Black No More by George S. Schuyler


54CDB2F3-2C1C-4FB6-A29C-9B96A70731DEI picked up Black No More as part of a book club read with my all Black online book club. I wasn’t familiar with the book, and had only barely even heard of the the title, but was excited to read a satire written by a Black man from the 1930’s.

More information on Black No More

It’s New Year’s Day 1933 in New York City, and Max Disher, a young black man, has just found out that a certain Dr. Junius Crookman has discovered a mysterious process that allows people to bleach their skin white—a new way to “solve the American race problem.” Max leaps at the opportunity, and after a brief stay at the Crookman Sanitarium, he becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man who is able to attain everything he has ever wanted: money, power, good liquor, and the white woman who rejected him when he was black.

Lampooning myths of white supremacy and racial purity and caricaturing prominent African American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marcus Garvey, Black No More is a masterwork of speculative fiction and a hilarious satire of America’s obsession with race.


This book, like so many classic books that discuss the Black experience in The United States, feels relevant today. Schuyler uses Black No More to eviscerate Black and White people, intellectuals and hate leaders alike. He doesn’t hold back on bringing everyone to task. Depending on your own perspective on the world, this book could be interpreted in many different ways.

What I appreciated most about this book was that Schuyler seemed to have no fear about how the book would be received. If he did, he didn’t let that stop him. He created characters that mocked well known Black thought leaders (W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and more) and reduced the KKK to a complete scam. He minimized Black identity to something akin to crabs climbing out of a barrel, and showed that White people just need someone to kick around. He showed the American propensity toward violence, and the shame that so many people carry around due to their family’s history.

What I didn’t like about the book was the tone. It felt old-timey. It read like something from days gone by, and that took me out of the story. The jokes didn’t land. The writing felt dated. I never laughed out loud, and mostly felt detached from the work itself. I wondered if that had to do with the era, or with the genre, as I do not read satire often.

When I read classics, I save the introduction for after I’ve completed the text. In the case of Black No More, the introduction is by author Danzy Senna (Caucasia, New People), a mixed race woman who is very fair and often presumed white. She does an excellent job with the forward, and helped me put the book in context. It was worth it to go back and read her words.

In the end, I am glad I read this book. I haven’t read much from the 1930’s and Schuyler paints a searing picture of race in America that is prescient beyond belief. The book is a great work of speculative fiction, even if the satire didn’t work for me. I would love to see this book turned into a film, does anyone have Ava DuVernay’s number?

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Classics (January 16, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on Black No More Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Hear Traci on The SSR Podcast

Guess what? I was invited on someone else’s podcast. That’s right, you can hear me on The SSR (Sh*t She Read) Podcast, hosted by Alli Hoff Kosik. The show is all about adults reading and discussing favorite books from their tween and teen years, mostly to see if they hold up and what they notice from their new (older) perspective. I’m on as part of “New Reads November” to talk about the modern classic, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The book follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a Black girl, as she navigates life after her friend, an unarmed Black boy, is murdered at the hands of a police officer, and she is the sole witness. The book engages with many topics that surround the Black Lives Matter Movement, code switching, racism, anxiety, and more.

We discuss the book in detail (yes, spoilers) and I give my honest critiques of why I liked, but didn’t love, this book that has become a “must read” for many. I THUG this book back in February of this year, and you can read my full review here.

Listen Now

Apple Podcasts|SSR Podcast Website

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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Reading The Bluest Eye for The Stacks Book Club was my first time ever reading the work of Toni Morrison. I knew it would be great, simply because so many people told me so, but getting a chance to read her words for myself, I now understand. You can listen to my conversation with Renée Hicks (founder of Book Girl Magic) about The Bluest Eye right here on The Stacks.

Here is more about The Bluest Eye

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.


Morrison does an expert job of writing about the darkest parts of our humanity. The book is haunting. Her characters are real and simple and purely themselves, for better or worse. She uses her words to make sure we never look away, that we examine the humanity of these characters. She finds our own vulnerabilities and uses them, forcing the reader to confront pain and trauma in a three dimensional way. To extend our sympathy to the abusers and the abused. Even when it feels impossible.

As we follow the life of our protagonist, a young dark-skinned Black girl named Pecola Breedlove, we see the world she sees, and we flashback to how her 1940s Ohio world was created. Morrison is brilliant in setting the scene as we think it should be, and then showing how it really is, how we got here, and why it is more complicated than we could have imagined.

