In honour of Black History Month, the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) is exploring works that break down barriers to Black liberation and could inspire meaningful discourse on a post-secondary syllabus. Authors Eternity Martis and Clelia O. Rodríguez have offered up the books they'd put on their dream syllabuses, which include authors of marginalized identities, as well as other timely and timeless conversations. Find their reading lists below, paired with the personal thoughts behind their choices.
On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, you can watch Eternity Martis discuss her upcoming book, They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus, and Growing Up, with fellow author rosalind hampton (Black Racialization and Resistance at an Elite University) when TIFA Presents Black Lives On Campus: A Roundtable Discussion. The conversation will be moderated by Clelia O. Rodríguez and hosted by Téa Mutonji.
In the Words of Eternity Martis
In our highly polarized culture, one that is often dismissive, hateful or even violent towards people from marginalized groups who speak about their own experiences, these books are a glaring reminder of the power of our words. They touch on some of the most urgent issues today—#MeToo, accountability in the social justice era, Indigenous, trans and Black lives—and blaze a path for how we can create a better future through our words, by tying our personal narratives and analyses to our history so that we can write a new one. —EM
A Mind Spread Out On the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Alicia Elliott’s memoir is a must-read for everyone. The way that Elliott searingly yet eloquently ties her own personal experiences growing up as a Haudenosaunee woman to the legacy of colonialism, intergenerational trauma, racism and oppression of Indigenous people in Canada is so deeply-felt, and offers us a glimpse of how the past affects Indigenous peoples’ present, and how we can all help create a better future.
I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
With the rise of so many social movements, “cancel culture” and accountability processes can sometimes do more harm than good. I Hope We Choose Love is a beautiful book of personal essays and poems about why we should consider a compassion and love–based approach to justice, especially in our era of political polarization, violence and the end of the world.
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins
The holy grail of Black feminist thought, Patricia Hill Collins’ book explores the societal myths and damaging images of Black women, and the multiplicities of our identities, all while uplifting the works of Black feminsits such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Angela Davis. Though this book was published in 1990, a lot of her discussion about the negative ways that Black women are portrayed and treated are sadly still relevant today.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
From the first page, Kiese Laymon’s memoir left me speechless. There’s so much in this book that continues to unfold and build up, right until the last moment. It’s a devastating and beautifully written account of Black masculinity while growing up in the South, complicated family dynamics, childhood abuse, the Black male body and Black (self) love.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittany C. Cooper
Black women have historically been left out of every mainstream feminist movement and it still happens today from #MeToo to the Women’s March. We’ve also been left out of the right to be angry. This book, which relies on extensive cultural and historical examples as well as personal narrative, is about all the ways institutions suppress Black women from expressing their anger (while also being the cause of our anger), and how we can channel and harness it in a way that can change the world.
In the Words of Clelia O. Rodríguez
My ideal syllabus has living texts to guide the act of reading humanity and the world. They are unconventional, as some say. In order to understand notions of colonialism, geography, borders and the multi-layers of History, for instance, I include coffee beans, stickers placed on bananas, a mirror, an onion, spices, seeds, cotton, a pen, water, fire, Band-Aids, rum, yarn, Kleenex, land and my grandfather’s teachings about surviving.
To pick five titles is an impossible task for me. There are authors I often call to my rescue when my inquisitorial thirst kicks in: James Baldwin, Las Krudas, María Teresa Ramírez, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Kiese Laymon, Hari Ziyad, María Nsué Angüe, reflection pieces by students, recipes from my grandmother, and children’s drawings. —COR