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Common Reading 2020-21: Listen. Learn. Act.

This theme for 2020-21 is dedicated to listening to and learning about Blackness and Black experiences.
American flag dyed with red, black, and green

David Hammons, African American Flag, 1990

Dyed cotton
56" x 7' 4" (142.2 x 223.5 cm)
Image source: Artstor

Offset print of Black Panther members holding rifles

Emory Douglas (illustration), Solidarity with the African American People, 1968

Poster by Lázaro Abreu
Offset printing
21.44 x 14 in.
Image source: Artstor

Lithograph of nine black women holding a quilt decorated with sunflowers and a bearded man standing in the background.

Faith Ringgold, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles, 1996

Lithograph
22 3/4" x 30 1/2"
Image source: Artstor

Image of stereotypical Black

Betye Saar, Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972

Mixed media
11 3/4" x 8" x 2 3/4"
Image source: Artstor

Black Art and Activism

Art/Activism

Art and activism are intertwined, fueling inspiration and generating dialogues reciprocally. The visual arts, in all their various configurations of form and subject, have been and continue to be central to Black activism in the United States.

Titus Kaphur, Yet Another Fight for Remembrance, 2014 (Image source: Artforum; posted under Fair Use)
Titus Kaphur, Yet Another Fight for Remembrance, 2014 (Image source: Artforum; posted under Fair Use)

 

Empowerment

In some cases, Black art demands greater visibility through confrontation. Emory Douglas' work for the Black Panther Party was striking and confrontational, disseminating sharp messages such as “We will not hesitate to either kill or die for our freedom.” His work circulated in the Panthers’ newspaper and branded the movement with a bold, militant style.

Appropriation

Other artists, such as David Hammons and Betye Saar, have taken a more satirical approach through reappropriating American iconography, drawing attention to the insidious racism embedded within the fabric of our country. Hammons, for instance, reclaims the American flag in African American Flag (1990), re-coloring the traditional red, white, and blue with the colors of Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African flag: red, black, and green.

Celebration

Activist art can also be commemorative and celebratory without compromising its subversive power. Artists such as Faith Ringgold explore this through technique, material, and narrative. Adapting a historic African American tradition, Ringgold creates massive quilts that center Black figures and Black stories.

Learn more:

Whose America?

My America

Since the colonial period, Black writers have sought to lay claim to America, and to define an America that includes them. This was true even when, like Phyllis Wheatley, whose book of poems was published three years before American independence, African American writers were themselves enslaved. It continues to today, when inaugural poet Amanda Gorman recites, "Being American is more than a pride in what we inherit, / It's the past we step into and how we repair it." By laying claim to "My America" in the title of her book, Kim Johnson places herself in this powerful lineage of African American writers and thinkers. Johnson cites in particular the influence of Langston Hughes, and a poem that begins, "I, too, sing America." Hughes (1901-1967) was a leading writer of the Harlem Renaissance; his poetry was translated and influential across the globe, and helped inspire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. He was a social activist targeted by the House of Unamerican Activities Committee who also wrote novels and newspaper columns during the Civil Rights Era.

Photograph of Langston Hughes by Ole Fossgard with a CC BY-NC-SA license

Photograph of Langston Hughes by Ole Fossgård, Used under a CC BY-NC-SA license

I, Too, Am America

This poem was written in 1925. Below is an image of Hughes's own copy of the poem, from the Beinecke Library (source). Listen at the link below to Langston Hughes reading this poem and discussing its wider appeal in Latin America.

Image of poem

 

Creativity While Incarcerated

Prison Activism through Art

After the end of slavery in the United States, white Americans continued to exploit African American people's labor through convict leasing and other forms of forced labor. Today, laws and policies that uphold mass incarceration (and convict labor) continue to disproportionately and unfairly target African American communities. It is in this context that prison activism through art has a long and storied history in the U.S., from art and poetry to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." In a recent book, UOregon professor Michael Hames-García "argues that writings by prisoners are instances of social theory that seek to transform the world. Fugitive Thought reinvigorates moral concepts like 'justice,' 'solidarity,' and 'freedom' through focusing on writings by black and Latina/o lawyers and prisoners to flesh out the philosophical underpinnings of ethical claims within legal theory and prison activism" (book jacket).

"Art From Inside"

In Spring 2019, the UO Prison Education Program hosted an exhibition showcasing the work of students from Oregon's prisons. It was called Emergence: Art From Inside. Click the link below to learn more and to view the art.

Screen capture of 3 works of art from UO's 2019 exhibition, Emergence: Art from Inside

A screen capture of three pieces of art from Emergence: Art From Inside. Used under fair use for educational purposes only.

More YA Books to Explore

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

"A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism--and antiracism--in America This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race. The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited. Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas--and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives."

The Poet X

"Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award! Fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing New York Times-bestselling novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers--especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami's determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school's slam poetry club, she doesn't know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can't stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. "Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice." --Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation "An incredibly potent debut." --Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost "Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero." --Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street"

Book cover with boy on bicycle looking back over his shoulder

Discovering Wes Moore

"For fans of The Wire and Unbroken comes a story of two fatherless boys from Baltimore, both named Wes Moore. One is in prison, serving a life sentence for murder. The other is a Rhodes Scholar, an army veteran, and an author whose book is being turned into a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey.   The story of "the other Wes Moore" is one that the author couldn't get out of his mind, not since he learned that another boy with his name--just two years his senior--grew up in the same Baltimore neighborhood. He wrote that boy--now a man--a letter, not expecting to receive a reply. But a reply came, and a friendship grew, as letters turned into visits and the two men got to know each other. Eventually, that friendship became the inspiration for Discovering Wes Moore, a moving and cautionary tale examining the factors that contribute to success and failure--and the choices that make all the difference. Two men. One overcame adversity. The other suffered the indignities of poverty. Their stories are chronicled in Discovering Wes Moore, a book for young people based on Wes Moore's bestselling adult memoir, The Other Wes Moore."

Harbor Me

"Jacqueline Woodson's first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories. It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives."

Monster

"This New York Times bestselling novel from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve's own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.  Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story that was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist. Monster is now a major motion picture called All Rise and starring Jennifer Hudson, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Nas, and A$AP Rocky. The late Walter Dean Myers was a National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, who was known for his commitment to realistically depicting kids from his hometown of Harlem. Share this highly readable novel at home or in the classroom--it's sure to spark debate and conversation. Walter Dean Myers said: 'I would like young people to consider what happened to Steve Harmon, as well as why. There were decisions that Steve made and some he clearly should have made, but didn't. As the author, I'll be satisfied if the reader forms his or her own opinion about these decisions and the consequences.'"

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YA and Adult Fiction Titles

Check out similar titles in the UO Libraries' Popular Reading, General, and Juvenile (aka "Young Adult") Collections:

Young Adult Fiction
Adult Fiction
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