The Bluest Eye takes on much that ails our society. The book confronts racism, colorism, beauty, sexism, sexuality, sexual abuse, trauma, rage, toxic masculinity, and more. Instead of looking at each idea as an isolated problem, she folds everything together and dares us to unpack the mess. To see that none of these isms or societal failures works on its own, but rather that they are entangled. While the story itself is painful and bleak, Morrison’s writing makes it palatable, something her readers are willing to stick with and sift through.

I could have read more of this book, but Morrison says what she needs to say in about 200 pages. She is specific and direct. There is no extra fluff. She doesn’t give us time to wallow. That directness enhances the book. She shows us the evils of humanity, the tender moments of kindness and never allows one to take on more weight than the other. Never allows us to pick sides. We just have to keep moving forward.

This is Morrison’s first novel, she wrote it at age 39, which is hard to believe, but then again seems right. This book is a force of a debut and while I did sometimes find myself confused, especially during the ending, I was engrossed with her language and her characters. You can feel that there is room for growth in The Bluest Eye, which says more about Morrison’s potential to be one of the greats than anything else. For many authors, this would be their top, this would be the best they could do. I look forward to reading more Toni Morrison, and I am so glad I finally got started reading her at all.

Don’t forget to listen the The Stacks with Renée Hicks discussing The Bluest Eye

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 8, 2007)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy on The Bluest Eye Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

 

Ep. 34 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison — The Stacks Book Club (Renée Hicks)

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The Bluest Eye is the first novel of Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, it is also The Stacks Book Club pick this week. We dissect this American classic and discuss its many themes including race, beauty, love and abuse with Renée Hicks, founder of Book Girl Magic. Our conversation covers the entire book, which means there are a lot of spoilers. Go read the book and then come back and listen.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

Connect with Renee and Book Girl Magic: Book Girl Magic Website|Book Girl Magic Instagram|Book Girl Magic Facebook|Book Girl Magic Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ep. 33 Book Girl Magic with Renee Hicks

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgThis week on the podcast, our guest is Renée Hicks, founder of Book Girl Magic, an online book club that centers books by and about Black women. Renée shares with us her journey into reading, how her reading has inspired the reading life of her children, and her love of romance novels, one in particular.

You can find everything we talk about this week in the show notes below. By shopping through the links you help support The Stacks, at no cost to you. Shop on Amazon and iTunes.

BOOKS

EVERYTHING ELSE

Connect with Renee and Book Girl Magic: Book Girl Magic Website|Book Girl Magic Instagram|Book Girl Magic Facebook|Book Girl Magic Twitter

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram|The Stacks Website|Facebook|Twitter|Subscribe|Patreon|Goodreads|Traci’s Instagram

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Sponsors

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

My Mentor Book Club – for 50% off your first month of new nonfiction from My Mentor Book Club go to mymentorbookclub.com/thestacks


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

I had heard so many amazing things about A Lucky Man from a variety of people and when I saw it long-listed for The National Book Award, I had to pick it up and start reading.

More about A Lucky Man

In the nine expansive stories ofA Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.

Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.


When you encounter a writer that takes the path less traveled, sometimes the work can feel overwrought and self-important. You sense the labor that went into being clever or different, as if the author is showing off how unique their thinking is compared to everyone around them. That is not the case with Jamel Brinkley and A Lucky Man. Brinkley instead proves himself to be authentically singular with these stories. His characters and events feel fresh and effortless, as if there was no other thing in the world for him to do but write these stories.

I have not read many short story collections and I think there is certainly a muscle needed to switch ones mind quickly between stories, a muscle that allows you to move on seamlessly from one set of characters to the next. I have still yet to develop that muscle. That being said, these stories are strong on their own, they are vulnerable and rich, and tell of life as a Black man in ways I’ve never seen depicted. There are no two dimensional characters in this book, there are no stereotypes. Everyone is layered and nuanced in a way that left me wanting more from many of the stories. I could easily imagine many being turned into movies. Brinkley obviously loves his characters, at times I felt that there is no way he created these people out of thin air, they felt like his loved ones, his real life friends and family somehow turned into fiction. I have no idea if that is true or not, but either way, you could feel the deep connection Brinkley has to the people in his book.

I often struggled transitioning between stories, and sometimes felt like too little happened. I felt unfulfilled. Sometimes so little happened I have forgotten what happened at all. This book is all suspense and sometimes there wasn’t enough payoff. I felt disconnected from the emotion of some of the stories. However, for a debut collection, I am thrilled to see what will come next as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this book, even if it doesn’t stick with me down the road.

My personal favorite stories were “A Family” and “Everything the Mouth Eats”. This book has received much praise from critics and readers alike, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to you.

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on A Lucky Man Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

ADA6ECB3-A56D-4D66-BBDE-E73C105136E8I requested this audiobook from my library months ago, I forgot about it. Then I got an email saying it was on my phone, and I’m so happy that I did.

