Camille Dungy's Necessary New Books by Black Writers

Posted by Cybil on February 5, 2018
Black History Month coverage is sponsored by One World Books.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History, which is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade. She also edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Here Dungy recommends "necessary new books by young(ish) black writers."



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When I think of the bookshelves of my youth, it seems they were filled with classics from times long past. Hardbound books with yellowed pages. Paperbacks with the covers creased or torn. But when they first appeared on those shelves, the books must have been bold new revelations, written by my parents’ and grandparents’ peers.

Gwendolyn Brooks, whose A Street in Bronzeville I remember borrowing from my grandparents’ house, was only a year older than my grandmother and lived in the same city at the same time. I remember how excited my mother was to buy her copy of Alice Walker’s A Color Purple. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that my mother and Alice Walker are nearly the same age, but when Octavia Butler’s prescient Parable of the Sower was published, I recognized immediately that, just like me, the book’s main character was 19. All the timelessly necessary literature must, at one time, have been new, written by vibrant young(ish) writers with their pulse on the needs of their times.

Here are some necessary new books by young(ish) black writers. I trust my daughter will one day discover these on my shelves and recognize their wonder. I trust she will love them at that future date as much as I love them right now.

Looking for your next novel? Dive into the heart-wrenchingly relevant An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. A tale of what might become of black love and black excellence in these times of mass incarceration, her fourth novel is one of the best I’ve read in years. And don’t miss What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, a debut rich in its explorations of migration, identity, loss, and love.

Are short stories your thing? Consider Desiree Cooper’s collection of taut flash fiction, Know the Mother. A journalist by training, Cooper efficiently delivers all that’s needed to move a reader. Or read Rion Amilcar Scott’s Insurrections: Stories. I stayed up late into the night devouring these richly drawn stories about a fictional but brightly rendered town.

Poetry was my first passion and remains my dear, great love, so it will be impossible for me to name all the recent books by young(ish) black writers that recently moved me.

Here are three: Eve L. Ewing’s Electric Arches made me burn my dinner because just after I put on a pot, I picked up her book and couldn’t put it down. In Derrick Austin’s Trouble the Water, every poem is songful, devotional, and joyful. He’s got a stellar sestina, where every line ends in the word “black,” and a really good villanelle, too. In the same way he fluently represents received forms, he speaks with urgency to the here and now. It’s this sort of ability to swivel between our deep history and a bright vision of our future that makes me include Simulacra, the debut collection by Yale Younger Prize-winning poet Airea D. Matthews on this list.

Though it’s hard to narrow down my choices in nonfiction, I can tell you that I put down Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit and instantly wanted to pick it up again. The intelligence and expansiveness of this book of essays astounded me. Reading J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature felt like entering a conversation with an old friend, and I was both hungry and satiated reading Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.

Let me not end this without mentioning a book that puts into focus so much of what is on my mind these days. With When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors has published an indispensable declaration for our times.

You should read these books. You’ll be grateful you did.


Be sure to add Camille T. Dungy's Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History to your Want to Read shelf.


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Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Rainey (last edited Feb 05, 2018 09:55AM) (new)

Rainey Delving behind Canada's veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.

Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present


message 2: by Rainey (new)

Rainey From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America


message 3: by Rainey (new)

Rainey You’re British. Your parents are British. You were raised in Britain. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.

So why do people keep asking you where you are from?

Brit(ish) is about a search for identity. It is about the everyday racism that plagues British society. It is about our awkward, troubled relationship with our history. It is about why liberal attempts to be ‘colour-blind’ have caused more problems than they have solved. It is about why we continue to avoid talking about race.

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging


message 4: by Angela (new)

Angela I went to my library to borrow the books on this list that looked most interesting to me as a relatively naive white woman and was disgusted that not a single one of them was owned by my library.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that people in Colorado Springs, Colorado aren't requesting these books. This county voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

I can't recommend the library buy any more books for 23 days, but I will start with one of these.


message 5: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Angela wrote: "I went to my library to borrow the books on this list that looked most interesting to me as a relatively naive white woman and was disgusted that not a single one of them was owned by my library.

..."

Sorry to hear that, that's my fear but the good thing about the libraries here is if my branch doesn't have it, I can have it sent to my branch from any library in the state, maybe you guys have something like that?


message 6: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Baker by any chance, is Camille dungy, the wife of tony dungy, the former head coach of the Indianapolis colts? i live in greenwood, Indiana, only about 20 to 30 minutes directly south of Indianapolis.


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