Today is the first day of Black History Month, the annual celebration in these here United States of America where schools make kids learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Sprinkle in a few facts about a black person being the first person to do this or that, and before you know it, it’s March 1 and educators can breathe a sigh of relief—because Googling black firsts and shit is not only informative...but exhausting!
Well, we’re black folks who read here at VSB, so we said to ourselves, “Selves, what can we do this BHM to spread love (it’s the Brooklyn way)?” We decided to focus on books that have had an impact on us, by and about black folks. We love books—books are fun!—so much that together with a black bookstore in Washington, D.C., Mahogany Books, we started our own book club that meets the first Friday of every month (we also FB Live the convo on Mahogany Books’ Facebook page). We love books so much, Damon wrote one, releasing on March 26.
For every day this Black History Month, we’re going to share a book that resonated. Some of the classics, but also books by lesser-known writers, contemporary writers, children’s authors, etc. And we won’t do any reviews—nawl. We’re going to share with you what basically amounts to a brief impact statement: why the book mattered to us.
So without further ado, let’s get to the first entry—welcome to 28 Days of Literary Blackness With VSB.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I do not know the first time I read this book by Zora Neale Hurston, who is my favorite writer—I consume her works off principle alone. My heart is telling me it was in one of my freshman year English classes at Morehouse College in 1997. Whenever it was, it immediately became my favorite book ever and is to this day. I try to read it once a year.
I don’t know why Janie’s story hit me so hard—particularly the story of her and her last husband, Tea Cake, whose real name Vergible should win every Blackest Name Tournament ever. But their struggle and ultimately the loss she endured, man—I just felt for her as she grew and became her own woman, her own way, with her own style. The writing was so vivid and compelling that even in my youth I could visualize it. (But not in the terrible way it was done for the 2005 made-for-television adaptation starring Michael Ealy and Halle Berry, who was totally miscast; in my head this was Sallie Richardson all day. I wanted to see it turned into a movie, but that wasn’t it. Sorry, Auntie O.)
If you haven’t read it (which would surprise me if you’re black and reading this right now), I can’t recommend any book more highly. It’s a book I look forward to introducing my children to at some point, and I’m going to make it a thing. When we decided to share 28 books that resonated for this month, this came to mind first.