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A Black History Month Collection of Emerson Writers, Filmmakers

The Emerson community is a rich source of art that reveals how Black Americans have shaped the country, as well as the stories and experiences of the African diaspora. 

For Black History Month (and the rest of the year), we compiled a sampling of novels, essay and poem collections, journalism, YA/children’s books, films, and TV series produced by Emerson faculty and alumni.

Book descriptions are taken from author, publisher, or retail websites. Film/TV descriptions are from imdb.

Nonfiction:

Jabari Asim
Associate Professor, WLP

Elma Lewis Distinguished Fellow
Director, James Baldwin Writers Colony

Jabari Asim headshot
Associate Professor Jabari Asim

We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival (2018)

In this essay collection, Asim disrupts what Toni Morrison has exposed as the “Master Narrative” and replaces it with a story of Black survival and persistence through art and community in the face of centuries of racism.

What Obama Means…for Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future (2009)

A timely and sharp analysis of how the “Obama phenomenon” exhibits progress in American politics and society. 

The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why (2004)

The N Word reveals how the term has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the 400 years since it was first spoken on our shores. 

Not Guilty: Twelve Black Men Speak Out on Law, Justice, and Life (editor, 2001)

Prompted by the killing of Amadou Diallo and the acquittal of the four New York City police officers who mistook him for an armed criminal, this collection of essays by prominent male writers offers 12 unique and startling perspectives on what it’s like for a Black man living in an inherently racist society.

Roger House
Associate Professor, Journalism

Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy (2010)

Chicago blues artist William “Big Bill” Broonzy influenced an array of postwar musicians, including Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, and J. B. Lenoir. In Blue Smoke, House tells the extraordinary story of “Big Bill,” a working-class bluesman whose circumstances offer a window into the dramatic social transformations faced by African Americans during the first half of the 20th century.

Kim McLarin
Associate Profssor, WLP
Graduate Program Director

James Baldwin’s Another Country: Bookmarked (2021)

In this critical and personal examination, we come to better understand a pioneering novel and writer, as well as the role race, class, and gender have played in McLarin’s life, and by extension, contemporary American society.

Womanish book jacket with cameos of women

Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life (2019)

Womanish is an essay collection that explores what it means to be a Black woman in today’s turbulent times. Writing with candor, wit, and vulnerability, McLarin unveils herself at the crossroads of being Black, female, middle-aged, and, ultimately, American.

Divorce Dog: Men, Motherhood, and Midlife (2012)

In this collection of connected, personal essays, McLarin takes on the pain of divorce, the evolving meaning of race, the embarrassment of mid-life dating, and the maddening possibility of love with insight, humor, and grace.

Growing Up X: A Memoir by the Daughter of Malcolm X (written with Ilyasah Shabazz) (2002)

Ilyasah Shabazz carried on the legacy of a renowned father and indomitable mother while navigating childhood and, along the way, learning to do the hustle. …Her story is, above all else, a tribute to a mother of almost unimaginable forbearance, a woman who, “from that day at the Audubon when she heard the shots and threw her body on [ours, never] stopped shielding her children.”

LaTanya McQueen, MFA ’11
Assistant Professor, Coe College

And It Begins Like This (2018)

These essays blend historical and genealogical research, folklore, Biblical passages, literary theory and criticism, and personal memory to examine the legacy of slavery and its relationship to Black female identity in contemporary America.

Felicia Pride, MA ‘05

To Create: Black Writers, Filmmakers, Storytellers, Artists and Media Makers Riff on Art, Careers, Life, and the Beautiful Mess in Between (2012)

To Create is a collection of illuminating interviews with an eclectic set of Black artists, including Harry Belafonte, Method Man, Nikki Giovanni, Edwidge Danticat, Edward P. Jones, Booker T. Mattison, and more.

The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs (2007)

Growing up with hip-hop, Pride has come to realize the way it shaped how she thinks, writes, and reacts, making her the person she is today. By incorporating her own experiences and reflections with the rapper’s message, she focuses on the positive, motivational influence hip-hop has on its audience.

jerald walker head shot smiling
Professor Jerald Walker

Jerald Walker
Professor, WLP

How to Make a Slave and Other Essays (2020)

Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor, James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique, in this collection of essays shortlisted for a National Book Award.

