Staff picks of Black authors for Black History Month

For Black History Month, KAIROS staff were asked to submit their favourite book by a Black author, below are their picks.

Caroline’s pick
A Long Way Gone: Memoires of a Boy Soldier (2013)
by Ishmael Beah

Caroline Sharp – KAIROS Blanket Exercise Admin Associate
Ishmael Beah
A touching yet gruesome true story from the point of view of a boy soldier in Africa who eventually escapes to America for a better future. Ishmael Beah is 12 years old when his family is killed and after one year, he is forced to become a soldier. “It is so important to know what is going around the world so that those with the ability to put an end to something, can find out about it and stand up for injustice. Ishmael made me aware of something I knew very little about and this acted as a catalyst for wanting to learn more and take action.”

Yusra’s pick
Americanah (2013)
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Yusra Shafi – Global Partnerships Reporting & Administrative Assistant
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book might be one of my most favourite books ever – beautifully written, sprawling narrative and captivating characters. Ifemelu and Obinze, as teenagers growing up in Lagos, fall in love. However, during the military dictatorship in Nigeria, they’re forced apart – with Ifemelu pursuing the “American Dream” in the US, and Obinze eventually choosing to settle in the UK. Ifemelu grapples with her identity, faced with understanding what it means to be Nigerian in the US and the many complexities and challenges she must face. Her family begins to refer to her as “Americanah” (the American), a nickname she vehemently rejects – but eventually uses as a tool to unite her identities and drive her career. (Please read this book, it is amazing!!)

Leah’s pick
Emergent Strategy (2017)
by Adrienne Maree Brown

Leah Reesor-Keller – Interim Executive Director
Adrienne Maree Brown
It’s too hard to pick one favourite, but this is one that has influenced me lately in thinking about social change and movement building work. How we are together at the micro-level influences what comes out at the systems level.

Devora’s Pick
Clap When You Land (2020)
by Elizabeth Acevedo

Devora Cascante – Administrative Associate
Elizabeth Acevedo
This Young Adult novel tells a story of grief and loss in beautiful prose. A unique reading experience, Acevedo weaves the story of two sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who not only grew-up apart – one in New York City, the other in the Dominican Republic, but who were raised without the knowledge of the other’s existence. They both wake up one morning to learn their father has died in a plane crash travelling between his two worlds. Each sister works through her loss among the backdrop of her cultural surrounding. But, they also begin a journey of discovery upon learning about their father’s secret life and the existence of a sister in a foreign land. Clap When You Land is centered around a real life tragedy for New York’s Dominican community. In November 2001, American Airlines flight 587 went down shortly after talk-off, crashing into Belle Harbour, NY and killing 265 people. 90% of the passengers were Dominican or of Dominican descent. Noting that it was not a terrorist attack, the media largely ignored it. Acevedo gives light to the silent grief of her community while exploring themes of identity, betrayal, family, sisterhood and ultimately, hope.
Interview with NPR

Shannon’s Pick
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power(2020)
by Desmond Cole

Shannon Neufeldt – Member Relations and Network Coordinator
Desmond Cole
This was not a ‘favourite’ to read. I found it hard to read, but very important. I particularly appreciate that it is Canadian and much of it is set in Toronto. A strong counter to any thought that racism against black people is only an American problem.
Here’s the Penguin Random House description:
In this bracing, revelatory work of award-winning journalism, celebrated writer and activist Desmond Cole punctures the naive assumptions of Canadians who believe we live in a post-racial nation.
Chronicling just one year in the struggle against racism in this country, The Skin We’re In reveals in stark detail the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis: the devastating effects of racist policing, the hopelessness produced by an education system that fails Black children, the heartbreak of those separated from their families by discriminatory immigration laws, and more. Cole draws on his own experiences as a Black man in Canada, and locates the deep cultural, historical, and political roots of each event. What emerges is a personal, painful, and comprehensive picture of entrenched, systemic inequality.

