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June 24, 2020

Reading List for Better Understanding the Black Experience

No one can fully understand an individual’s or community’s experience unless they’ve lived it themselves. However, reading can help promote better understanding and provide perspective. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research division of the New York Public Library, offers a reading list of 95 titles that foster a better understanding of the Black experience.

The Schomburg Center is located in Harlem. It is a leading cultural institution committed to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. The Schomburg Center provides programming and collections that help shed light on and share the richness of Black history, arts, and culture in the United States and globally.

The Schomburg Center explains more about its list: “The 95 titles on the list represent books we and the public turn to regularly as activists, students, archivists, and curators, with a particular focus on books by Black authors and those whose papers we steward.” Find the full reading list here.

There are many places one could begin. Below is where we’re starting:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

The Bluest Eye: A Novel
by Toni Morrison

by August Wilson

The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
by Angela Y. Davis

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

My Song: A Memoir
by Harry Belafonte

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
by Toni Morrison

A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry

Sister Outsider
by Audre Lorde

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson

The Ways of White Folks
by Langston Hughes

You can easily find your own way to approach this important list of work. Writings can be searched by category:

  • Biography and Memoir
  • Essays
  • Fiction
  • Graphic Novels
  • History (Nonfiction)
  • Nonfiction
  • Poetry
  • Science Fiction
  • Short Stories

Most of the books are available digitally for free via the New York Public Library’s SimpleE (available on the App Store or Google Play). Or you can find them at the Schomburg Shop.

If you’d like to support The Schomburg Center and its invaluable contributions, you can donate here.

The Schomburg Center describes this collection of works best: “These books speak to our time and are destined to be classics, addressing liberty across history, fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.”