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Revisiting a Banner Year for Black Writers

The 10 Best (and 5 Worst) Black Books of 2006

By Kam Williams

 

2006 turned out to be an explosive, coming-of-age year for African-American writers of non-fiction. Proof for me was that there were so many phenomenal texts to choose from when compiling this list that I found it quite a challenge to settle on the final 10. What’s probably most interesting about the authors who did win is that half of them are relative unknowns, either self-published or associated with modest-sized book companies.

Displaying a variety of unique voices and covering a wide spectrum of subject-matter, the only thing that these gifted craftsmen have in common is an unbridled passion and a soul still intact. For they are able to express themselves on paper in a recognizably black, and larger-than-life fashion, doing with words what Aretha can do with her voice, and what Coltrane could do with his horn.

Since nothing I say in this limited space could possibly do justice to these welcome additions to the field of black literature, I strongly suggest that you consider reading any whose descriptions pique your curiosity.

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10 Best Black Books of 2006

 

1. Diary of a Lost Girl: The Autobiography of Kola Boof  by Kola Boof

This alternately heartbreaking and brutally-honest autobiography is not only my top pick of 2006, but just might be the most brilliant deconstruction of the plight of present-day African-Americans yet written. Born in The Sudan in March of 1972, she was orphaned at the age of seven after her parents were murdered for speaking out against the government’s involvement in the revival of the slave trade. After being abandoned by her grandmother for being too dark-skinned, Kola eventually found her way to the United States where she was adopted by a kindly African-American couple with a big family.

Diary of a Lost Girl is a welcome addition to the genre of African-American memoir for it represents the unalloyed emotions of an intelligent, defiant, controversial, frequently profane and proud black woman, a survivor who somehow overcame one of the worst childhoods imaginable to share an abundance of intriguing, if debatable insights about her adopted homeland.   Diary of a Lost Girl (other reviews)

2. Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation by Natalie Hopkinson & Natalie Y. Moore

A superb, thorough, and intellectually-honest examination of the latter-day African-American male. Leaving no stone unturned, the co-authors assess how such phenomena as homophobia, the incarceration rate, brothers on the down-low, abandonment by baby-daddies, gangsta’ rap’s influuence, academic underachievement and underemployment have contributed to what they see as an unfortunate schism between brothers and sisters.

The fundamental question the book raises repeatedly, but in a myriad of ways, is “How can you love your culture, hip-hop, but love yourself, too?” Can a self-respecting black woman embrace the typical black male in spite of the gender frictions without capitulating and accepting the “video ho” label? An excellent, urgent study designed to initiate a healthy, long-overdue debate about the prospects and direction of the Hip-Hop Generation by exposing its prevailing male imagery as unacceptably misogynistic, and as more emasculated than macho. 

3.  Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Family edited by Gil L. Robertson, IV

This urgent, informative and groundbreaking book takes AIDS out of the inner-city closet by initiating an intelligent dialogue designed to shake both brothers and sisters out of their complacency and thereby inspire everyone to action. Among the sixty or so contributors to this timely text are entertainers, such as Patti LaBelle, Jasmine Guy, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Mo’Nique and Hill Harper; physicians, including Dr. Donna Christensen, DR. James Benton and Dr. Joycelyn Elders; AIDS activists Phill Wilson and Christopher Cathcart; ministers, like Reverend Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts; best-selling authors, such as Randall Robinson and Omar Tyree; and Congressmen Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Gregory Meeks. Not in My Family Book Review (other reviews)

But just as moving as the clarion call sounded by any of these celebs, are the heartfelt stories related by ordinary folks without any pedigree. Filled to overflowing with almost sacred moments, Not in My Family is a must read, but not merely as a heart-wrenching collection of moving AIDS memoirs. For perhaps more significantly, this seminal work simultaneously serves as the means of kickstarting candid dialogue about an array of pressing, collateral topics, ranging from homophobia to incarceration to brothers on the down low to low self-esteem to the use of condoms to the role of the Church in combating this virtually-invisible genocide quietly claiming African-Americana.

4.  White Men Can't Hump (As Good As Black Men) Race & Sex in America, Volumes I & II by Todd Wooten

Not only can’t white men jump, but they apparently can’t hump either, at least according to Todd Wooten, a Marine-turned-self-appointed expert on mating habits across the color line. To his credit, the sagacious, salacious sex historian makes up for his lack of credentials with an infectious enthusiasm for his material and a colorful ability to turn a phrase, even if he is prone to profanity.       

