While in University I was fortunate to study under a group of professors who valued the cultural richness of story and the use of the written word to transcend historical barriers. One of my favourite and most impressionable courses was African American Literature. It was here that I began to weave the heart wrenching history of slavery and racism together, having not really been taught about it previously in school.
This is where a small seed was planted that propelled me forward to study and try to understand the impact of generational trauma. I don’t ever pretend to know what it is like to walk in anyone’s shoes but my own. As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, I can however see how the ripples flow out inside a family when human rights have been stolen and stripped away. How if we want to create change today we also need to understand the past.
As a culturally mixed kid growing up in a multicultural city I developed early on a curiosity for history and stories. A deep thinker even in my youth, I wanted to know how families came together. Why people decided to live where they lived. And I wanted insight into traditions and legacy and what inspired people to follow certain paths. This carried with me into my University years studying English literature along with a deep love for the written word that continues with me today. Studying English lit goes beyond novels and poetry, taking you on a journey through the first texts published and the societal influences of the time.
While much more challenging 100+ years ago to just write whatever you want and still hope to be published, the best writers have a way of telling most of the story while leaving the reader to question those gaps. Memoires and even fictionally based characters carry the authors emotions. The written word is an expression of the depths of heart. The written word is art.
One way I can support Black History Month is by celebrating Black literature and authors so often overlooked. Here is just a small sample of those I have cherished:
Up from Slavery, by: Booker T. Washington
The Souls of Black Folk, by: William E.B. Dubois
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by: James Weldon Johnson
Native Son, by: Richard Wright
Invisible Man, by: Ralph Ellison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by: Maya Angelou
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by: Zora Neale Hurston
Tar Baby, by: Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye, by: Toni Morrison
Mama Day, by: Gloria Naylor
I’ll leave you with this quote I found on the back of Their Eyes Were Watching God, by: Zora Neale Hurston which was first published in 1937: “Their Eyes belongs in the same category – with that of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway – of enduring American Literature.” Doris Grumbach, Saturday Review. This is precisely why we need Black History Month.