For Black History Month, we asked black readers for suggestions on culture pieces that are important. These included works that defined something about the black experience or that they thought more people should know about. Here’s a selection of the pieces that kept popping up, ranging from essays to podcasts, sci-fi fiction to filmmakers, public academics to Netflix documentaries.
You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain By Phoebe Robinson
Phoebe Robinson is a comedian, actress, co-host of comedy podcast 2 Dope Queens and host of the interview talk show podcast Sooo Many White Guys. Her first book, You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, is a collection of personal essays about being a black woman both URL and IRL – think a combination of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Lindy West’s Shrill.
Angela Davis is a figure who has defined the political and cultural landscape of race relations, civil rights and black feminism. As a public intellectual, she has written nine books, including the classic Women, Race and Class. Did we mention she is coming to town? Get a ticket to hear her talk Race, Resistance and Revolution: Freedom is a Constant Struggle on May 6 at Knox United Church.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
The grand dame of science fiction, Octavia E. Butler’s work shakes up the genre that is dominated by white male perspectives. In her books, she often returned to themes of alternate community identities, re-mixing definitions of what it means to be human. Kindred is an ASAP must-read, especially with the very recent release of the graphic novel, but don’t forget her standalone vampire book Fledgling or the Xenogenesis series.
Soul Unexpected with Adeline Bird
Every week, motivational speaker Adeline Bird interviews a local culture-maker on what it means to have soul and how to rediscover it for her podcast, Soul Unexpected with Adeline Bird. In February alone, episodes ranged from Making An Impact Through Storytelling with guest Yassmin Abdel-Magied to Black Femininity with guests Uzo Ma and Alexa Potashnik. Previous episodes have covered everything from food sovereignty to the influence of film on identity and spirituality, sex and relationships, and finding self-love.
Do you have Netflix? Have you watched 13th? If not, drop everything and do it now. As a documentary, 13th examines how, following the 13th Amendment in the US, blackness became institutionally criminalized and slavery was replaced by systems of incarceration. Writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay is the powerhouse visionary behind this documentary, as well as 2015’s Selma, the recent TV series Queen Sugar and – nerds rejoice! – the upcoming film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
Multi-hyphenate creator/producer/writer/director Issa Rae first became an internet cult favourite on YouTube through her Dorm Diaries series and then through The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which subsequently inspired the current HBO series Insecure. The sitcom follows Issa Rae day-to-day while she navigates relationships, work, life decisions and white colleagues.
Creator of the blaxploitation genre of filmmaking (think Shaft), Gordon Parks is credited as being one of the first black film directors and the first to direct major motion pictures, beginning with his autobiographical The Learning Tree. Parks also had a long career as a photographer, working for such publications as Vogue, and then writing two books on his distinctive photography style.