The best books on Black popular culture

Simone C. Drake Author Of Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century
By Simone C. Drake

Who am I?

I am a scholar of African Diaspora cultural studies, which means I spend a lot of time analyzing texts in various forms: books, art, film, music, and even laws and legal documents. The cultural texts I study were produced by people. I am passionate about Black popular culture, because it dismantles some of the enduring divisions between academic institutions and the people who live beyond their walls. It is a field of study that is always in flux, especially now with twenty-first-century advances that position popular culture as almost always at our fingertips.


I edited...

Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century

By Simone C. Drake (editor), Dwan K. Henderson (editor),

Book cover of Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

The advent of the internet and the availability of social media and digital downloads have expanded the creation, distribution, and consumption of Black cultural production as never before. At the same time, a new generation of Black public intellectuals who speak to the relationship between race, politics, and popular culture has come into national prominence. The contributors to Are You Entertained? address these trends to consider what culture and blackness mean in the twenty-first century's digital consumer economy.

In this collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and an artist statement the contributors examine a range of topics and issues, from music, white consumerism, cartoons, and the rise of Black Twitter to the NBA's dress code, dance, and Moonlight. Analyzing the myriad ways in which people perform, avow, politicize, own, and love blackness, this volume charts the shifting debates in Black popular culture scholarship over the past quarter-century while offering new avenues for future scholarship.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Black Popular Culture

By Michele Wallace,

Book cover of Black Popular Culture

Why this book?

I am recommending this book, because it is the first edited volume, and, really, the first academic book to directly engage black popular culture as a field of study. It was avant-garde. It gave a name to cultural productions that, at that time, during my first semester of graduate school in 1997, I had no idea had a collective name. I love this book, because I encountered it simultaneously to learning concepts like “high” and “low” art. The book, in my opinion, made a compelling argument for why the popular, the folk, the vernacular, and so-called “low” art matters.


Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

By Ed Guerrero,

Book cover of Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because it is a foundational text in Black film studies. Guerrero focuses primarily on the 1970s-1990s, but he also articulates how early U.S. films like Birth of a Nation set the stage for how African Americans would be portrayed on screen from that point forward. I love this book, because it is one of the earliest studies that charted the emerging tropes, conventions, and challenges of representation as African Americans gained more opportunities on the screen and behind it.


Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic

By Mark Anthony Neal,

Book cover of Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because it took me back to Wallace and Dent’s Black Popular Culture when I was struggling to understand why my doctoral program frowned upon interdisciplinarity. This book helped me understand why I was not interested in just writing literary criticism. It gave me methodological tools and language to articulate why the research I wanted to do matters. Importantly, it also gave me a definition of the term “post-soul” that during the early 2000s was bandied about but rarely defined. I love this book because Neal was the first scholar I encountered who unapologetically claimed to be a scholar of Black popular culture.


Technicolored: Reflections on Race in the Time of TV

By Ann duCille,

Book cover of Technicolored: Reflections on Race in the Time of TV

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because I fell in love with the way duCille weaves cultural critique and personal experience in one of her earlier books, Skin Trade. The invention of streaming services has made televisual representation more accessible, which can be both good and bad. I love how this book demonstrates the way in which culture informs the lived experience and the way in which lived experiences can shape culture. And duCille is an excellent storyteller.


The Black Interior: Essays

By Elizabeth Alexander,

Book cover of The Black Interior: Essays

Why this book?

This book focuses mostly on literary criticism, but I chose it because of the theoretical work Alexander does in defining “the black interior.” The concept of the black interior unpacks the ways in which Black bodies and blackness have been devalued and dehumanized. This book and its theoretical underpinnings insist upon recoupling the “human” with blackness. I love how the book challenges viewing and spectatorship and calls upon readers to recognize black life and creativity beyond stereotypes that guide the limited imaginations of the dominant culture that relentlessly misrepresents and maligns blackness.