The World in Flames: A Black Boyhood in a White Supremacist Doomsday Cult (2017)

A memoir of growing up with blind, African-American parents in a segregated cult preaching the imminent end of the world.

Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption (2010)

Masterfully told, marked by irony and humor as well as outrage and a barely contained sadness, Jerald Walker’s Street Shadows is the story of a young man’s descent into the “thug life” and the wake-up call that led to his finding himself again.

Fiction:

Jabari Asim

Only the Strong: An American Novel (2015)

Against a 1970s backdrop of rapid social and political change, Only the Strong portrays the challenges and rewards of love in a quintessential American community where heartbreak and violence are seldom far away.

A Taste of Honey (2010)

Through a series of fictional episodes set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent years in modern history, Asim brings into pin-sharp focus how the tumultuous events of ’68 affected real people’s lives and shaped the country we live in today. 

Kim McLarin headshot
Associate Professor Kim McLarin

Kim McLarin

Jump at the Sun: A Novel (2006)

A novel about an isolating suburban life and the continuing legacy of slavery, about generational change and the price of living the dream for which our parents fought.

Meeting of the Waters (2001)

Probing divided allegiances, split loyalties, and the pain of confronting one’s own prejudice, this poignant novel presents an impassioned and bittersweet look at interracial love in America today.

Taming It Down (1998)

Hope Robinson, a 28-year-old reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper, finds her life spinning out of control. Conflict with editors who insist she write the white version of African American life is escalating. She’s torn between her Black boyfriend and a white lover. Her anger turns to rage. Finally, overwhelmed by stress, she commits a desperate act that will show her that hatred is the most self-destructive of emotions.

Novuyo Tshuma head shot
Assistant Professor Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Assistant Professor, WLP

House of Stone (2019)

Amid the turmoil of modern Zimbabwe, Abednego and Agnes Mlambo’s teenage son has gone missing. Zamani, their enigmatic lodger, seems to be their only hope for finding him. As he weaves himself closer into the fabric of the grieving community, it’s almost like Zamani is a part of the family… Written with dark humor, wit, and seduction, House of Stone is a sweeping epic that spans the fall of Rhodesia through Zimbabwe’s turbulent beginnings, exploring the persistence of the oppressed in a young nation seeking an identity.

Poetry:

Book jacket, yellow with text

Jabari Asim

Stop and Frisk: American Poems (2020)

Part rap sheet, part concept album, Asim lays down tracks that add conviction to our collective broken record: What could be more American than pretending truths were self-evident when they seldom were?

Brionne Janae, MFA ’15

After Jubilee (2017)

“I find myself locating in these poems the ‘vital things’ that make loss bearable. Janae offers one profoundly important truth: This history is as much in front of us as it is behind us; fortunately for our survival, we have not slipped past redemption.” – Amber Flora Thomas

Danielle Legros Georges ‘86
Former Boston Poet Laureate

Book jacket, text superimposed over map

Letters from Congo: A Chapbook (2017)

Letters from Congo invites readers to journey every air mile traveled by a family pushing against the uncertainty of life in exile. In these 13 intimate and epistolary poems, an address, or a physical location where someone can be reached, swiftly morphs into a statement about the delicate nature of voicing one’s political opinions under Haiti’s Duvalier regime.

City of Notions (editor, 2017)

The poems speak to Boston’s many diversities, of people and places, styles and perspectives. They make you feel life in Boston, in all the joys and pains of our unique landscapes, culture, and history. They show us a Boston we recognize, but could never describe in any other way but through art.

The Dear Remote Nearness of You (2016)

“These poems form the contiguous dance of language choosing its own body at will, traveling across light and the dimensions of unarticulated history.” – Afaa Michael Weaver

Maroon (2001)

Legros Georges’ poetry is electric with an overpowering zest for life and vitality of language, as she examines the traumatic experiences that brought her parents to America and searches for a more complete understanding of self.

book jacket, drawing of robot hovering in space

Porsha Olayiwola, MFA candidate
Boston Poet Laureate

I Shimmer Sometimes, Too (2019)

“In language that is both pungent and poignant, Porsha Olayiwola plumbs a diaspora of resilience, rich in ringshouts and inner-city blues chanted to the sky. I Shimmer Sometimes, Too is luminous indeed.” – Jabari Asim

Maya Phillips ‘12
Art critic, The New York Times

Erou (2019)

“These spare poems quiver with grief, but they are no mere elegies. No, they are exorcisms for the father’s infidelities and outbursts, they are conjurings of his ghost as it wanders the subways and bears witness to his own autopsy.” – Nickole Brown

Donald Vincent, MFA ‘13

Convenient Amnesia (2020)

An incandescent debut collection, brilliantly illuminating the legacy and lived experience of racism in America.

