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January 1&15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Top 10 Black History Nonfiction
As was the case last year, the past 12 months saw a remarkable outpouring of quality nonfiction by and about African Americans. Our top 10 nonfiction titles were selected from books reviewed in Booklist between February 15, 2000, and February 1, 2001.
Dickerson, Debra J. An American Story. Pantheon, $24 (0-375-42069-X).
Dickerson tells of her disheartening discovery of the gaping holes in America’s well-touted meritocracy. It would take her more than 20 years to reconcile herself with memories of her father and the poor black St. Louis neighborhood in which she was born, but she uses her writing talent here to skewer black revolutionaries as well as the white establishment.
Gilbert, Charlene and Eli, Quinn. Homecoming: The Story of African-American Farmers. Beacon, $35 (0-8070-0962).
Gilbert, an independent filmmaker, began a personal documentary film of her family’s farming roots and ended by documenting the historical importance of land and farming for African Americans.
Kahn, Ashley. Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. Da Capo, $23 (0-306-80986-9).
In writing about the production of the classic jazz album Kind of Blue, Kahn necessarily writes about the making of one of the most influential jazz musicians of all times, the epitome of cool-Miles Davis. This is a great tribute and a fine book.
Lewis, David Levering. W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-63. Holt/John Macrae, $35 (0-8050-2534-0).
One of the most informative aspects of Lewis’ highly perceptive account of this, the second half of Du Bois’ life, is his discussion of the great leader’s reactions to and participation in the Harlem Renaissance.
Margolik, David. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Call for Civil Rights. Running Press, $16.95 (0-7624-0677-1).
Holiday first sang her signature song, “Strange Fruit,” in 1939 in the integrated Café Society nightclub in New York. Margolik tells the story of this protest song, which was characterized by another black singer as “a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness.”
Murray, Charles Shaar. Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century. St. Martin’s, $27.95 (0-312-26563-8).
Hooker became an overnight sensation in the 1980s after more than 40 years at his craft. Murray’s extensive biography goes all the way back to the beginning in a sprawling literary effort worthy of Hooker’s lengthy career, by which he celebrates Hooker and his music in a way that many of Hooker’s contemporaries never lived to enjoy.
Nesbitt, Peter T. and DuBois, Michelle. The Complete Jacob Lawrence. 2v. Univ. of Washington, $125 (0-295-97963-1).
This magnificent two-volume study of the dynamic and deeply humanitarian work of one of our greatest African American artists, illustrated with a wealth of jewel-like color reproductions, enables readers to fully appreciate the radiant hues, boldly faceted compositions, and grand scope of Lawrence’s virtuosic oeuvre for the first time.
Poitier, Sidney. The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. Harper San Francisco, $26 (0-06-251607-8).
One of the legendary American actors, Sidney Poitier has starred in more than 40 films and acted in many successful Broadway plays. Calling this autobiography, the author’s second, “spiritual” may be somewhat misleading. Religion is a minor part of the story. Instead, Poitier’s tale is an affirmation of the value of morality and personal integrity.
Slave Narratives. Library of America dist. by Viking. $40 (1-883011-76-0).
This stirring volume contains some of the most passionate, potent slave narratives ever to be published. Together these 10 narratives paint a vivid portrait of the cruelties of the institution of slavery, serving as an eloquent testament to the essential dignity and tenacity of the human spirit.
Walker, Rebecca. Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. Riverhead, $23.95 (1-57322-169-4).
When Alice Walker and Mel Leventhal married, their love was an illegal but idealistic leap of faith. A few years later, they divorced. Identity is an issue for every kid, but for their daughter, Rebecca, it was especially challenging. Happily, she learned to build her identity around her capacities rather than her bloodlines.
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