A brilliant scholar imparts the lessons bequeathed by the Black community and its remarkable artists and thinkers.
Farah Jasmine Griffin has taken to her heart the phrase "read until you understand," a line her father, who died when she was nine, wrote in a note to her. She has made it central to this book about love of the majestic power of words and love of the magnificence of Black life.
Griffin has spent years rooted in the culture of Black genius and the legacy of books that her father left her. A beloved professor, she has devoted herself to passing these works and their wisdom on to generations of students.
Here, she shares a lifetime of discoveries: the ideas that inspired the stunning oratory of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, the soulful music of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, the daring literature of Phillis Wheatley and Toni Morrison, the inventive artistry of Romare Bearden, and many more. Exploring these works through such themes as justice, rage, self-determination, beauty, joy, and mercy allows her to move from her aunt’s love of yellow roses to Gil Scott-Heron’s "Winter in America."
Griffin entwines memoir, history, and art while she keeps her finger on the pulse of the present, asking us to grapple with the continuing struggle for Black freedom and the ongoing project that is American democracy. She challenges us to reckon with our commitment to all the nation’s inhabitants and our responsibilities to all humanity.
Farah Jasmine Griffin was the inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University, where she is also William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature. She is the author of numerous books and the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University. She currently serves as the National Director of the Association of Black Women Historians. Dunbar is the author of A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City; Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge; and She Came To Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman. Dunbar’s op-eds and appearances in outlets such as the New York Times, The Nation, TIME, Essence, CNN, and more place her at the center of America’s public history.