A little more about Eloquent Rage

So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.

Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon.

In Brittney Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor fuckboys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.


Brittney Cooper has made the case that she is the smartest (and most articulate) person in the room, especially when it comes to Black Feminism. Eloquent Rage is a force of passion, intelligence, history, and of corse, rage, and it totally works. Cooper’s points are razor sharp, and she walks us through her thinking time and time again.

Eloquent Rage is committed to Black Girl Feminism. It centers women of color. Dr. Cooper comes back to Black women over and over again in this book, even when she leaves them to discuss Hilary Clinton or Black fathers. When she strays to follow a line of thinking, she always comes back to the intersectional point of Black women. She is never distracted or dissuaded.

I am struck by how smart Cooper is. Not because she holds her intelligence over the reader, but because she is able to distill complex ideas down to a place where any reader can hear her and understand her. That is not easy, and Cooper does it with, what feels like, ease. She takes feminist theory and transcribes it over Michelle Obama’s ponytail, or Beyonce’s song “Formation”. She dissects the bible’s thoughts on sex along side her own grandmother’s thoughts on sex. Only someone with a strong hold on the theories behind Black feminism and the depth of mind to grapple with these theories could create such a complex, and yet still simple book. She hits the pains and pleasures of being a Black woman on the head. It was wonderful to see my life and struggles reflected in Cooper’s writing.

There were moments in this book where Cooper lost me. Not because I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but more because I couldn’t always follow how she got there. And to be fair, I listened to this book as an audiobook, so some of the lack of comprehension could be blamed on focus and not flow. Dr. Cooper narrates the book, and she does a wonderful job. Its not too familiar and not too academic. Again, she strikes the perfect balance.

I can not suggest this book more to anyone interested in intersectional feminism. I can not suggest this book more to anyone interested in feminism, period. You’ll walk away feeling like you have a new and deep understanding of what life for Black women is like, even if you already are a Black woman.

  • Audiobook: 6 hours and 57 minutes
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 19, 2018)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 20, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy on Eloquent Rage Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

This is the kind of book that is also on my radar, political, racial, and nonfiction, yes please. To move it to the top of my my read list, all I needed to see was that it was long-listed for the National Book Award. So I picked it up, and read it in about two sittings.

Here is more on this book

With One Person, No Vote, she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.

Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws. In gripping, enlightening detail she explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. And with vivid characters, she explores the resistance: the organizing, activism, and court battles to restore the basic right to vote to all Americans as the nation gears up for the 2018 midterm elections.


If you’re not familiar with voter suppression and the ways that it has been enacted in the past and continues to be used today, this book will feel like a whole new world opening up in front of you. If you have read about disenfranchisement of Black and Brown voters, along with those of the poor, young, and elderly, this book will sum up most of what you already know. Either way, this book provides a detailed account of these tactics, and clearly lays out facts versus fiction around voter fraud. It is smart and specific, if not a little dry.

The most powerful thing this book does is erase the narrative that many people of color, poor people, elderly people, etc. do not vote because they do not care. Anderson lays out the obstacles that have been placed in these voters’ way. She describes what people face just to get registered, and what more lays in their way of getting to the polls. She explains that many of these new barriers to voting have sprung up since 2013 and using the voter turnout from Obama’s elections (2008 and 2012) vs 2016 are disingenuous and place unfair blame on Black people’s “apathy” and not the systemic suppression of the Black vote. Dispelling this myth was powerful, and needed, especially as we approach the 2018 midterm election.

In One Person, No Vote, Anderson is relentless in hammering home just how many voter laws have been passed that are racist, but more than that, extremely deliberate. The voter ID laws, redistricting, and reduced early voting, voter roll purging, and more are all targeting specific racial and demographic groups with surgical precision. Anderson does not allow us to forget that for one second. She does not feel the need to give credence to fabricated claims of voter fraud, instead she choses to debunk these theories, and call them outright lies.

Toward the end of the book, Anderson takes us through the election of Doug Jones in Alabama, and the work that was done by Black organizers and political organizations to re-enfranchise voters who had been taken off voter rolls, who had been told they couldn’t vote, and who didn’t have rides to the polls. She explains to us the ins and outs of their playbook that took voter disenfranchisement head on. It is powerful and gives hope, but not hope without a lot of hard work and good organizing.

There is a lot of information in this book, and while the book itself is short, it is written a very straight forward non-fiction style. I appreciated her directness and ability to draw straight lines between actions and fallout. White supremacy functions within the confines of American law, and it functions in the shadows. Anderson shines bright lights on the White supremacist agenda of stealing votes. I suggest you read this book.

