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The Folger Spotlight

Recommended Reading: ‘Not Just Another Day Off’

On Monday January 18, 2021 poets Camonghne Felix, Julian Randall, and Joseph Ross will be joined by actors Sara Barker, James Johnson, and Fatima Quander for Not Just Another Day Off, our annual celebration of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event will feature contemporary poetry alongside historical speeches from Dr. King, Gandhi, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and others. To prepare for this event, we have curated a list of related reading for those hoping to explore further.

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
    • “With vivid imagery, with lavish attention to details … [a] feverish story.” —The New York Times
    • With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin tells the story of the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Originally published in 1953, Baldwin said of his first novel, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.”
  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
    • “[N. K. Jemisin] has pretty well conquered [the epic fantasy scene] with the Broken Earth.”—The New York Times on The Stone Sky
    • A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
    • “So precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”  —The New York Times
    • In Morrison’s best selling first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
    • “Stunningly beautiful. . . . Full of magnificent people. . . . They are still haunting my house. I suspect they will be with me forever.” —Anne Tyler, The Washington Post
    • Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. As Morrison follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, she introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized Black world.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
    • Winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times Top 10 Book of the Year
    • Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
    • “So eloquent in its passion and so scorching in its candor that it is bound to unsettle any reader.”—The Atlantic
    • At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document from the iconic author of If Beale Street Could Talk and Go Tell It on the Mountain. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible 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 literature.
  • Heavy by Kiese Laymon
    • Named a Best Book of 2018 by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics
    • In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a “gorgeous, gutting…generous” (The New York Times) memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
  • Where Do We Go from Here:Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    • In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.
  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
    • Long-listed for the National Book Award, #1 New York Times Bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club Pick
    • In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
  • Build Yourself a Boat by Camonghne Felix 
    • “With Build Yourself a Boat, Camonghne Felix heralds a thrillingly new form of storytelling.”—Morgan Parker, author of Magical Negro
    • This is about what grows through the wreckage. This is an anthem of survival and a look at what might come after. A view of what floats and what, ultimately, sustains.
  • The Mighty Stream, edited poetry anthology by Carolyn Forché and Jackie Kay
    • “This is a powerful and disturbing anthology, cataloguing the effects of prejudice, violence, self-interest and atrocity, complete with condemnation of the silent majority… this collection, magnificent and cringingly forceful as it is, is powerful food for thought, and, hopefully, action.” – Frank Startup, The School Librarian
    • As part of a fifty year anniversary and celebration, this anthology gathers poets from both sides of the Atlantic to address the challenges set out by Dr. King. It’s a shock to think how little has changed, and that Martin Luther King could well be speaking right here, right now. In the spirit of Dr. King and his work as a humanitarian and activist, this anthology brings together poems that offer powerful testimonies to the urgent issues Dr. King defines and represents the polyphony of voices that speak in resistance to our continuing problems of racism, poverty and war.
  • Refuse by Julian Randall
    • Winner of the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2019 NAACP Image Award in Poetry
    • Set against the backdrop of the Obama presidency, Julian Randall’s Refuse documents a young biracial man’s journey through the mythos of Blackness, Latinidad, family, sexuality and a hostile American landscape.  Mapping the relationship between father and son caught in a lineage of grief and inherited Black trauma, Randall conjures reflections from mythical figures such as Icarus, Narcissus and the absent Frank Ocean.  Not merely a story of the wound but the salve, Refuse is a poetry debut that accepts that every song must end before walking confidently into the next music.
  • Raising King by Joseph Ross
    • “In his beautiful collection of poems evoking the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Joseph Ross offers his readers hope and inspiration for our own difficult times. These poems call us to revive our courage, moral convictions, and belief in the ultimate redemption of humanity.”—Susannah Heschel
    • Raising King urges readers to walk beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Montgomery to Memphis, past police dogs, mobs, and fire hoses. Listen to his thoughts, hopes, and fears. You’ll also hear from heroes including Abernathy, Shuttlesworth, and Coretta Scott King.

We hope you will join us for Not Just Another Day Off,  available to stream for free beginning Monday, January 18. Reservations are free but registration is required. To access the event, please visit our website.


[…] can re-visit the 2019 reading on Soundcloud. Click here for a curated reading list related to this year’s […]

ENCORES: ‘Not Just Another Day Off’ (2018) - The Folger Spotlight — April 28, 2021