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Confessions of a Reader 005:I haven’t read a lot of Black classics

When I was in high school one of my favorite genres to read was “classics.” I had a goal to read all books on this AP literature reading list that I was provided during the summer prior to 12th grade. If you’re wondering if I finish the books on that list the answer is no. And if you’re wondering if I still have any plans to finish that list the answer to that question is also no.

I didn’t realize it until lately but that list was very problematic starting with the fact that there weren’t that many authors of color on the list. I didn’t question this back then because it’s what I was used to. Books that were considered classics or important pieces of literature almost always had White authors. From a young girl in elementary school most of the things I read for English classes consisted of pieces written by White authors that were more often than not male as well. Because of the lack of exposure I had to other types of “classics” I simply didn’t think that other books fit the criteria. It wasn’t until discovering #blackbookstagram that I realized there were plenty of classics written my men and women that look like they could be my grandparents. The abundance of classic books by Black authors truly blew my mind away. I am currently working on a list of all the Black Classics I want to read. Since I’ve discovered the existence of Black Classics I’ve also been working to get more of these authors onto my bookshelves, authors such as: Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Dubois, Alex Haley, Langston Hughes and Alice Walker. This list of authors is by no means the end of the many classics that have been written by Black authors but it definitely isn’t a bad place to start.

Initially upon realizing I hadn’t read a lot of these authors I was embarrassed and ashamed. But my best friend pointed something important out to me. She said, “Why be mad at yourself? We lived in a generational period where black beauty and creativity wasn’t valued or easily accessible, It is more so now. Don’t be mad. Just make a change. ” And she’s right. Part of my reason for not reading Black Classics was that I hadn’t been exposed to them. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of Black Classics in high school. Maybe I had been exposed to a bit in elementary school especially since almost every single teacher I had was Black. It wasn’t until college that I found a lot of them though and it wasn’t until this age that I finally realized a book by a Black author could actually be a classic. Prior to this the idea had never even crossed my mind.

So not only was the problem that I wasn’t being exposed to these books at a young age but it’s also that no one was teaching a young Black girl like me with dreams of being a reader that there were woman out there that looked like me that had written amazing pieces of literature that were still honored today. By becoming more aware of the diversity of authors consider “classic” and by reading these books on purpose I hope to pass down these books to the generations beneath me and expose them to the greatness of different voices from all over the world instead of the narrow standard in which we think classic literature is created.

2 comments

  1. I’m in the same boat. I took mostly AP classes in high school and they focused on British literature but white people which…is unfortunate. I’m not a big classics reader so I feel like I’ve missed out on an important education.

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