Taking no prisoners, the author is an equal-opportunity offender, and an admirable in his effort to close the human divide by addressing a litany of uncomfortable issues with the goal of eradicating both intolerance and underachievement. Overall, the book happens to be quite an entertaining page-turner which rests on the basic premise that the legacy of slavery has left black males both devalued and blamed for their collective lower station in life.

5. The Covenant with Black America edited by Tavis Smiley

Every February, talk show host Tavis Smiley has convened some of the most brilliant black minds around to assess the State of the Black Union. Feeling that an annual symposium simply exchanging opinions wasn’t enough, he decided to come up with a blueprint addressing the most critical issues confronting the African-American community.

The Covenant with Black America amounts to an exhaustive, encyclopedic assault on the litany of woes presently plaguing African-Americans. What makes this treatise unique is the plethora of practical guidance it provides in terms of the undoing the persisting inequalities. In advocating evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary solutions, this inclusive, optimistic opus ought to inspire anyone who reads it to get involved personally, and to lend their talents to the eradication of the seemingly intractable impediments to black progress. 

6. Mixed My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel

Halle Berry’s blurb on the front cover of this poignant memoir misleadingly describes it as, “Hilarious!” A must read, yes. Halle was ostensibly quoted not as a literary critic because she has a black parent and a white parent, just like the book’s author. Nevertheless, while Angela Nissel’s autobiography has more than its share of humorous moments, its prevailing tone is stone cold sober.

Brutally honest in tone, her heartbreaking tale begins when she was abandoned at an early age by her Jewish father to be raised alone in West Philadelphia by her African-American mother, Gwen. Unfortunately, for Angela, this meant that she had to grow up fast during her formative years, negotiating her way in a community where many challenged her blackness because she was not only light-skinned, but half-white.

Mixed graphically relates her battle with depression and suicidal tendencies, her stint as a stripper, her being threatened with a gun by a neighbor, and her post-collegiate decision to date white guys after being unable to interest black professionals. Given how low she had to go before bottoming-out, it’s a minor miracle this survivor is still with us, let alone flourishing, having finally found both the man and job of her dreams.

7.  Getting It Wrong How Black Public Intellectuals Are Failing Black America by Algernon Austin

The author’s primary contention, here, is that ivory tower blacks, who have lost touch with the community, now feel comfortable indicting less fortunate black folks they left behind for exhibiting symptoms simply long-associated with poverty. Such blaming of the victims is destructive, Austin suggests, because it relies on a stereotyping which makes it convenient for Middle America to see skin color rather than a racist, exploitative economy as the explanation for the plight of the least of their brethren.

He goes on to indict the legal system as “the most anti-black institution” in the country arguing that it defines “criminality as an inherent characteristic, as a trait, of blackness.” Consistently separating myth from fact in this fashion, Getting It Wrong is an excellent opus in that it deliberately deconstructs the unfair and color-coded stereotypes which the both the black bourgeoisie and the white mainstream culture have come to resort to when referring to African-American ghetto-dwellers.

8. Letters to a Young Brother Manifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper

Lately, it seems that everyday another study is announced sharing some sobering statistics about the dire straits of the African-American male. Whether it has to do with employment, parenting, education, incarceration, or any other factors correlated with success in this society, all indications are that the black male is currently in crisis.

For this reason, Hill Harper, star of CBS-TV’s CSI: NY, was inspired to publish Letters to a Young Brother, a priceless, no-nonsense, step-by-step guide out of the ghetto, provided it reaches a pair of receptive ears with a support team prepared to help him achieve his dream. The salient message being delivered by this how-to primer is that education is power, that material possessions do not ensure happiness, and that it’s important to be the architect of your own life.  

9.  Black Cops Against Brutality: A Crisis Action Plan by DeLacy Davis

The book is an invaluable, police encounter survival guide, for it offers plenty of sound advice on how to handle the situation, if you are unlucky enough to get detained by a cop for whatever reason. Obviously, as a recently-retired, veteran police officer, the author has some sage insights to share, such as to remain calm, roll down your car window, turn on the ceiling light and keep both hands on the wheel during a motor vehicle stop. He also lets you know how to handle the situation when the authorities arrive at your door, whether with or without a warrant, or if they simply begin questioning you right on the street.

