolanda Pierce, dean of Howard University School of Divinity, were busily focused on her survival. In a world hostile to Black women’s bodies and spirits, they had to be. Born on a former cotton plantation and having fled the terrors of the South, Pierce’s grandmother raised her in the faith inherited from those who were enslaved. Now, in the pages of In My Grandmother’s House, Pierce reckons with that tradition, building an everyday womanist theology rooted in liberating scriptures, experiences in the Black church, and truths from Black women’s lives.
Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom, edited by Cheryl A. Giles and Pamela Ayo Yetunde
What does it mean to be Black and Buddhist? In this powerful collection of writings, African American teachers from all the major Buddhist traditions tell their stories of how race and Buddhist practice have intersected in their lives. The resulting explorations display not only the promise of Buddhist teachings to empower those facing racial discrimination but also the way that Black Buddhist voices are enriching the Dharma for all practitioners.
Dear God: Honest Prayers to a God Who Listens by Bunmi Laditan
“Dear God” is a poignant collection of funny, often heartbreaking, and deeply insightful letters to God that bravely share the emotions we all feel as we grapple with this broken world and search for divine love.
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West
An unforgettable debut novel, “Saving Ruby King” is a powerful testament that history doesn’t determine the present and the bonds of friendship can forever shape the future.
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