Recently, Barnes and Noble announced new editions of beloved classics but with an unpleasant surprise. All the covers had BIPOC on them. Some of these books feature content incredibly offensive to the very groups they had placed on the covers. There’s L. Frank Baum, whom Brody at Et Tu Brody? pointed out advocated for the murder of Natives. The Secret Garden, which includes a white girl throwing a racist hissy fit. All the characters are implied to be white. The texts make it clear that they are. There’s no supposed ambiguity here. Many of these books could seriously impact kids or anyone new to these books. How would you feel if you are from one these groups and you read the book only to discover not a person in those books share the cultural similiarities as the people shown on the cover? Barnes andd Noble simplified diversity into a trend instead of a complex and frequently ignored issue built into the very fabric of publishing. Instead of promoting ownvoices new releases or giving new covers to oft ignored classics by BIPOC they applied one of America’s most disgusting traditions: blackface. What else would you call a cover with brown and black people but the content only includes white people?
Just think about this concept for a second. You think putting brown and black faces to authors and characters of a different cultural and racial background is going to make people more accepting? Imagine if you put that same concept on the classics I’ve listed here. It illuminates how racist this is doesn’t it? It’s not like publishers actually used to put white people on books with black characters or anything because they thought it would sell better with a white girl on the cover. Oops, no that also happened.
If Barnes and Noble really wants to listen? If people really want to read more classic books how about some by black authors. So I put together a list. There are already tons of lists on twitter featuring recent ownvoices. But since the intent of B&N was to feature classics I wanted to build off that idea. They have the idea that black history month is about all POC but I adapted this to center black voices, some from different african disaporas. That’s who this should be about.
It’s Black History Month, engage friends:
Kindred by Octavia Butler: The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…
Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston: The first great collection of black America’s folk world. In the 1930’s, Zora Neale Hurston returned to her “native village” of Eatonville, Florida to record the oral histories, sermons and songs, dating back to the time of slavery, which she remembered hearing as a child. In her quest, she found herself and her history throughout these highly metaphorical folk-tales, “big old lies,” and the lyrical language of song. With this collection, Zora Neale Hurston has come to reveal’and preserve’a beautiful and important part of American culture.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat: Begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks: September 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of Maud Martha, the only novel published by esteemed poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Initially entitled “American Family Brown” the work would eventually come to symbolize some of Brooks’ most provocative writing. In a novel that captures the essence of Black life, Brooks recognizes the beauty and strength that lies within each of us.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois: This landmark book is a founding work in the literature of black protest. W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) played a key role in developing the strategy and program that dominated early 20th-century black protest in America. In this collection of essays, first published together in 1903, he eloquently affirms that it is beneath the dignity of a human being to beg for those rights that belong inherently to all mankind. He also charges that the strategy of accommodation to white supremacy advanced by Booker T. Washington, then the most influential black leader in America, would only serve to perpetuate black oppression.
Publication of The Souls of Black Folk was a dramatic event that helped to polarize black leaders into two groups: the more conservative followers of Washington and the more radical supporters of aggressive protest. Its influence cannot be overstated. It is essential reading for everyone interested in African-American history and the struggle for civil rights in America.
The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Chesnutt: A landmark in the history of African-American fiction, this gripping 1901 novel was among the first literary challenges to racial stereotypes. Its tragic history of two families unfolds against the backdrop of the post-Reconstruction South and climaxes with a race riot based on an actual 1898 incident. The author relied upon eyewitness accounts of the riot to create an authentic setting and mood, and his sensitive artistry transcends a simple re-telling of the facts with a dramatic rendering of the conflict between racism and social justice.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
Things Fall Apart by Chinue Achebe: Tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
The Street by Ann Petry: Tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.