Of equal import is how Delacy addresses what to do when you’ve become the victim of a profile stop, an unlawful arrest or an unfair search and seizure. Here, he delineates each step of the subsequent civilian complaint process, from keeping a log sheet, to finding an attorney, filing charges, and contacting the press and your political representatives.

Finally, because the author sees the issue as a nationwide crisis, he stresses the need to develop strategies for eradicating police brutality once and for all. Overall, this arrives readily recommended as a legally-sound, morally-upright and most practical guide by a brother who breaks the blue wall of silence to help hip the people about how to deal with the criminal justice system most effectively.

10. Lynched by Corporate America: The Gripping True Story of How One African-American Survived Doing Business with a Fortune 500 Giant by Herman Malone and Robert Schwab

In 1969, shortly after being honorably discharged by the Air Force, Herman Malone returned to his hometown of Camden, Arkansas. One evening soon thereafter, the 21 year-old vet was profile-stopped by two white cops who took him for a ride during which they warned that he might find himself floating dead in the swamp if he didn’t leave town immediately.

That’s how he ended up in Denver where he started a company called RMES Communications, Inc. By 1990, RMES was flourishing, generating about $10 million in annual sales as an approved vendor for US West, one of the seven Baby Bells. At this juncture, it looked like happily-ever-after for Herman and his family. But unfortunately, their version of the American Dream soon turned into a neverending nightmare when a new CEO took control of US West a couple of years later.

For, according to Malone, the new chairman systematically began backing out of its established agreements with black-owned businesses. So, the suddenly-disenfranchised African-Americans filed a class action suit alleging racial discrimination against the Fortune 500 mega-corp. And it is that frustrating, drawn-out legal battle which is oh so painstakingly recounted in Lynched by Corporate America.

As an attorney, I found this cautionary tale about the justice system rather riveting. Filled with copious quotes ostensibly recounted from court transcripts, Mr. Malone makes a very convincing argument that a combination of racism and a judicial kowtowing to corporate interests played a significant role in the resolution of the case. While discouraging, this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the age-old legal maxim well-known to lawyers, “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”

Honorable Mention

Mama Made the Difference Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me by Bishop T.D. Jakes

Forty Million Dollar SlavesThe Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete by William C. Rhoden

Jokes My Father Never Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor  by Rain Pryor

Life Out of Context by Walter Mosley

Living Black History How Reimagining the African-American Past Can Remake America’s Racial Future by Manning Marable

A Hand to Guide Me: Legends and Leaders Celebrate the People Who Shaped Their Lives by Denzel Washington with Daniel Paisner

Don't Shoot! I'm Coming Out: How to Man-Up & Set Heterosexuals Straight by Ben Setfrey

Stripped Bare: The 12 Truths That Will Help You Land the Very Best Black Man by LaDawn Black

Color Him Father: Stories of Love and Rediscovery of Black Men edited by Stephana I. Colbert and Valerie I. Harrison

Historical Dictionary of African-American Television by Kathleen Fearn-Banks

Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life by Tyler Perry

Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent by Thomas Glave

5 Worst Black Books of 2006

1. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

This tame tome was ostensibly carefully crafted with the intent of enabling Senator Obama to be all things to all people. Unfortunately, it ends up reading like little more than the transparent game plan of a guileful politician. When discussing racism, he comes off as no liberal, but more in the “content of your character” camp as advocated by African-American neo-cons like Shelby Steele and John McWhorter. In this regard, he has no problem putting the onus on blacks to accommodate themselves to the mainstream culture, because “members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of our assimilation.”

Obama goes on to conclude that “the single biggest thing” we could do to reduce inner-city poverty “is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock.” If these sort of simplistic “blaming the victim” pronouncements are truly Barack’s best ideas on how to reclaim the American Dream, I suggest he keep dreaming.

2.  White Guilt: How Blacks & Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele

This very spirited, anti-African-American screed repeatedly blames the victims for their lot in life at every turn, and in a sadistic fashion, almost as if he savors the smug cruelty suggested by his insensitivity. He tempers his caustic commentary with constant reminders that he, too, is black, invariably juxtaposing each criticism with an autobiographical aside in which he makes flip comments concluding that if he could avoid this or that pitfall and pull himself up by his bootstraps, anybody else can.

