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Alison Gowans
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Jan. 31, 2024 – February is Black History Month, and Materials Librarian Allison Zordell put together this list of recently published books that celebrate African Americans and the arts, with books about poets, dancers, actors, musicians, and more.

"This year's Black History Month theme is 'African Americans and the Arts,' and seeks to highlight the numerous contributions of Black artists to the arts, many of which have historically been suppressed and minimized," Zordell said. "Spanning music, literature, and the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s to Afrofuturism, the arts have been an integral part of preserving Black history and culture. These selections are just a small sampling of new titles that celebrate the history and influence of African Americans in the arts."

For more information, visit The Association for the Study of African American Life and History at:

Browse the book titles below, and put them on hold in our catalog by clicking on their covers. Book descriptions come from the library catalog and information provided by the publishers.

"Now You See Me: An Introduction to 100 Years of Black Design" by Charlene Prempeh (2024)

You’ve seen their work – but have you seen them? Black designers have been working in every major industry but have not been given the spotlight anywhere near to the extent of their white counterparts. This vibrant and wide-ranging book, full of photographs and illustrations, aims to correct that oversight, bringing a century of Black designers and their work into focus. Organized into three sections focusing on Fashion, Architecture and Graphic Design, Prempeh uses the pioneering work of key figures from the 20th and 21st century to explore important aspects of how Black design has been perceived within culture and society.

"The Upcycled Self: A Memoir on the Art of Becoming Who We Are" by Black Thought (2023)

Through vivid vignettes, the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning co-founder of The Roots tells dramatic stories of the four powerful relationships that shaped him, each a complex weave of love, discovery, trauma and loss, illuminating the redemptive power of the upcycle.

"Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song" by Judith Tick (2024)

A landmark biography that reclaims Ella Fitzgerald as a major American artist and modernist innovator. Fitzgerald possessed one of the twentieth century’s most astonishing voices. In this first major biography since her death, historian Judith Tick offers a sublime portrait of this ambitious risk-taker whose exceptional musical spontaneity made her a transformational artist. Archival research and in-depth family interviews shed new light on the singer’s difficult childhood in Yonkers, New York, the tragic death of her mother, and the year she spent in a girls’ reformatory school―where she sang in its renowned choir and dreamed of being a dancer. Rarely seen profiles from the Black press offer precious glimpses of Fitzgerald’s tense experiences of racial discrimination and her struggles with constricting models of Black and white femininity at midcentury. As she navigated the shifting tides between jazz and pop, she used her originality to pioneer modernist vocal jazz. Interpreting long-lost setlists, reviews from both white and Black newspapers, and newly released footage and recordings, the book explores how Ella’s transcendence as an improvisor produced onstage performances every bit as significant as her historic recorded oeuvre.

"The House of Hidden Meanings: A Memoir" by RuPaul (2024)

From international drag superstar and pop culture icon RuPaul comes his most revealing and personal work to date – a brutally honest, surprisingly poignant, and deeply intimate memoir of growing up Black, poor, and queer in a broken home to discovering the power of performance, found family, and self-acceptance. A profound introspection of his life, relationships, and identity, "The House of Hidden Meanings" is a self-portrait of the legendary icon on the road to global fame and changing the way the world thinks about drag.

"The Black Joy Project" by Kleaver Cruz (2023)

A beautiful love letter to Black joy, as a source of self-preservation and survival as well as a form of resistance. Black Joy is everywhere. From the bustling streets of Lagos to hip-hop blasting through apartment windows in the Bronx. From the wide-open coastal desert of Namibia to the lush slopes of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. From the thriving tradition of Candomblé in Bahia to the innovative and trendsetting styles of Soweto, and beyond, Black Joy is present in every place that Black people exist. 

"The Color of Dance: A Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion in the World of Ballet" by Takiyah Wallace-McMillian (2023)

From the photographer behind the Instagram sensation Brown Girls Do Ballet, this coffee-table book showcases breath-taking images of ballerinas of color of all ages and levels that reflect today's beautifully diverse world of dance. For decades the prominent image of a ballet dancer has been a white body with pale clothing. It took 75 years for American Ballet Theatre to have its first African American female principal dancer, Misty Copeland. When TaKiyah Wallace-McMillian went to enroll her three-year-old daughter into her first ballet class, she immediately saw this lack of diversity and representation – even on her local dance studio's website. Within weeks, TaKiyah, a freelance photographer, began shooting a project she called Brown Girls Do Ballet, which eventually became an Instagram hit and a non-profit organization that provides resources, mentorship, inspiration, and encouragement to young dancers of color worldwide. 

"Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America" by Michael Harriot (2023)

Combining unapologetically provocative storytelling with meticulous research based on primary sources as well as the work of pioneering Black historians, scholars, and journalists, Harriot removes the white sugarcoating from the American story, placing Black people squarely at the center. With incisive wit, Harriot speaks hilarious truth to oppressive power, subverting conventional historical narratives with little-known stories about the experiences of Black Americans. From the African Americans who arrived before 1619 to the un-enslavable bandit who inspired America's first police force, this long overdue corrective provides a revealing look into our past that is as urgent as it is necessary.

