The English, Rhetoric & Writing Department at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith has released a Summer Reading List featuring faculty book recommendations inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the international quest for racial justice. In line with the university's commitment to amplify diverse voices, each installment of the UAFS Summer Book Series will feature faculty picks that educate, inform and celebrate diversity.

"We believe deeply in the power of literature to change people's mindsets, to push them beyond their own experiences and perspectives and into spaces of empathy, understanding, and critical thinking," said Dr. Cammie Sublette, Department Head and professor of English, Rhetoric, & Writing at UAFS. "We are excited to offer book recommendations that contribute to ongoing conversations about the need to actively, persistently strive for antiracism in beliefs as well as policies. We hope to continue these conversations with our students and our larger community in the fall."

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones *

Beautiful and poetic, this novel follows the evolution of Roy and Celestial after Roy is falsely accused of rape. It's heartbreaking to follow the downfall of their marriage and understand how fear of Black men can erode the trust of their families and lovers. The title of the novel underscores the perpetual struggle for acceptance as full American citizens that Black citizens face when we ignore systemic racism. And as a big bonus, Jones has built the plot of the novel on the scaffold of The Odyssey to emphasize the tragedy and epic scale of Roy and Celestial's challenges.

Recommended by Laura Witherington, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of English

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison *

Having read this book as an undergrad, I disliked it for a long time due to the unpleasant issues of incest, domestic abuse, bullying, racism, police brutality, and more. At this moment in history, I realize its importance more than ever. Pecola Breedlove, a poor little black girl, substitutes a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby doll for love she never receives and beauty she never feels as a form of escapism. Pecola is a good example of how representation matters. I believe when this book came out, many little girls could relate to Pecola’s feelings of inferiority. Also, Morrison is making a political commentary on the white beauty myth and systemic racism in spaces that particularly impact black females.

Recommended by Ann-Gee Lee, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine *

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a collection of poetry that addresses the many faces of racism in 21st century America. Ranging from poems reflecting on racist microaggressions confronting the speaker, to the violent murders of countless African Americans who were victims of police brutality and systemic racism, Rankin writes with intimate urgency, drawing in the reader with her almost constant use of the second person. The speaker responds to racism in the world with a range of feelings: sadness, anger, betrayal, outrage, frustration, surprise, erasure, guilt, sickness, and exhaustion, and she meditates on her own responses to these moments of racist aggression almost as much as she meditates on the acts of racism. Only when she reaches the point in the book when she begins naming the dead does she shift out of this personal projection and into a more omniscient narrative space, writing, “because white men can’t / police their imagination / black people are dying.” In the book’s final poem, Rankine shifts into first person narrative and stays there for the duration of the poem. In this poem, the speaker tells an intimate partner of an encounter she had with a white woman, one who sees her sitting in her car in a parking lot and decides to back out of her parking space and move her car away from the speaker’s car. “Expected on [the tennis] court,” the speaker decides not to pursue the woman—or the question about why she decided to move her car. After she tells the story, her lover asks, “Did you win?” She responds, “It wasn’t a match . . . It was a lesson.” And so is Citizen, if the reader will only listen and learn.

Recommended by Cammie Sublette, Ph.D. - Professor of English and Department Head of English, Rhetoric, & Writing

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas *

This book is a heart-breaking look at the racial injustice leveraged through police brutality towards people of color. It features an engaging retelling of the central character Starr’s journey to making her voice heard as she struggles with the heinous death of her friend Kahlil; police brutality; the challenge of gangs; the support of blended families; and the reconciliation and support of a community.

Recommended by Janine Chitty, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of English and Director of English Teacher Licensure

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi *

Appearing on the New York Times Bestseller Nonfiction list for more than three months now, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist serves as a primer for how to change the conversation about race and racism—and ultimately how to change one’s beliefs and behaviors, also. Instead of seeing racism as a fixed category, Kendi suggests we swap out that way of thinking for a harder one that is more conducive to both genuine acknowledgement of racial bias and discrimination, as well as to a growth mindset. Noting that racism is built on denial (for no one in 2020 wants to admit to being racist), Kendi argues that the opposite of racist isn’t not racist; rather, the opposite of racist is antiracist. Thus, argues Kendi, we should strive to be antiracist, which means we should interrogate individual beliefs as well as policies based on how well those beliefs and policies support racial equality. Then we must do the active work of changing any beliefs or policies that undermine or resist racial equality. There is no space left for inaction in this model, so a stance of complaisance is no longer possible. This paradigm shift requires hard, constant, and sometimes uncomfortable work, but the payoff is real change in the world. As Kendi writes, “To be antiracist is a radical choice . . . requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness” (23).

Recommended by Cammie Sublette, Ph.D. - Professor of English and Department Head of English, Rhetoric, & Writing

March: Books One, Two and Three by John Lewis *

The March trilogy tells the story of Georgia Representative John Lewis's contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The graphic novels transition from Lewis's childhood in Alabama, to his becoming one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders, to his participation in the inauguration of the first Black President of the United States. It's a fantastic primer on Civil Rights marches and on the importance of ensuring all citizens have free access to vote. The illustrations convey both the epic scale of Lewis's endeavors and the pathos of Lewis's endurance of hate.

Recommended by Laura Witherington, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of English

Native Son by Richard Wright *

Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright is a novel depicting a young black man whose existence is created and oppressed by an American society hostile to everything about him. Bigger Thomas’s world “contained no spiritual sustenance, had created no culture which could hold and claim his allegiance and faith, had sensitized him and had left him stranded, a free agent to roam the streets of our cities, a hot and whirling vortex of undisciplined and unchannelized impulses"(Wright 445). Wright explains that “oppression seems to hinder and stifle in the victim those very qualities of character which are so essential for an effective struggle against the oppressor,” and these qualities derive from lack of education and opportunity and feelings of self-loathing which are passed on through an oppressive society rife with systemic racism. Bigger yearns for a larger life, one filled with opportunities and adventures, but as the alarm clock at the opening of the novel symbolizes, he quickly awakens from such dreams and into the nightmare of his lived experience. His suffocating existence, one made up of poverty and an equally impoverished educational system, as well as a hostile white world he’s forced into in order to survive, allows little room for any fate other than what awaits.

Recommended by Amy N. Newman, M.A. - Adjunct Instructor of English

Also Recommended by Laura Witherington, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of English

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Levy’s powerhouse novel about two couples—one white and English and the other black and Jamaican--and the aftermath of the Second World War, is an, at times, funny and heart-rending exploration of colonialism, class, and race. Gilbert Joseph is one of the best characters in British literature. The novel switches between four different narrators, moving in time before the outbreak of WWII and to the years immediately afterwards. It highlights the contributions of soldiers from Britain’s then colonies, focusing on Jamaica, and the complicated parsing of what it means to be Black and British. Levy keeps her novel focused on her characters and their experiences, both of the war and of the mass immigration of people from Jamaica post-WWII, the Windrush Generation.

Recommended by Lindsy Lawrence, Ph.D. - Professor of English

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge *

In 2014, Eddo-Lodge wrote a blog post entitled “I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race,” setting off a long discussion that became a book about the emotional labor and dangers of continuously being asked to educate white people about institutionalized racism, particularly in Britain, where the effects of colonialism often go unaddressed. Bold and accessible, Eddo-Lodge explores the intersections of class, race, and gender in Britain, interweaving history with her personal story.

Recommended by Lindsy Lawrence, Ph.D. - Professor of English