Books with black people on the cover were special to me as a child. Mainly because they appeared a world away from author Judy Blume's books. Because they were so rare, I came to think of them as striking gold ... black gold!

That literary cornucopia is packed with much more tropical fruit these days. Back then, after the third or fourth spin of the classroom turnstyle, and fifth or sixth read of "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry!," I settled for anything that did not have a white cartoon on the cover. All of the books with Black people on the cover were real people, hardly ever a cartoon.

This made me like books about real people earlier than I probably should have and led me to read "Mein Kampf" in the fourth grade. As far as I was concerned, every book in my classroom was fair game. Hitler's was a short, thick book with a red stripe of letters and a glaring toy soldier man doll on the front.

I give thanks for my mother's reserved response to my Hitler phase. She seemed to have understood my interest in his respect of great speakers. I hated talking in front of the class as much as I admired my friends that were great at it.

Fourth and fifth grade offered more literary independence. The one coverless Zora Neale Hurston book on the shelf was finally picked up and read due to process of elimination. I got myself a public library card.

That summer I learned Hurston was actually the queen of the Harlem Renaissance. She opened the door for me to a litany of literary all-stars like Arna Bontemps, Nella Larson, Claude McKay, and even Langston Hughes. Hurston is the heroine of my youth.

I spent much of my freshman year at the then-North Community Magnet High School sitting with the betrayal. I chose computer-aided design and drafting to spite my writing aspirations. I was a dramatic teen. I couldn't actually name or identify the culprit that hid black books.


Neither could I figure out how so many adults could think I'd have the same questions for God as Margaret. All Judy Blume ever gave me was the threat of a second hospital visit the time I tried to prematurely remove a cast on my broken bone like Deenie, telling my mom I was 'never going to wear that thing.' Deenie tried to get me killed! Hurston saved my life.
Angela McDowell is a spoken word artist and lives in Minneapolis.

BOOKSHELF:
Angela McDowell recommends these empowering readsthat also encourage the literary imagination of Black women and girls.
The Three Witches by Zora Neale Hurston
Passing by Nella Larsen
Education and Marginality: A Study of the Negro College Women Graduate by Marion V. Cuthbert
I Sit and Sew by Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Fledgling by Octavia Butler

What's On Your Bookshelf?

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