WITS endeavors to elevate Black voices and actively support antiracist initiatives throughout the year. This Black History Month, we are especially excited to share resources so that our community can participate in antiracist discourse and advocacy. We are excited to share this list of our staff’s favorite books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors that they read last year. If you would like to join our community of adult learners committed to enjoying works by BIPOC writers, please join us at the next Study Hall on February 18th. We will discuss Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Enjoy our first edition of #WITSpicks, listed below!
I enjoyed So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo a lot! It was incredibly insightful to hear personal anecdotes about how the author has struggled with race and how society has treated her and others as a result of the color of their skin. It is so important to hear and read about individuals’ stories and how they relate to the larger systemic issues plaguing our country. In order to be an effective advocate and ally for true equality, I recognize that I need to learn more and re-educate myself about race in America. This was a perfect first step in my re-education that I would highly recommend to others.
Jesse Altman, Program Coordinator
Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing was selected for the first WITS Study Hall, and I am so thankful it was chosen! Growing up in a rural community outside of Chicago and Illinois, I know little about its history. Specifically, how racism intersects with Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In the first few chapters of the book, Ewing bounces you back and forth from recent to historical events. I learned so much about how redlining and discriminatory housing in Chicago effected its school system. Ewing has a steadfast commitment to justice and speaks truth to power.
Ashley Bloom, Chief Development Officer
Postcolonial Love Poem, written by Mojave American poet Natalie Diaz, is a powerful and modern collection of poetry enriched by her candid, allusive, utterly distinctive language and tone. There is an ache and longing in her poetry; a lyrical blues like imagery which she uses to connect and awaken readers to what was stolen by colonialism- bodies, land, love, rivers, language. While her work features heavy themes of loss, injustice, and othering, she does not give a portrait of victimhood. Instead, rising from the page is an authentic, complex series of beautiful oracles that illustrate a life of listening, feeling, responding to her truth.
Laurie Brooks, Curriculum Manager
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman is a hybrid of well-researched history and imagined narrative that is very beautifully written. Using her deeply humanizing storytelling and empathy, Hartman tells the unrecorded lives and aspirations of Black women living in New York and Philadelphia in the early twentieth century. The book felt so unique and intimate, and it gave me so much to reflect on regarding not only the perspectives left behind in the past, but also about what explorations of meaning are ignored or largely unknown that are currently unfolding in the present.
Shawn Bush, Program Manager
My favorite book of 2020 would have to be The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The novel is set in Jim Crow-era Florida and is based on the true story of a juvenile reformatory school that operated for over 100 years and systemically abused the young men who were sent to live there. Though an incredibly heavy topic, the story is centered around the friendship that grows between Elwood and Turner, as they grapple with how to best survive the racism and corruption that encompass their daily lives. The Nickel Boys is a powerful read, and its ending will stay with you for a while. I could not recommend it more highly.
Honorable Mention: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Delaney Earley, Program Coordinator
Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay is a must read. A fictionalized account of the 1991 murder of Latasha Harlins in South Los Angeles, Cha’s novel brings together two families – one African American, one Korean American – connected by loss, injustice, and forgiveness. Make sure you budget your time well when you start reading it, because once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.
Honorable mentions: The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio; Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby; Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Annie Kennedy, Community Manager
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is about Tita, a young woman in love. But, as the youngest in her family, she is forbidden to marry and must take care of her mother until she dies. Unable to live the life she craves, Tita expresses herself through cooking. I loved how each chapter begins with a recipe with a history as rich as the ingredients, folded delicately into Tita’s narrative. The vivid descriptions of flavors and smells, mixed with an enticing blend of magic realism, make Like Water for Chocolate a true feast of beauty.
Honorable mentions: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler; Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Elizabeth Kristoff, Grants and Foundation Relations Manager
I read Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall. It was the first “feminist” book I have read by a non-white female. It made me question a lot of the views I held about the view of mainstream feminism being about equality between the sexes. The text focuses heavily on how equality between sexes should encompass a broader view of meeting basic human needs, not just the needs of females that are oftentimes headlined by reproductive rights and pay disparity. This limited view of feminism is focused on a few, oftentimes privileged white women and ignores the basic human needs of others outside of those ranks.
Honorable Mention: The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Tena Latona, Chief Executive Officer
My favorite book of 2020 was The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans. I found myself flying through this book and read it in one sitting. Each short story was thought-provoking, and the final novella was an intriguing mystery that captivated me until the very last page.
Sara Martinez, Program Coordinator
Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller is an incredible, emotionally wrenching, and important read. This memoir is written by “Emily Doe” from the Brock Turner sexual assault case on Stanford’s campus in 2015. The book follows the events of the night and everything that happened with the trial following. Miller’s prose is poetic and gripping, and her story of trauma, continued recovery, and reclaiming her identity has stayed with me since I finished the book. Everyone should read it.
Honorable Mention: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Alex Michel, Corporate Partnerships and Events Manager
Kindred is a book that has been on my radar for a while. Over the years, I have grown fond of Octavia E. Butler’s work, and Kindred is a must read. As a Black woman, reading Dana’s story and how she travels from her 1970’s California home to a slave plantation put me through a whirlwind of emotions. As a reader, I did not know what would happen to her next. I also knew that if I was faced with this situation, I would not have survived it.
Tra’Lisha Renteria, Program Specialist
His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie is about Afi, a seamstress from a small town in Ghana who is offered the opportunity to marry a wealthy man and change her financial situation. She is used by his family when they promise that she will be his only wife. Afi stands up for herself in the end.
Honorable Mention: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Daphne Robinson, Program and Operations Manager
I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as a part of the WITS Study Hall group. The book was so well-written and weaves stories that take place over the course of 300 years. I especially loved the discussion we had during Study Hall about how these stories touched on trauma, heritage, and storytelling.
Kellie Romany, Marketing and Communications Director
I so enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and not at all for the reasons I thought I would. I was excited for an intriguing murder mystery but ended up loving the story for the nuanced and complicated look at sisterhood, family, the cultural value of physical beauty, and misogyny. It really packs a punch at just 226 pages! The story follows two sisters (one a serial killer, as the title gives away) working on their careers and trying to find love in modern-day Lagos. Over the course of the book, through her clipped writing and tense build-up, Braithwaite makes the reader question their notions of villainy and reflect on the idea of doing what it takes to survive.
Honorable Mention: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Kristen Strobbe, Chief Program Officer
My favorite book of 2020 was Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby. This especially funny collection of personal essays, released in March, provided much needed respite in early quarantine. All of Irby’s books are hilarious love letters to Chicago, and the essays evoke nostalgia for social experiences missed out on in 2020, while encouraging appreciation for time spent at home. Writes a misanthropic Irby, “My iPhone is my constant companion in this dull and irritating world.”
Honorable Mention: Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong
Erin Toale, Marketing Coordinator
Mira Jacob’s gorgeous graphic novel memoir Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations opens with a conversation between the author and her young son, who asks with a six-year-old’s bluntness and imagination about race and what it means to be brown or white. The book moves back and forth through time as Jacob contrasts conversations about race in many contexts– from her own childhood in New Mexico, to young adulthood navigating work and relationships, to parenthood in a multiracial family under the Trump administration. Highly recommend.
Ellen Werner, Program Director