By Misti Morgan – English Content Director, YES Prep
In honor of Black History Month, we are recommending you add the following three books from our Atlas reading program, all written by African American authors, to your reading list. Misti Morgan, YES Prep English Content Director, shares a short synopsis about each book and the reason why one of our YES Prep teachers recommends reading it.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
“You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, ‘The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.’
When The Fire Next Time was first published in 1963, James Baldwin’s best seller added fuel to the passionate fire of the Civil Rights Movement. Consisting of two letters written on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin implores both Black and Whites to reject the insidious legacy of racism.
Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature. In words that still resonate today, Baldwin dismisses the occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation’s anniversary as a celebration of 100 years of freedom “100 years too soon.”
Why read The Fire Next Time
“The Fire Next Time is an unapologetic examination of what it means to be black in a white America. Anyone who hopes for more than superficial awareness and calls themselves a social justice advocate must read this book.”
Andrea Brantley, YES Prep AP Language Teacher and Content Specialist
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by time. That is the life of men.”
One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose.
A true literary wonder, Hurston’s masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published—perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.
Why read Their Eyes Were Watching God
“Because it is the story of a woman…by a black woman! So often, women in literature have been written about by authors who lived outside of their character’s skin. Janie, like the author Hurston, is an independent woman who fights to go in the direction of her dreams. Every young woman of color needs to read about that.”
Kellie Thompson, YES Prep Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition (IRC) Teacher
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
“Well – son, I’m waiting to hear you say something . . . I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was . . . Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give one baby up to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .”
Taking its name from the Langston Hughes poem, A Dream Deferred, this groundbreaking play is set on Chicago’s South Side during the 1940’s. The plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama.
When her deceased husband’s insurance money comes through, Mama dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans, however: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. Sacrifice, trust and love among the Younger family and their heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration.
Winner of the NY Drama Critic’s Award as Best Play of the Year, it has been hailed as a “pivotal play in the history of the American Black theatre.” By Newsweek.
Why read A Raisin in the Sun
“The play juxtaposes dreams with reality…it portrays the hopes and struggles of an African-American family that many of our students can relate to. There are people who still have dreams that have yet to come true. As long as there are people who still live in poverty, as long as there are people who dream, there will be relevance in a play like A Raisin in the Sun.”
Ogo Nwaneri, YES Prep Teacher and Content Specialist
About the YES Prep Atlas
The YES Prep Atlas is a collection of diverse and purposefully-chosen texts that together form the literary experience YES Prep students engage in from grades 6-12. The title Atlas was chosen because it represents a collection of works representative of a variety of places and worldviews; in an atlas, you can find home and explore new places.
About the Author:
Misti Morgan is the new English Content Director with YES Prep. A product of Houston public schools, Morgan began her career teaching middle school English to students who deserved to know more about their African-American and Hispanic heritages. Her career path then took her into administrative leadership in some of Houston’s most challenging schools. Joining YES Prep married both her love of English literature with her passion of equity in educational experiences. “As one who is charged with the responsibility of selecting diverse and rigorous texts for student achievement, I can think of no better way to prepare the next generation of independent thinkers and leaders.”