Recommended Reads - Adult Books on Social Justice

A list of non-fiction and fiction books that you can read and discuss about current events surrounding social justice.

Non-Fiction Titles

Freedom is a Constant Struggle

by Angela Y. Davis

In these newly collected essays, interviews, and speeches, world-renowned activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world.

Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today's struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine. Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build the movement for human liberation. In doing so, she reminds us that "Freedom is a constant struggle."

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Citizen: An American Lyric 

by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Available as an eAudiobook, check OverDrive for availability!

Between the World and Me 

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? How can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

So You Want to Talk About Race 

by Ijeoma Oluo

In this breakout book, Ijeoma Oluo explores the complex reality of today's racial landscape--from white privilege and police brutality to systemic discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement--offering straightforward clarity that readers need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide. Oluo is an exceptional writer with a rare ability to be straightforward, funny, and effective in her coverage of sensitive, hyper-charged issues in America. Her messages are passionate but finely tuned, and crystalize ideas that would otherwise be vague by empowering them with aha-moment clarity.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption 

by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Available as a Movie Adaptation. Check our online catalog for availability!

The Fire Next Time

by James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

How to Be an Anti-Racist 

by Ibram X. Kendi

"The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it -- and then dismantle it." Kendi's concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America -- but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In this book, Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science, bringing it all together with an engaging personal narrative of his own awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond an awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a truly just and equitable society.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Lead from the Outside

by Stacey Abrams

Lead from the Outside is the handbook for outsiders, written with an eye toward the challenges that hinder women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and millennials ready to make change. Stacey uses her hard-won insights to break down how ambition, fear, money, and failure function in leadership, and she includes practical exercises to help you realize your own ambition and hone your skills. Lead from the Outside discusses candidly what Stacey has learned over the course of her impressive career in politics, business and the nonprofit world: that differences in race, gender, and class provide vital strength, which we can employ to rise to the top and create real and lasting change.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Available as an eBook and eAudiobook, check OverDrive for availability!

On the Other Side of Freedom 

by DeRay Mckesson

From the internationally recognized civil rights activist/organizer and host of the podcast ‘Pod Save the People’, comes a meditation on resistance, justice, and freedom, and an intimate portrait of a movement from the front lines. In his first book, Mckesson lays out an incisive new framework for today's liberation movement. He dissects how deliberate oppression persists, how racial injustice strips our lives of promise, and how technology has added a new dimension to mass action and social change. Drawing from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible. Honoring the voices of a new generation of activists, On the Other Side of Freedom is a visionary's call to active citizenship

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

March

by John Lewis

This graphic novel is a first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy 

by Heather Ann Thompson

The first definitive history of the infamous 1971 Attica Prison uprising, the state’s violent response, and the victims’ decades-long quest for justice.

Drawing from more than a decade of extensive research, historian Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on every aspect of the uprising and its legacy, giving voice to all those who took part in this forty-five-year fight for justice: prisoners, former hostages, families of the victims, lawyers and judges, and state officials and members of law enforcement. Blood in the Water is the searing and indelible account of one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century. Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Available in physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Fiction Titles

Nickel Boys 

by Colson Whitehead

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood's only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner, which deepens despite Turner's conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Everywhere You Don’t Belong 

by Gabriel Bump

Set in the epicenter of American racial politics, this novel follows Claude McKay Love, a young black man who feels stuck in a constant search for a place where he would fit. Born on the south side of Chicago, he is abandoned by his parents and raised by his civil rights-era grandmother, who tries to shape him into a principled actor for change. On maturity's cusp, Claude hopes to escape the issues of race by leaving Chicago for college. But as he discovers, those same issues follow him to Missouri, where he finally understands that that there is no safe haven for a young black man. 

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

The Bluest Eye 

by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrisons's most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

They Come in All Colors 

by Malcolm Hansen

Alternating between the Deep South and New York City during the 1960s and early '70s, They Come in All Colors follows a biracial teenage boy who finds his new life in the big city disrupted by childhood memories of the summer when racial tensions in his hometown reached a tipping point. With the main character’s head-shaking antics fueling this coming-of-age narrative, the story triumphs as a tender and honest exploration of race, identity, family, and homeland.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

The Color Purple 

by Alice Walker

Winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, The Color Purple documents the traumas and gradual triumph of Celie, an African American teenager raised in rural isolation in Georgia, as she comes to resist the paralyzing self-concept forced on her by others. Celie narrates her life through painfully honest letters to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women. The Color Purple has sold more than five million copies, inspired an Academy Award-nominated film starring Oprah Winfrey and directed by Steven Spielberg, and been adapted into a Tony-nominated Broadway musical.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Such a Fun Age 

by Kiley Reid

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Line of Sight 

by James Queally

All favors come with a cost, and after using what little favors he has in the Newark PD to get his private investigators license, former crime reporter Russell Avery finds himself paying.

He spends his days reluctantly keeping sideways cops out of the crosshairs of the Internal Affairs department…until Keyonna Jackson, a social justice activist, presents him with a troubling video: a made-for-Youtube cell phone snippet chronicling the same kind of questionable use-of-force that had set New York City, Ferguson, and Cleveland on fire in recent years. The same use-of-force that he’s been covering up for Newark PD. For the first time in his life, Russell finds himself on the wrong side of the guys with the badges and guns. When details of the shooting become public, Russell finds himself allying with street activists as he races to put together the biggest story of his life…before the city he needs to tell it to burns down around him.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Homegoing 

by Yaa Gyasi

The book tells the story of two half sisters unknown to each other and of the six generations that follow, their lineages broken by enslavement and cursed by premonitions that condemned those who were captured, those who were spared and those who sold hostages to the Europeans.

Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the north to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi has written a modern masterpiece, a novel that moves through histories and geographies and--with outstanding economy and force--captures the troubled spirit of our own nation.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

The Vanishing Half 

by Brit Bennett

A stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical; but, after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

Invisible Man 

by Ralph Ellison

First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison's nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.

As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, Ralph Ellison's nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief.

Available in digital and physical formats. Check availability in our online catalog!

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