Where can young and aspiring Black writers go to learn the depth and intricacies of the craft, the trials and tribulations of the calling and the importance of reading, vulnerability, and speaking from the heart and mind to cultivate a lifelong narrative and career where external circumstances, the past, and criticism cannot crumble the validity and invaluable contributions made to Black society and people from all backgrounds?

Rita Dover, Sojourner Truth, and Kevin Powell are writers who are able to reflect these abilities along with inspiring competence and unwavering commitment to excavating Black life. They have generously lent the majority of their lives to the advancement of Black existential freedom, education, and clarity of thought and communicative exchange with readers, thinkers, politicians, artists, and an international audience of literary admirers. Their impacts and collection of work are almost unfathomable in terms of what they’ve been able to do in a lifetime. 

Dove and Powell are still on this Earth, giving all they have to the world. If we, as Black culture and community, are willing to learn and listen, read and respect, we can become like them—larger than life, yet thoughtful and self-regarding. 

The Kevin Powell Reader: Essential Writings and Conversations by Kevin Powell

With a 20-year career as an author, Powell’s first book, “In the Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers,” published in 1993, launched him into the Black literary atmosphere where he has consistently published candid nonfiction political books, memoirs, and collections of poetry and essays written by himself and other prolific writers. Also a journalist, he is an alumnus of VIBE magazine, where he was invited to write during its inaugural year, 1992–1996. He is also a former writer for the Amsterdam News. The writer’s accomplishments are extensive. 

This year brings the publication of “The Kevin Powell Reader: Essential Writings and Conversations,” a culmination of Powell’s work that, as noted by publisher Akashic, spans “the Reagan-Bush years of AIDS and crack epidemics to our current era framed by the COVID-19 pandemic; the tragic killing of George Floyd; the #MeToo movement; and much more.”  

This comprehensive anthology of the writer’s selections of his most important pieces is essential to aspiring writers and readers interested viewing Black life through a vast and diverse lens.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth (1853)

Published in 1853 by writer Olive Gilbert and Sojourner Truth, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth” is an in-depth biography of Truth’s life from birth to the time of publication, 30 years before her death in 1853. The book opens with, “THE subject of this biography, SOJOURNER TRUTH, as she now calls herself—but whose name, originally, was Isabella—was born, as near as she can now calculate, between the years 1797 and 1800. She was the daughter of James and Betsey, slaves of one Colonel Ardinburgh, Hurley, Ulster County, New York.” 

The book follows Isabella, her pre-slave name, which she thoughtfully and respectfully acknowledges throughout the entire book, takes readers through every portion of her life in incredible detail: her family, religious upbringing, being sold at auction, slavery, her marriage, and so on. 

This historical book is a reproduction of the first edition of the manuscript, which was restored for clarity and republished for collectors and devourers of Black history who would relish in reading it.

Playlist for the Apocalypse: Poems by Rita Dove

“I was so busy being out there and speaking for poetry. I couldn’t hear myself anymore. And every time I would try to get the time and the quiet, there was never enough time,” Dove told the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Playlist for the Apocalypse,” her first offering of a poetry collection in 12 years, is a well-rounded examination of myriad experiential landscapes through the perspective of diverse but mainly Black beings of the past, such as Henry Martin, the grandson of President Thomas Jefferson, a bi-racial young man whose position in life was unique and interesting to ponder. 

Journalist Dwight Garner delves into Dove’s style, pinpointing a subtle nod to her predecessor, Toni Morrison, who was 20 years her senior. He writes (trigger warning: explicit language), “One of the best, ‘Aubade East,’ is set in Harlem. The cocky speaker, out for a walk, squints into the ‘bitch sunlight fingering the spaced-out tenements.’” This is a hat-tip to Morrison, who famously—famously in my house, anyway—wrote, in “Sula,” “The sun was already rising like a hot white bitch.”

Dove, the first Black Poet Laureate of the United States of America, as an individual, as a masterful writer in her own right, gives her all to tell the stories of characters, their mannerisms, their thoughts, their days and intimate moments to pen poetry that is just as evocative as any of her early work, dating back her the publishing of her first book, “The Yellow House on the Corner” in 1980.

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