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Reading and Righting

Libraries’ Black History Month Event Celebrates Great Writers

By Dan Novak M.Jour. ’20

Student reads at a podium during Read-a-Thon

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Sociology doctoral student Tuesday Barnes reads “Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler” by Gregory Jerome Hampton yesterday at the Black History Month Read-athon in McKeldin Library.

Abolitionist, orator and Maryland native Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography of his deep yearning to read as a child and his master’s profound fear and hatred of his learning. 

“That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn.”

This passage, shared by Beth Guay, UMD continuing resources librarian, and those from other black authors, poets, scientists and leaders were read aloud all day yesterday at McKeldin Library during a Black History Month Read-athon.

“The read-athon is a program to celebrate and learn more about American culture,” said Tahirah Akbar-Williams, university education and African American studies librarian who helped organize the event as a member of the Libraries' Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Committee. “African American history is American history.”

Readers showcased a range of African American figures, including a speech from Barbara Jordan, the first black Southerner elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, to a children’s story about the journey of Venus and Serena Williams to the peak of tennis stardom.

Akbar-Williams said the event also provided an opportunity for listeners to discuss the passages and discuss race without being afraid to ask questions.

“We are a great country, but we will not meet our full potential until we acknowledge and celebrate the richness that all people have contributed to our society,” she said.

Here’s a sample of reading material by black authors shared at yesterday's event. Other readers may want to peruse them too: 


  • "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This bestselling book-length letter to Coates' teenage son explores the black experience, white supremacy and the enduring legacy of slavery in America; it won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
  • “Race Matters" by Cornel West: The prominent academic deeply examines race relations in eight essays that blend political commentary, philosophy and sociology.


  • “Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor: A sci-fi/fantasy tale playing out across a post-apocalyptic North African setting, the book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and was nominated for Nebula Award for Best Novel.
  • “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N.K. Jemisin M.Ed. ’97: The bestselling Terp alum and speculative fiction powerhouse won an unprecedented three consecutive Hugo Awards for Best Novel for each book in this series.
  • “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead: An alternative history in which the titular railroad is literal rail system, it won a raft of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best sci-fi novel.
  • “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The story of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. and contends with racism, Americanization and gender expectations won the National Book Critics Circle fiction award.

Children’s Books

  • “Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams” by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrations by James Ransome: “Game Changers” focuses on the Williams sisters’ childhood in Compton, California, and their determination to rise to tennis greatness.
  • “Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters” by Andrea Pickney, illustrations by Stephen Alcorn: The bestselling children’s writer profiles 10 of the nation’s most important civil rights figures, including Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.
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