Beth’s Pick
Parable of the Sower (1993)
Octavia E. Butler

Beth Lorimer – Ecological Justice Program Coordinator
Octavia E. Butler
Published in 1993, Octavia Butler depicts (I think prophetically) a dystopian vision of the future marked by environmental destruction and inequality, caused by climate change.  The story takes place in 2024! What I love about the book is the way in which hope emerges in the midst of this desolation – through the actions of a child.  The book has expanded my taste and appreciation for science fiction and the lessons that can be drawn from such stories for “real” life.  I know, I know – leave it to Beth to bring in the climate change reference but I highly recommend it

Alfredo’s Pick
In the Shadow of a Saint (2001)
by Author Ken Wiwa

Alfredo Barahona – KAIROS Blanket Exercise Global and Newcomer Coordinator
Ken Wiwa
In late 1995, the little-known Ogoni region in Nigeria became a fable for our times. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a renowned poet and environmentalist, was campaigning to protect his Ogoni people against the encroachments of Shell Oil and a brutal dictatorship. He was imprisoned, tortured, brought to trial on trumped-up charges, and executed. At the heart of the public campaign to save Ken Saro-Wiwa was another Ken Wiwa—the author’s son—who travelled the world lobbying world leaders and mobilizing public opinion, so that his father was recognized as a hero and a symbol of the struggle for environmental justice. The Saro-Wiwa name became global currency for righteousness. Ken Wiwa has embarked on a book that tells the story—from a human, anecdotal perspective—of what it means to grow up as a child in the shadow of such extraordinary men and women. In the end, it’s about Ken’s attempts to make peace with himself and his father—following his journey as he reaches toward a final rendezvous with the father who was snatched by the hangman.

Cheryl’s Pick
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations (2019)
by Toni Morrison

Cheryl McNamara – Communications and Advocacy Coordinator
Toni Morrison
“These pages give us her searing prayer for the dead of 9/11, her Nobel lecture on the power of language, her searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., her heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. She looks deeply into the fault lines of culture and freedom: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” human rights, the artist in society, the Afro-American presence in American literature. And she turns her incisive critical eye to her own work (The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, Paradise) and that of others. An essential collection from an essential writer, The Source of Self-Regard shines with the literary elegance, intellectual prowess, spiritual depth, and moral compass that have made Toni Morrison our most cherished and enduring voice.”

Katie’s Pick
Homegoing (2016)
by Yaa Gyasi

Katie Redekopp – Executive Office and Administrative Specialist
Yaa Gyasi 
I found this book to be extremely compelling, and was completely pulled into the lives of the generations the story follows. I would highly recommend it!
Penguin Random House Description: Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.
Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.
‘This incredible book travels from Ghana to the US revealing how slavery destroyed so many families, traditions and lives – and how its terrifying impact is still reverberating now. Gyasi has created a story of real power and insight’ Stylist, the Decade’s 15 Best Books by Remarkable Women

Barbara’s Pick
A Grain of Wheat (1967)
by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Barbara Mangwende – Director of Programs
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
It’s a powerful story that speaks to me about bravery, community independence and relationships, all interwoven together.
Amazon description:
Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya’s independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952–1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village’s chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers’ tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested.

Rachel’s Pick
Half of a Yellow Sun ()
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rachel Warden – Partnerships Manager
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It’s hard to pick one book. I love everything I have read by Chimamanda Adichie, but this was the first book I ever read by her, and it got me hooked. It’s set during the Biafra war. It’s about war, and independence struggles, about hope and resilience and devastation. But it’s also about family, sisters, and betrayal and love. Adichie writes beautifully and really draws you into the characters.
Here’s what Goodreads says:
A masterly, haunting new novel from a writer heralded by The Washington Post Book World as “the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe,” Half of a Yellow Sun re-creates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.
With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade.

Filed in: Black History Month

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