The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

I really loved Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half. It's a new twist on the concept of "passing". Race is such an important part of our identity, but if we can "pass" for another race, what does that mean? What questions does that raise? Bennett's novel explores not only race, but class and gender identity as well. Beautiful, contemporary novel.

Kolleen Kalt, Cerritos English

"The Wife of His Youth" by Charles W. Chestnutt

Though the story is over 120 years old, Charles Chestnutt's "The Wife of His Youth" still speaks to me today: the conflicts of race relations, aspirations to improve social conditions, and reckoning with the afterlives of violent oppression are apparent, still. Chestnutt's works explore how our history bears upon us in the present and we act when we can confront this truth. He seems to ask: How does the past shape who we are and where we belong?

Daniel Gardner, Cerritos English 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Part prose, part poetry, and part visual essay, Claudia Rankine’s award-winning book Citizen: An American Lyric is difficult to categorize. The book examines racism in America through a series of micro-aggressions ranging from brief encounters in grocery stores to the career-long discrimination faced by Serena Williams. It is essential reading, especially in today’s America.

Tamar Altebarmakian, Cerritos English 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead combines history with fantasy in a story about a slave named Cora who escapes from a Georgia plantation through the Underground Railroad, which the author reimagines as a literal railroad with tracks and locomotives that makes stops in different states, and each state offers a new possibility for Cora and other characters. I especially like the way Whitehead brings the past into the present through themes such as dignity and freedom, making this book an intense narrative that is worth reading.

Joana Mootz Gonzales, Cerritos English 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time never fails to amaze me. James Baldwin tells personal stories to his nephew, to us, challenging our myths of race, power, and identity in America, reminding us “not to take refuge in any delusion,” even as we are surrounded by them. Published the year I was born (1962), it, like BLM, remains both relevant and necessary.

Steve Clifford, Cerritos English 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower is a guidebook for our modern world. We are not waiting for a government or leader to save us, we all have the power to mold and shape and change the world into something more just. She reminds us: “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change.” 

Michelle Fagundes, Cerritos English 

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

One of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Slam poet Paul Beatty satirizes “post-racial” America in a contemporary LA setting. Through biting cultural commentary, SoCal local humor, and pop-culture references, Beatty has created a masterpiece that will take you from gossiping outside a neighborhood donut shop to arguing before the United States Supreme Court. 

Ben Kessworth, Cerritos English 

Be Holding by Ross Gay

In a homage to legendary basketball player Dr. J, Ross Gay weaves a meditation on the Middle Passage, racism, violence, love, and what it means to be truly free. Masterful in its execution, this book left me breathless. It is nothing short of a 96-page long magic trick.

Ja'net Danielo, Cerritos English 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son. In this remarkable book, Coates speaks directly to his fifteen-year-old son in a series of letters in an attempt to come to terms with what it means to grow up as an African American male in 2015. It is infinitely quotable and one of the best books I have read in recent years.

Sara Cristin, Cerritos English 

"Recitatif" by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif" follows Twyla and Roberta, one Black character and one White character as they navigate the complexities of life on diverging paths. Morrison purposely obscures each of the character's race from the reader. Ultimately, Morrison deftly crafts a story where the reader's stereotypes and assumptions about race are challenged and subverted.

Lance Kayser, Cerritos English

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Without question, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is one of my all-time favorite novels. Morrison plays on the African American legend of flight, i.e., that enslaved Africans sometimes took flight in order to escape enslavement and return home to Africa.  Indeed, this novel underscores the notion of Sankofa, which stems from the Akan belief that one cannot move forward until she or he has reclaimed her or his past.

Natalie Sartin, Cerritos English

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley’s most widely appreciated books follows Easy Rawlins, an unwitting private eye from So. Los Angeles. His character, who follows the migration from the South to the West Coast in 1948, faces off with police and a white power structure as L.A, grows. Mosley’s book are more than genre fiction; he sorts through the most complicated social questions facing the Black community in post-WW2 L.A. 

Tommy Amano-Tompkins, Cerritos English

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

In her debut novel, Yaa Gyasi guides us through the family trees of two Ghanaian sisters: one fractured and filled with tragedy, the other intact and anchored to the knowledge of their history. This 2016 work of fiction is moving, brilliantly structured, and I can’t wait to read it again and again.

Erin Cole, Cerritos English

Fences by August Wilson

Love, betrayal, drama, and soul make up one of my favorite texts.  Playwright August Wilson, who penned 10 plays, each one setting in a different decade of the 20th century notes, his “concern was the idea of missed possibilities.”  Fences, a symbol of segregation, showcases the fall of Troy, the main character, who believes he should’ve been “Jackie Robinson.”

Janet Mitchell-Lambert, Cerritos English