Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Best African-American Books of 2009

By Sidik Literature Editor

This year, I gleaned and digested tons of books. Oh how many worlds I traveled! I traversed the motherland, sampling the best of contemporary African writing. We kicked sand on a Sag Harbor beach with Colson Whitehead's pubescent protagonist, Benji. We even scoured the mucked-up mind of legendary Wu-Tang producer, RZA, for precious bullions of Eastern philosophy. In the end, some journeys were more memorable than others, and so I salute those journeys with a cozy place on my list of the year's most notable books.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf, $24.95)
Adichie shows what happens when the everyday dysfunction of

family and relationships intersects with external political turmoil in this penetrating collection of short stories. The narratives, many of which have published individually in major literary magazines, take place in Nigeria and in the United States, often catching their protagonists in the middle of their diasporic to and fros. This collection serves as a fine follow-up to her Orange Prize winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun.

Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha by Melvin Van Peebles (Akashic Books, $17.95)
Riotous, defiant, and edgy, this graphic novel chronicles the solitary life of a young man trying to make good in the Big Apple. Of course, no piece of art from Melvin Van Peebles is authentic without its share of risque vernacular and snappy wit of which this comic never runs dry. It makes a supplementary companion to the film of the same name.

God is Not an American by Jessica Care Moore (Moore Black Press, $20.00)
Translating resonant verbal performances into valuable written poetry has almost always boggled the spoken word artist. Since 1996, Jessica Care Moore has made a living by making her verses sing on paper as loud they do on stage. In this collection of poems, she aims her political ammo on the Western machine.

Open Letters to America: Essays by Kevin Powell (Soft Skull, $13.95)
This collection of open letters reads more like a post-Bush good riddance speech, but is all the more powerful because of its political optimism. Open Letters to America finds Powell stepping away from the fiery indictments of imperial power that connote his work of late. In these essays, Powell envisions a world where Barack Obama's multicultural coalition of young freedom fighters brings equality and belonging to the undermined populations of America.

The Tao of Wu by The RZA (Riverhead, $24.95)
Anyone who has paid attention to a Wu-Tang rap verse knows the intimacy of the legendary Hip-Hop's crew relationship with martial arts, Eastern philosophy, and the Five Percent Nation of Islam. The RZA, the group's producer and chief intermediary, weaves these loose threads into a complete manifesto on the Wu lifestyle.

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin (Atria, $27.00)
James Gavin's comprehensive biography on the storied Jazz vocalist went relatively overlooked this year. Still, Gavin paints a real portrait of a fragmented star who embodied the very twill of racial entanglement that haunted her career. The book spares pleasantries, tackling both Horne's triumphs and demons.


  1. Dear Mr. Fofana,
    I much appreciate your inclusion of my book "Stormy Weather" on this list - many thanks for your kind words. I enjoyed reading your column and to find my book in such good company. But if the full-length reviews or features on my book that appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Huffington Post, Boston Globe, the New Yorker,, Variety, and New York Newsday; its inclusion on Oprah's Top 25 Summer Reading List; a month-long promotion by Turner Classic Movies as its August Book of the Month; over 60 radio interviews (several on NPR); and an interview on the Today Show have left my book "relatively unnoticed," what do I have to do to get attention?

    James Gavin

  2. Hey fofana,

    i love non-fiction jazz books. if it has your stamp as well as the list above, it's definitely my next read. thanks for putting me on.