In 1976, the year in which Negro History Week was expanded to become Black History Month, then-U.S. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” February is not the only time we should celebrate these contributions, but taking stock annually gives us the opportunity to explore newly published works and promote talented Black authors and filmmakers.
Penn Libraries is here to aid you in learning more, through both our Featured Books and DVDs – selected by a collaboration among staff from Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center’s Access Services, the Otto E. Albrecht Music Library, and the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts — as well as our exhibits and events.
You can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.
Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.
- We are Bridges: A Memoir by Cassandra Lane
When Cassandra Lane finds herself pregnant at 35, the knowledge sends her on a poignant exploration of memory to prepare for her entry into motherhood. She moves between the 20th-century rural South and present-day Los Angeles, reimagining the intimate life of her great-grandparents Mary Magdalene Magee and Burt Bridges, and Burt's lynching at the hands of vengeful white men in his southern town.
We Are Bridges turns to creative nonfiction to reclaim a family history from violent erasure so that a mother can gift her child with an ancestral blueprint for their future. Haunting and poetic, this debut traces the strange fruit borne from the roots of personal loss in one Black family—and considers how to take back one’s American story.
- The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.
- Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem by April Ryan
From the beginning of the nation to today, Black women have transformed their pain into progress and have been at the frontlines of the nation’s political, social, and economic struggles. Combining profiles and in-depth interviews with influential movers and shakers, trailblazing White House correspondent April Ryan explores the challenges Black women endure, and how the lessons they’ve learned can help us shape our own stories. Ryan also chronicles her personal journey from working-class Baltimore to the elite echelons of journalism and speaks out about the hurdles she faced in becoming one of the most well-connected members of the Washington press corps—while raising two daughters as a single mother in the aftermath of a messy divorce. Black Women Will Save the World presents a vital kaleidoscopic look at women of different ages and from diverse backgrounds who devote their lives to making the world a better place—even if that means stepping out of their “place.”
- Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture by Emma Dabiri
This timely and resonant essay collection from Guardian contributor and prominent BBC race correspondent Emma Dabiri explores the ways in which Black hair has been appropriated and stigmatized throughout history, with ruminations on body politics, race, pop culture, and Dabiri’s own journey to loving her hair. Through the lens of hair texture, Dabiri leads us on a historical and cultural investigation of the global history of racism—and her own personal journey of self-love and finally, acceptance. Deeply researched and powerfully resonant, Twisted proves that far from being only hair, black hairstyling culture can be understood as an allegory for Black oppression and, ultimately, liberation.
- Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture by Hortense J. Spillers
As one of the most influential and inspiring Black critics of the past 20 years, Hortense Spillers is best known for her race-centered revision of psychoanalytic theory and for her subtle account of the relationships between race and gender. Spanning her work from the early 1980s, in which she pioneered a broadly poststructuralist approach to African-American literature, and extending through her turn to cultural studies in the 1990s, these essays display her passionate commitment to reading as a fundamentally political act-one pivotal to rewriting the humanist project. The collection showcases Spillers’s signature style: heady, eclectic, and astonishingly productive of new ideas.
- The Inheritance
This ensemble work – the feature-length debut of Ephraim Asili – is set almost entirely within a West Philadelphia house where a community of young, Black artists and activists form a collective. A scripted drama of characters attempting to work towards political consensus — based partly on Asili’s own experiences in a Black liberationist group — weaves with a documentary recollection of the Philadelphia liberation group MOVE, the victim of a notorious police bombing in 1985. With Black authors and radicals at its edges, The Inheritance ceaselessly finds commonalties between politics, humor, and philosophy.
- John Lewis: Good Trouble
John Lewis: Good Trouble offers intimate account of legendary U.S. Representative John Lewis’ life, legacy, and more than 60 years of extraordinary activism — from the bold teenager on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement to the legislative powerhouse he was throughout his career. After Lewis petitioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help integrate a segregated school in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, King sent “the boy from Troy” a round trip bus ticket to meet with him. From that meeting onward, Lewis became one of King’s closest allies. He never lost the spirit of the “boy from Troy” and called on his fellow Americans to get into “good trouble” until his passing on July 17, 2020.
- King Arthur and the Count
Director Juney Smith offers a fascinating look into the variety of productions that African-American performers, writers, and directors have created throughout theater history in this documentary film. Smith highlights the work of Black theater performers such as Arthur French, Count Stovall and Marie Thomas, as well as Black playwrights and producers.
- Nationtime – Gary
Nationtime-Gary documents the National Black Political Convention, which took place at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana, from March 10-12, 1972. Its organizers intended to forge a unity platform in advance of the Democratic and Republican conventions scheduled for August of that year. The city coped valiantly to accommodate 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 attendees – many more than anticipated. Despite lighting and audio challenges, William Greaves and his crew (including his son David Greaves) captured the excitement and ferment of the Convention, and created the only filmed record of this historic event.
- If Beale Street Could Talk
In this adaptation of the James Baldwin novel set in the 1970s, African-American teen sweethearts Fonny and Tish are ripped apart when Fonny is wrongly arrested for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman because of the machinations of a racist cop. While seeking justice for Fonny, a pregnant Tish relies on her Harlem community, including her sister, mother Sharon, and future mother-in-law.