2021 Reading List
I Came As A Shadow: An Autobiography by John Thompson
John Thompson was never just a basketball coach and I Came As A Shadow is categorically not just a basketball autobiography.
After three decades at the center of race and sports in America, the first Black head coach to win an NCAA championship makes the private public at last. Chockful of stories and moving beyond mere stats (and what stats! three Final Fours, four times national coach of the year, seven Big East championships, 97 percent graduation rate), Thompson’s book drives us through his childhood under Jim Crow segregation to our current moment of racial reckoning. We experience riding shotgun with Celtics icon Red Auerbach, and coaching NBA Hall of Famers like Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson. How did he inspire the phrase “Hoya Paranoia”? You’ll see. And thawing his historically glacial stare, Thompson brings us into his negotiation with a DC drug kingpin in his players’ orbit in the 1980s, as well as behind the scenes of his years on the Nike board.
Thompson’s mother was a teacher who couldn’t teach because she was Black. His father could not read or write, so the only way he could identify different cements at the factory where he worked was to taste them. Their son grew up to be a man with his own life-sized statue in a building that bears his family’s name on a campus once kept afloat by the selling of 272 enslaved people. This is a great American story, and John Thompson’s experience sheds light on many of the issues roiling our nation. In these pages–a last gift from “Coach”–he proves himself to be the elder statesman whose final words college basketball and the country need to hear.
I Came As A Shadow is not a swan song, but a bullhorn blast from one of America’s most prominent sons. Huddle up.
Discussion Date: May 7, 2021
Luster by Raven Leilani
A FAVORITE BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, Barack Obama
No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we’re ready to take it?
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties —sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage —with rules.
As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home–though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life–her hunger, her anger–in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
Discussion Date: June 4, 2021
Nothing Personal: An Essay by James Baldwin
James Baldwin’s critique of American society at the height of the civil rights movement brings his prescient thoughts on social isolation, race, and police brutality to a new generation of readers.
Available for the first time in a stand-alone edition, Nothing Personal is Baldwin’s deep probe into the American condition. Considering the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 – which were met with tear gas and rubber bullets the same year white supremacists entered the US Capitol with little resistance, openly toting flags of the Confederacy – Baldwin’s documentation of his own troubled times cuts to the core of where we find ourselves today.
Baldwin’s thoughts move through an interconnected range of questions, from America’s fixation on eternal youth, to its refusal to recognize the past, its addiction to consumerism, and the lovelessness that fuels it in its cities and popular culture. He recounts his own encounter with police in a scene disturbingly similar to those we see today documented with ever increasing immediacy. This edition also includes a new foreword from interdisciplinary scholar Imani Perry and an afterword from noted Baldwin scholar Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Both explore and situate the essay within the broader context of Baldwin’s work, the Movement for Black Lives, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the presidency of Donald Trump.
Nothing Personal is both a eulogy and a declaration of will. In bringing this work into the twenty-first century, readers new and old will take away fundamental and recurring truths about life in the US. It is both a call to action, and an appeal to love and to life.
Discussion Date: July 2, 2021
Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South by Regina Bradley
This vibrant book pulses with the beats of a new American South, probing the ways music, literature, and film have remixed southern identities for a post-civil rights generation. For scholar and critic Regina N. Bradley, Outkast’s work is the touchstone, a blend of funk, gospel, and hip-hop developed in conjunction with the work of other culture creators–including T.I., Kiese Laymon, and Jesmyn Ward. This work, Bradley argues, helps define new cultural possibilities for black southerners who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s and have used hip-hop culture to buffer themselves from the historical narratives and expectations of the civil rights era. Andre 3000, Big Boi, and a wider community of creators emerge as founding theoreticians of the hip-hop South, framing a larger question of how the region fits into not only hip-hop culture but also contemporary American society as a whole.
Chronicling Stankonia reflects the ways that culture, race, and southernness intersect in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although part of southern hip-hop culture remains attached to the past, Bradley demonstrates how younger southerners use the music to embrace the possibility of multiple Souths, multiple narratives, and multiple points of entry to contemporary southern black identity.
Discussion Date: August 6, 2021
Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory’s million-copy-plus bestselling memoir–now in trade paperback for the first time.