Euphoric in his having achieved the American Dream which has proven to be so elusive for most blacks, Steele repeatedly proclaims himself to be cured of the schizophrenia he says has a destructive hold on most other African-American intellectuals. “Tired of living a lie” in order to be black, he has found bliss in a Negro Nirvana free of the “corrupting falseness” of the pressure to identify with folks who look like him and with prevailing black points-of-view.

Since Shelby Steele has apparently found not only a psychic, but a physically comfy, suburban refuge from the rigors of what he terms “race fatigue,” perhaps this arrogant Republican apologist ought to consider refraining from delivering condescending lectures to those unfortunates still stuck in the slums. 

3. Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America and What We Can Do About It by Juan Williams

Juan Williams is best known for his appearances as a panelist on the Fox News Channel. So, it comes as no surprise, that the political pundit might publish a right-wing diatribe which basically blames African-Americans themselves and their Democratic leaders for the assortment of ills which still beset the community. Williams has rather harsh words for everyone from Reverend Jesse Jackson to Julian Bond to Randall Robinson to Reverend Al Sharpton.   

When not indulging in character assassination, the author devotes his attention to topical issues such as the handling of Hurricane to Katrina. Enough’s most mind-boggling passages are those covering the tragedy, especially since the book is dedicated to “the people rising above Katrina’s storm.” Yet, rather than question how the city, state and federal authorities could have all abandoned thousands upon thousands of poor black folk for days on end, Williams conveniently concludes that, “The government response was the result of ineptitude, not racism.”

Meanwhile, he has issues with black “paranoia” about New Orleans and sees the black church, strong families, and a tradition of “self-help” as a viable solution to rebuilding the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Reads more like a series of Republican talking points than an honest assessment of the state of African-Americana. Enough is enough! 

4.   Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor edited by Paul Beatty

When I cracked open this collection of black jokes with a watermelon on the cover, I frankly expected to find material far funnier than a pathetic mix of goofball commentaries which devotes entire chapters to losers like Mike Tyson, a functional illiterate who probably wasn’t even trying to make people laugh when he went on the diatribes recounted here.

To the press, Iron Mike once said this about Lennox Lewis: “I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!” The ex-champ is later showcased at his best when simply rambling like a cross between a punch-drunk boxer and a mental patient with diarrhea of the mouth: “At times, I come across as crude or crass. That irritates you when I come across like a Neanderthal or a babbling idiot, but I like to be that person. I like to show you all that person, because that’s who you come to see.”

Where are the examples of the acerbic wit of Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Godfrey Cambridge, Dick Gregory and other brilliant African-American comedians known for their biting social satire? Not here. Maybe I missed something, but Hokum strikes this critic as a ho-hum hoax perpetrated on the public, since it’s ostensibly designed more for those interested in laughing at black folks than in laughing with them. 

Buy this book and the only joke’s on you.   

5.  Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away by June Cross

Ten years ago, PBS aired a documentary entitled Secret Daughter, a gut-wrenching bio-pic about the life of little orphan June, abandoned by both of her parents at an early age to be raised by strangers in Atlantic City. What made Ms. Cross’ story so compelling was not the fact that her father was black and her mother was white, but that her mother was such an ice princess when her long-lost daughter tracked her down with a camera crew to ask her why she had dumped her on the doorstep of people she barely knew so many years ago.

June came off as oh so masochistic trying to kiss-up to her cold-hearted mom who did little to hide her annoyance that this sepia skeleton would come jumping out of her closet at a time when she was happily-married and had a white daughter. After hitting an emotional dead end retracing her roots, one would think that Cross would drop the “Love me, Mommy!” act and move on with her life.

But instead she decided to write a memoir which, unfortunately, is not nearly as riveting as the already televised account of her ordeal. For the orphan is far too inclined to give her absentee-mom a pass, ostensibly because the woman was white, and because segregation is an acceptable explanation for her being abandoned.

June just doesn’t understand that there’s no excuse for the way that racist witch denied and mistreated her till the day she died. Before she tries to convince the world that her mother was misunderstood and actually really loved her, June needs to convince herself of it, and then figure a way to erase the monster we witnessed on that damning PBS broadcast from our collective memory.  

posted 24 December 2006

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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