Celebrating Black History Month with our favorite Black authors

Collage of books

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to highlight Black authors whose stories span both borders and generations, illuminating a wide variety of experiences. Read below to find out our team’s favorite Black voices and the books that have inspired them.

Krista, founder and executive director
Krista chose Memphian Ashley Foxx Davis. Ashley and her sister, April, founded Kifani Press, a book company specializing in creating books, resources and professional development for a diverse group of kids and classrooms. Ashley and April capture the culture, especially here in Memphis, in a unique way so Black children can see themselves represented – while children from different backgrounds gain valuable insight, knowledge and understanding. Krista’s favorite book from Kifani Press is a three-part series that Ashley wrote and April illustrated specifically for ALLMemphis, intended to help children learn how to be advocates for what they believe in and become change-makers at any age.

Howard, director of operations
As a lover of history, Solomon Northup’s memoir, “12 Years A Slave,” captured Howard’s attention early on and remains a compelling read he often revisits. Recounting Solomon’s life story as a free Black man from the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South, this piece was a seminal work that educated Americans about slavery in the South and played an important role in the growth of antislavery sentiments.

Kristi, director of curriculum and instruction, and Ravynn, program specialist
Next up is author Zora Neale Hurston, a favorite of both Kristi and Ravynn. Zora’s engaging storytelling style and firsthand accounts of how Black women were treated in America made her an influential writer of the 20th century. In her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Nora explores the journey of a woman named Janie as she navigates life, love and gender roles.

Lulu, data and technology specialist
Yaa Gyasi is a longtime favorite author of Lulu’s. Yaa’s novels are inspired by her life – having been born in Ghana and raised in America. Her work speaks to Lulu when she describes race, history and love in a moving way. Reading and sharing underrepresented stories is very important to Lulu, and Yaa helps her feel seen. Lulu’s favorite book by Yaa is her debut book, “Homegoing”, a historical novel that traces the descendants of two half-sisters born into different villages in Ghana and follows their lives down different paths.

Alexis and Elizabeth, program specialists
Writing can be powerful and inspiring. Jacqueline Woodson’s books and poems are just that, which is why she’s a favorite of Alexis and Elizabeth. Both former teachers, Alexis and Elizabeth used her children’s books to allow students to feel seen, to feel heard and to know their experiences are valid. One of Jacqueline’s books used was “The Day You Begin.” It’s a poignant story about realizing that, even though you may be different, once you find the courage to connect with others, a world of possibilities can open.

Jamar, program specialist
Autobiographies have a way of connecting you deeply with the writer. Maya Angelou is no exception for Jamar. Maya’s books make Jamar feel connected to Black culture, reading about important times before he was born. Her coming-of-age story, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is a book Jamar often revisits, as it illustrates how the strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma in the South.

Kelly, program specialist
Kelly loves Oge Mora and how her books bring people together. Oge’s “Thank You, Omu!” is one of Kelly’s favorite reads. It tells the story of a woman who makes a delicious stew that attracts members of her community, and she feeds them all. Children who read this book are exposed to Black and Nigerian cultural traditions that are rich in food and friendship – while illustrating messages of kindness, gratitude and community.

The value of reading books by diverse authors from different backgrounds is infinite. It’s important for educators to not only have that knowledge for themselves but also regularly use books in their teachings that depict characters similar to their students. When students are able to make connections to their own lives, it greatly increases reading comprehension. To learn more about our three decodable reads, visit our website. Or, they can be purchased locally at Novel Memphis, located in the Laurelwood Shopping Center.