"Ode to Hip-Hop: 50 Albums that Define 50 Years of Trailblazing Music" by Kiana Fitzgerald (2023)

From underground roots to mainstream popularity, hip-hop's influence on music and entertainment around the world has been nothing short of extraordinary. "Ode to Hip-Hop" chronicles the journey with profiles of fifty albums that have defined, expanded, and ultimately transformed the genre into what it is today. From 2 Live Crew's groundbreaking "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" in 1989 to Cardi B's similarly provocative "Invasion of Privacy" almost thirty years later, and more, "Ode to Hip-Hop" covers hip-hop from coast to coast. Organized by decade and with sidebars on fashion, mixtapes, and key players throughout, the result is a comprehensive homage to hip-hop.

"Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography" by Staci Robinson (2023)

Author and screenwriter Staci Robinson – who knew Tupac as a young man and who was entrusted by his mother, Afeni Shakur, to write his biography – peels back the myths and unpacks the complexities that have shadowed Tupac's existence. With exclusive access to his private notebooks, letters, unpublished lyrics and uncensored conversations with those who knew and loved him best, Robinson tells a powerful story of a life defined by politics and art, and a man driven by equal parts brilliance and impulsiveness. It is a story of a mother and son bound together by a love for each other and for their people, and the relationship that endured through their darkest times. It is a political story that begins in the whirlwind of the '60s Civil Rights Movement, and takes you through a young artist's awakening to rage and purpose in the '90s era of Rodney King. It is a story of dizzying success and its devastating consequences. And, of course, it is the story of his music, his timeless message that will never die as it continues to touch and inspire past, present and future generations.

"What Have We Here: Portraits of a Life" by Billy Dee Williams (2024)

Billy Dee Williams was born in Harlem in 1937 and grew up in a household of love and sophistication. His first film role was in "The Last Angry Man," the great Paul Muni's final film. It was Muni who gave Billy the advice that sent him soaring as an actor, "You can play any character you want to play no matter who you are, no matter the way you look or the color of your skin." And Williams writes, "I wanted to be anyone I wanted to be." He became a true pop culture icon when, as the first Black character in the Star Wars universe, he played Lando Calrissian in George Lucas's "The Empire Strikes Back" ("What I presented on the screen people didn't expect to see"). It was a role he reprised in the final film of the original trilogy, "The Return of the Jedi," and in the recent sequel "The Rise of Skywalker." A legendary actor, in his own words, on all that has sustained and carried him through a lifetime of dreams and adventure

"The New Brownies' Book: A Love Letter to Black Families" (2023) by Karida Borwn and Charly Palmer

In 1920, as art and writing flourished during the Harlem Renaissance, W. E. B. Du Bois published "The Brownies' Book: A Monthly Magazine for Children of the Sun" – the first periodical for African American youth, collecting original art, stories, letters, and activities to celebrate their identities and inspire their imaginations and ambitions. Building upon Du Bois's mission, esteemed professor and scholar Karida Brown and celebrated artist Charly Palmer reimagine the groundbreaking publication with "The New Brownies Book," gathering the work of more than 60 contemporary Black artists and writers, including Ntozake Shange, Frank X. Walker, Danny Simmons, and Alice Faye Duncan. Created by and for Black families today, this anthology is filled with inspiring essays, poems, photographs, paintings, and short stories reflecting on the joy and depth of the Black experience. Delivering delight to adults and children alike, this powerful celebration of twenty-first century Black culture fulfills the promise of its source material by reminding readers of all ages that Black is brilliant, beautiful, and bold

"Black TV: Five Decades of Groundbreaking Television from Soul Train to Black-ish and Beyond" by Bethonie Butler (2023)

This illustrated book, written by veteran Washington Post TV reporter Bethonie Butler, is a comprehensive look at the rich history of groundbreaking – and often under-appreciated – television shows with leading Black characters from the last fifty years.

"For the Culture: Phenomenal Black Women and Femmes in Food: Interviews, Inspiration, and Recipes" by Klancy Miller (2023)

Chef and writer Klancy Miller found her own way by trial and error-as a pastry chef, recipe developer, author, and founder of "For the Culture" magazine – but what if she had known then what she knows now? What if she had known the extraordinary women profiled within these pages – entrepreneurs, chefs, food stylists, mixologists, historians, influencers, hoteliers, and more – and learned from their stories? Like Leah Penniman, a farmer using Afro-Indigenous methods to restore the land and feed her community; Ashtin Berry, an activist, sommelier, and mixologist creating radical change in the hospitality industry and beyond; or Sophia Roe, a TV host and producer showcasing the inside stories behind today's food systems. These luminaries and more share the vision that drives them, the mistakes they made along the way, advice for the next generation, and treasured recipes – all accompanied by stunning original illustrated portraits and vibrant food photography. In addition, Miller shines a light on the matriarchs who paved the way for today's tastemakers. These collective profiles are a one-of-a-kind oral history of a movement, captured in real time, and indispensable for anyone passionate about food.

"This is the Honey: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets" by Kwame Alexander (2024)

In this comprehensive and vibrant poetry anthology, bestselling author and poet Kwame Alexander curates a collection of contemporary anthems at turns tender and piercing and deeply inspiring throughout. Featuring work from well-loved poets such as Rita Dove, Jericho Brown, Warsan Shire, Ross Gay, Tracy K. Smith, Terrance Hayes, Morgan Parker, and Nikki Giovanni, "This Is the Honey" is a rich and abundant offering of language from the poets giving voice to generations of resilient joy, “each incantation,” as Mahogany L. Browne puts it in her titular poem, is “a jubilee of a people dreaming wildly.”