Children’s/Young Adult:

Jabari Asim:

Mighty Justice: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree (adapted from Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights by Katie McCabe) (2020)

Raised in North Carolina at the height of Jim Crow, Dovey Johnson Roundtree felt the sting of inequality at an early age and made a point to speak up for justice. One of the first Black women to break the racial and gender barriers in the U.S. Army, a fierce attorney, and one of the first woman ministers in the AME church, Roundtree won a landmark bus desegregation case in 1955 that eventually helped dismantle Jim Crow laws across the South.

book jacket, featuring drawing of Black historical figures

A Child’s Introduction to African American History (2018)

Asim goes beyond what’s taught in the classroom to reveal a fact-filled history of African American history through politics, activism, sports, entertainment, music, and much more.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis (2016)

Asim and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis give readers a fascinating glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis.

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington (2012)

The young slave who once waited outside of the schoolhouse would one day become a legendary educator of freedmen.

The Road to Freedom: A Story of the Reconstruction (2004)

Ten-year-old Ezra Taplin and his father, Silas, deal with their newfound liberty while finding a way to support themselves in 1865 after the Union soldiers arrive to set the slaves free. 

Felicia Pride, MA ‘05

Patterson Heights (2009)

Avery Washington has spent his entire life in Patterson Heights, Baltimore. It’s a good place to grow up – it has heart and soul, as well as a few street hustlers, and plenty of solid families just like his. Then one day, his older brother Rashid ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Avery’s life changes forever.

Film/TV:

cast dressed in white against white background

Felicia Pride, MA ‘05

Queen Sugar: Pride is a writer and story editor for this OWN series, created by Ava DuVernay, about three siblings who move to Louisiana to claim an inheritance – an 800-acre sugarcane farm – from their recently departed father.

Really Love (2020): Pride co-wrote and executive produced this feature film. Set in a gentrifying Washington D.C., a rising Black painter (Kofi Siriboe) tries to break into a competitive art world while balancing a whirlwind romance he never expected.

Tender (2020): After an unexpected one-night stand, two women at very different stages of their lives share an even more intimate morning after. Pride wrote, directed, and produced this comedy short.

Marcia Smith ‘80

As founder of documentary film production company Firelight Media, and as a writer for PBS documentary series American Experience, Smith has a long portfolio of films that speak to the Black experience in our country:

Boss: The Black Experience in Business (2019) – Examines more than 150 years of African American men and women who have embodied the qualities that are the heart of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (2017) – Examines the impact Black colleges and universities have had on American history, culture, and national identity.

Tell Them We Are Rising poster, with historic images of Black graduates

Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama (TV documentary, 2017) – Exploring the historic election of America’s first African American president and his two terms in office.

Freedom Riders (TV series, 2017) – The story of the Civil Rights Movement interstate busing protest campaign.

Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise (TV documentary, 2004) – On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal,” ending legal segregation in American education. Fifty years later, how close is America to fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education?

The Murder of Emmet Till (American Experience, 2003) – A documentary examining the 1955 murder of a 14-year-old boy from Chicago while visiting relatives in Mississippi, and the broad impact of his death, his funeral, and the subsequent trial and acquittal of his white killers.

Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (American Experience, 2001) – Life story of the Black nationalist and leader of the Pan-Africanism movement.

Robert Patton Spruill
Director-in-Residence, VMA (retired)

Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome (2007) – Public Enemy’s 20-year career has had a monumental impact on the music world. This film chronicles their legacy and history, while revealing what icons of the music world say about their profound influence.

Claire Andrade Watkins
Professor, VMA

Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? (2006) – The untold tragedy and scandal of what happened to a vibrant community of immigrants from the Cape Verde Islands in the Fox Point section of Providence, Rhode Island, who were forcibly displaced by urban renewal.

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