Updated: Nov 7
As I reflected on my High School experience with other Black students who attended my all-boy Jesuit High School, I realized that I read Huckleberry Finn as a form of "Black reading." Now if that is not disheartening enough, as we read excerpts from Mark Twain's disgustingly racist narrative, the white students were encouraged to read "nigger" aloud, which of course was said 213 times throughout the book. Luckily we also read Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as a class which I think is an exceptional play. Unfortunately, we did not read A Raisin in the Sun, which is an equally (if not more important play) that delves into the lives of a Black family in the 1950s when redlining and the KKK were rampant. I mention these works to get to my ultimate point: the mandatory reading in high schools across America is atrocious and downright systematically racist. Following is a list that I and a few friends have put together that must be part of any high school mandatory reading lists -- not just summer books that are required reads, but with in-depth in-class analysis.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Go Tell It on a Mountain by James Baldwin OR
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (because it's shorter and kids may actually read it)
Fences by August Wilson (a play)
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (a play)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
White Girls by Alton Hils
Native Son by Richard Wright
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Now there are other mandatory reads that would fall outside of English literature and go into the categories of nonfiction which High Schoolers should read but likely won't engage in well. I decided to keep my list to these ten novels because I want students across America to realize how powerful and important these novelists are to the creation of American literature. And not just African-American literature, but American Literature. Once you read Baldwin or Morrison, it's like, Fitzgerald who? It's time for us to stop pretending that the best American writers are white. That's false, wrong, and racist. Give students the right to expose themselves to the greatest writers America has to offer. And that may include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Jane Austen, but to leave out any of the writers mentioned in the list above is a blunder that cannot be overlooked.
This list will be followed up by a list of poets that are left out of the narrative in American high schools that leave our kids ignorant when they move on to college. If you want an ignorant America, please go ahead and disregard this post, but if you want an informed and intelligent America, you best head my advice.