“Powerful and ugly and beautiful…a moving story of a man who deeply wants a world without malice and hate and is doing something about it.”–The New York Times
Fifty-five years ago, in 1964, an incredibly honest and revealing memoir by one of the America’s best-loved comedians and activists, Dick Gregory, was published. With a shocking title and breathtaking writing, Dick Gregory defined a genre and changed the way race was discussed in America.
Telling stories that range from his hardscrabble childhood in St. Louis to his pioneering early days as a comedian to his indefatigable activism alongside Medgar Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gregory’s memoir riveted readers in the sixties. In the years and decades to come, the stories and lessons became more relevant than ever, and the book attained the status of a classic. The book has sold over a million copies and become core text about race relations and civil rights, continuing to inspire readers everywhere with Dick Gregory’s incredible story about triumphing over racism and poverty to become an American legend.
Discussion Date: September 3, 2021
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.
There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other.
With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.
Discussion Date: October 1, 2021
Shallow Waters by Anita Kopacz
In this stirring and lyrical debut novel–perfect for fans of The Water Dancer and the Legacy of Orïsha series–the Yoruba deity of the sea, Yemaya, is brought to vivid life as she discovers the power of Black resilience, love, and feminine strength in antebellum America.
Shallow Waters imagines Yemaya, an Orïsha–a deity in the religion of Africa’s Yoruba people–cast into mid-1800s America. We meet Yemaya as a young woman, still in the care of her mother and not yet fully aware of the spectacular power she possesses to protect herself and those she holds dear.
The journey laid out in Shallow Waters sees Yemaya confront the greatest evils of this era; transcend time and place in search of Obatala, a man who sacrifices his own freedom for the chance at hers; and grow into the powerful woman she was destined to become. We travel alongside Yemaya from her native Africa and on to the “New World,” with vivid pictures of life for those left on the outskirts of power in the nascent Americas.
Yemaya realizes the fighter within, travels the Underground Railroad in search of the mysterious stranger Obatala, and crosses paths with icons of our history on the road to freedom. Shallow Waters is a nourishing work of ritual storytelling from promising debut author Anita Kopacz.
Discussion Date: November 5, 2021
The Mirror Shattered Midnight ( Mirror #2 ) by Dhonielle Clayton
The Mirror: Shattered Midnight is the second novel in the innovative four-book fairy-tale series written by Julie C. Dao, Dhonielle Clayton, J.C. Cervantes, and L. L. McKinney, following one family over several generations, and the curse that plagues it.
Zora Broussard has arrived in New Orleans with not much more than a bag of clothes, a beautiful voice, and a pair of enchanted red shoes. Running from a tragic accident caused by her magic, Zora wants nothing more than to blend in, as well as to avoid her overbearing aunt and mean-spirited cousins. Music becomes Zora’s only means of escape, yet she wonders if she should give it all up to remove the powers that make her a target, especially as a Black woman in the South.
But when Zora gets the chance to perform in a prominent jazz club, she meets a sweet white pianist named Phillip with magic of his own, including a strange mirror that foretells their future together. Falling into a forbidden love, Zora and Phillip must keep their relationship a secret. And soon the two discover the complicated connection between their respective families, a connection that could lead to catastrophe for them both. In the era of segregation and speakeasies, Zora must change her destiny and fight for the one she loves . . . or risk losing everything.
Discussion Date: December 3, 2021
The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson
Most Anticipated Book of 2021
A serial killer and his copycat are locked in a violent game of cat and mouse. Can DI Anjelica Henley stop them before it’s too late?
On the day she returns to active duty with the Serial Crimes Unit, Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley is called to a crime scene. Dismembered body parts from two victims have been found by the river.
The modus operandi bears a striking resemblance to Peter Olivier, the notorious Jigsaw Killer, who has spent the past two years behind bars. When he learns that someone is co-opting his grisly signature–the arrangement of victims’ limbs in puzzle-piece shapes–he decides to take matters into his own hands.
As the body count rises, DI Anjelica Henley is faced with an unspeakable new threat. Can she apprehend the copycat killer before Olivier finds a way to get to him first? Or will she herself become the next victim?
Drawing on her experience as a criminal attorney, debut novelist Nadine Matheson delivers the page-turning crime novel of the year. Taut, vivid and addictively sinister, The Jigsaw Man will leave you breathless until the very last page.
Discussion Date: January 7, 2022