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; First Edition edition (September 11, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy One Person, No Vote on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

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The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here

In my quest to be a “good and responsible” book reviewer I am reading my way through many of the long listed books for The National Book Award. I know I won’t read them all any time soon, but I’m making a major effort to read a chunk of them. I love book awards, even if I seldom agree. Heads of the Colored People is my third book from the fiction long list.

Here is more about this book

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.


There is so much to enjoy about this book. It is smart, and dark, and funny, and really well done. The stories feel well thought through and edited. I never lost interest, often times I wanted more. Her characters were specific and their desires clear. She breathed deep full breaths into each of her characters.

Heads of the Colored People excels at humanizing Black experiences. Not in the way that we see that Black people have feelings too, but in a way that allows Black people the privilege of being wholly individual. They get to care about stupid things like fluorescent lighting. They get to do odd things in the privacy of their own homes. They get too have control issues. They get to exhibit the mundane personality flaws that we so often see represented through Whiteness. Thompson-Spires gives Black characters the space and freedom to be unique, idiosyncratic, particular, neurotic, and vulnerable. All the things we often associate with Whiteness. Her characters are free to be alive and to have non life threatening issues. She makes space at the table for individuality in Blackness.  Heads of the Colored People is a reminder that Blackness is not a monolith, and it never has been. This type of representation matters.

What Thomspon-Spires is doing with Heads of the Colored People is almost more important than what she is saying; no one story stands out as more valuable than any other. Rather, they all work together to paint elaborate tableaus of modern Black life. There is now a book in the world where these stories of Black people being human exist. I don’t know that the specifics of the majority of these stories will sick with me. I think that is okay. What will stick with me is that this book happened and I read it and it was good.

If you like fiction short stories, dark humor, and want to examine people’s quirks this is your book. The writing is well crafted and intentional. It tackles themes of what it means to be Black in new ways. It hits all its marks and works on many levels. It is short and sweet, and I certainly look forward to what more Nafissa Thompson-Spire brings to the table.

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • PublisherAtria / 37 INK; 1st Edition edition (April 10, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Heads of the Colored People on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

E4FA3654-5315-4685-8748-2A65FF1D6F41Every year I try to read at least one or two Pulitzer Prize winners, while I generally don’t enjoy the fiction books for a myriad of reasons, I have found some of my favorite nonfiction books have won or been short listed for the Pulitzer (Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson, sticks out a recent favorite). It was a no brainer to pick up Locking Up Our Own, it won the Pulitzer in 2018 for general nonfiction, and had a subject matter that excited me.

Here is a little more about this book

Former public defender James Forman, Jr. is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers.

Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness―and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.


This is a smart and thoughtful book. It highlights the role Black politicians, officials, and community members have had on mass incarceration. I appreciated Forman’s in depth look at this small and specific group of people. There are many nuances and subtleties in the giant machine that is the prison industrial complex, and this book zeros in on one of those nooks, especially from the vantage point of a defense lawyer.

The book mostly focuses on Washington DC (a majority Black city), and places a lot of blame on Black leaders, which Forman explains in detail. However, found myself questioning how different these laws were in other cities with large Black populations and White elected officials. A lot of the blame is laid at the feet of the African Americans who run DC, but it isn’t clear if this is unique to DC. If these trends were seen nationwide, including cities with few Black leaders, the case made against the Black leaders in DC is significantly diminished. I didn’t feel that I understood if the movement toward stricter laws was truly being led by Black folks, or if it was more a national trend in cities with large Black populations. Said another way, sure, Eric Holder enacted harsh search and seizure initiatives in DC, but was this any different than stop and frisk in Giuliani’s New York? This makes a huge difference in the argument, and these questions were left unanswered.

The writing style of Locking Up Our Own was mostly straight forward, nothing particularly fancy or noteworthy. Forman does include the cases of his past clients to connect the laws in theory to the lives they affected in practice. This didn’t feel like a priority for the book, but rather an after thought, and therefore these stories fell flat. They functioned more like interludes than anything else.

I enjoyed learning about the role that Black people have played in the mass incarceration crisis, even if it wasn’t clear if they were following trends versus creating a road map for The United States. I appreciated a much more subtle look at something that has become a topic that engenders a lot of debate.

If you find nonfiction to be a little dry, this isn’t the nonfiction book for you, I might suggest Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, because it has a much more human element (thought it is more focused on death penalty law). I would suggest you read this book if you’re like nonfiction, even when it is not story based, and are well versed in mass incarceration. It is a great compliment to The New Jim Crow  by Michelle Alexander.

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (February 6, 2018)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Locking Up Our Own on Amazon

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