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Black History Month—Recommended Reading List

Our mission at Canvas is to make the world more equitable by building a collaborative talent marketplace that creates more opportunity for everyone. Sure enough, that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of hard work and dedication. And more importantly, it takes understanding, empathy, and acknowledgment. We must work to understand other people’s lived experiences to create a better tomorrow. And, as we all celebrate Black History Month, it’s important for this to be top of mind. 

If previous years have taught us anything, it's that we can all do a better job celebrating Black History Month. At Canvas, our goal for this month is to continue a narrative that we started last year: highlighting the challenges our society still faces in including Black and Brown talent within our workplaces, but also celebrating the work of those committed to pushing our society forward.

We are celebrating Black History Month in three ways—reflecting, rewarding, and recognizing. One helpful way to reflect is by reading impactful books by Black authors. From timeless novels to contemporary memoirs, we’ve highlighted some of our favorites. Whether you’re looking to improve your diversity, equity, and inclusion plan or you’re looking to help push past barriers, understanding the Black lived experience is the place to start. 

Here are 25 books you should read for Black History Month—and all year round. 

1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley 

This 1964 autobiography that tells the remarkable story of Malcolm X’s life should be on everyone's must-read book list. It dives deep into the falsehoods of the “American Dream” and takes a closer look at its severe limitations. The New York Times calls it “extraordinary . . . a brilliant, painful, important book.” We call it a life-changing story. 

2. The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts

The Memo isn’t your typical “business book” and we’re so happy about that. It not only empowers women of color to take actionable steps in their career, but it also speaks to the specific barriers that Black women, and other women of color, experience in the workplace. Author, Minda Harts, provides a long-overdue career guide that speaks to the unique obstacles Black women face. It's a must-read for all. 

3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

This #1 New York Times bestseller should be mandatory for everyone to read—it’s that powerful. In this emotional book, Ta-Nehisi Coates pens an open letter to his adolescent son where he shares his journey of awakening. Through his experiences of Howard University to Civil War battlefields, he explores what it’s like to live in a black body. Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 

Yaa Gyasi’s book, Homegoing, is one of Oprah’s “best books of the year” for a reason. Homecoming is a story that takes place in the eighteenth century, where two half-sisters are born into different villages in Ghana. Neither are aware of one another. This novel follows each sister’s paths and their descendants across eight generations. This remarkable book illustrates slavery’s horrendous impact on those who were taken and those who stayed. 

5. Subtle Acts of Exclusion by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran

If you’re looking for a realistic and practical handbook to help you or your colleagues recognize and eliminate microaggressions, look no further. Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran’s book is a great place to start to get employees feeling a sense of inclusion and belonging. This book provides insights into recognizing the subtle acts of exclusion and offers clear tools to address these acts. Jana and Baran make it easier by offering scripts and action plans. 

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a powerful and mighty one. While this American classic is joyous, it is ever so painful. This story tells of a young Maya Angelou and her brother as they are sent off to live with their grandmother in a small southern town. Maya shares her story of abandonment and her surviving an attack by a man at the young age of eight. This book has touched hearts across the world and if you haven’t read it yet, it will touch yours and forever change you.  

7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

If you’re looking for a feel-good novel, look somewhere else. This is a novel that is hard to read because we bear witness to the pain Celie, a poor Black woman, goes through. Even though it’s difficult to read, it’s a story that should be heard. This story is shared through a series of letters stretching twenty years. The Color Purple is a groundbreaking book, as it broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse. You can feel the pain and sorrow throughout this novel but also be touched by themes of resilience and courage. 

8. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

Half memoir, half manifesto, Elain Welteroth discusses what it means to come into your own as she did on her own terms. It’s no surprise to us that this book was the winner of the 2020 NAACP Image Award for outstanding literary work — biography/autobiography. Welteroth touches on what it was like for her to be a child of an interracial marriage in a small California town to her career growth in media and fashion, often being the only Black woman in the room. If you’re looking for a much-needed perspective shift on what it’s like to be a Black woman in the workplace, this book will do just that. 

9. Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim

Glory Edim brings together this inspirational collection of essays by various Black female writers to shine a light on belongingness in literature. Many of us search for ourselves in the books we read—and this collection brings awareness to the importance of Black women finding themselves in literature. This book offers hope and encouragement to Black women who have found different novels speaking to them and the power that lies within that particular feeling. 

10. Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business by Pamela Newkirk

It’s no wonder Pamela Newkirk’s book became Time Magazine's Must-Read Books of 2019. Newkirk dives into the diversity industry as a whole and shines a light on workplace diversity initiatives. She asks the difficult questions a lot of us are afraid to ask while diving deep into what has actually been effective and what hasn’t. She shares how companies have found success with diversity to help other companies mimic it. Overall, Newkirk discusses how most companies have fallen short of their diversity goals. Hopefully, after reading this book, it will inspire you and your company to create real change by changing behaviors and practices. 

11. Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes From a Native Son by James Baldwin

This collection of deeply felt essays should be read by everyone and anyone. There is so much that author, James Baldwin, says about race relations that is pertinent today. Through Baldwin's inner struggles, he turns the spotlight on the myth of American white society. This introspective read will leave you feeling angry and frustrated, while still giving you feelings of understanding and empathy. It’s a message that all of us must bear witness to. 

12. Becoming by Michelle Obama

They say behind every powerful man is a powerful woman. One realizes this is certainly the case after reading Michelle Obama’s intimate and influential memoir. In her memoir, the former First Lady of the United States reflects on the experiences from childhood and beyond that helped shape her. She walks readers through her victories and her setbacks from her own point of view. If you already admired Michelle Obama, this book will enhance that feeling even more. 

13. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of two young lovers, Ifemelu and Obinze as they leave Nigeria for the West. Ifemelu has to come to grips with what it means to be black in America for the first time. This is a different kind of love story that should be read by anyone who wants to be enlightened and educated. Yes, this is a love story, but at its core, it’s about race and culture. 

14. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This New York Times bestseller dives deep into issues from police brutality to systemic racism to what white privilege really means. Ijeoma Oluo’s modern and accessible book offers a user-friendly evaluation of race in America. She addresses complex issues head-on, touching on The Black Lives Matter movement, microaggressions, and answers questions people are too afraid to ask. 

15. Kindred by Octavia Butler

This American classic is the first science fiction novel written by a black woman, Octavia Butler. This novel is a blending of a slave memoir mixed with fantasy and historical fiction. Not only is Butler an amazing writer, but she so perfectly captures the painfulness of slavery. It’s not an easy book to get through because of its graphic depiction of slavery, but it’s a message that is important for everyone to read. Butler’s novel is one that is hard to put down after reading the first page. 

More books to add to your reading list for Black History Month

- Dear Martin by Nic Stone

- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

- How We Fight for Our Live by Saeed Jones

- Diversity in the Workplace: Eye-Opening Interviews to Canvas Conversations about Identity, Privilege, and Bias by Bärí A. Williams

- The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

- Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

- Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

- You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

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