100 books like Say I'm Dead

By E. Dolores Johnson,

Here are 100 books that Say I'm Dead fans have personally recommended if you like Say I'm Dead. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Manchild in the Promised Land

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

Although presented as a novel, this book is a memoir of Brown’s life growing up as a Black boy in Harlem in the 1940s and 50s amid poverty, violence, and addiction.

Marlene was in Paris in the summer of 1969 when a young white American man gave her a book to read. Brown’s story smacked me in the face. He lived in an America that was foreign to me—poverty, addiction, violence, incarceration. His experiences growing up on the streets of Harlem were so different from mine in suburban New Jersey.

What I remember most is my wonder at Brown’s description of “conking” his hair—straightening it with chemical relaxers that damaged his hair and burned his scalp. His description has stayed with me for all these years as a reminder of how little I knew and know about the lives of Blacks and their position in a white world.

By Claude Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Manchild in the Promised Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown's childhood as a streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem of everyday life for the first generation African American raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and 1950s.


Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

Growing up, Marlene learned about the Holocaust through stories about members of her mother’s family who died in the Holocaust. As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Fern learned little about the Holocaust. As whites, neither of us learned much about the Jim Crow era in the US or the northern migration of southern African Americans during that era.

Isabelle Wilkerson grew up knowing the stories of her parents’ migration north to Washington, DC. Those stories shaped her desire to chronicle the Great Migration (1915-1970), in which millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for better lives in northern cities. Although many achieved success that would not have been possible, they experienced the same interpersonal and institutional racism in the North that they thought they were escaping from.

Wilkerson, a journalist, gives us the sweep of history grounded by the stories of four African Americans. 

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…


Book cover of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

Our 44th President’s first book is the one most Americans are least likely to have read. We often commented during Obama’s time in office that many who voted for him would not have had they read the book and discovered Obama’s racial activism.

Obama is the son of a white mother and an African father from Kenya. His father left the family when Obama was two years old and returned to visit only once when Obama was ten. His father died when Obama was 21. Obama’s memoir details his early life in Honolulu, where he was raised by his white grandparents, and later in Chicago, where he was a community organizer before becoming a lawyer.

The book powerfully details the racism Obama experienced as a boy and his search to understand his biracial identity by finding and connecting with his family in Kenya.

By Barack Obama,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dreams from My Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • ONE OF ESSENCE’S 50 MOST IMPACTFUL BLACK BOOKS OF THE PAST 50 YEARS

In this iconic memoir of his early days, Barack Obama “guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race” (The Washington Post Book World).
 
“Quite extraordinary.”—Toni Morrison 
 
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more…


Book cover of The Yellow House: A Memoir

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

A memoir that haunted both of us about Broom’s love for the New Orleans house she grew up in, her family, and a neighborhood torn apart by the institutional racism embedded in banking practices, zoning laws, highway development, and other corporate and government policies and practices.

Broom’s mother purchased the house in 1961 in a then “promising” neighborhood. Over the years, the neighborhood was cut off from the city by the growth of the interstate highway, which left this largely Black area in decline from years of indifference by New Orleans elected officials. The house was eventually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The book provides a harrowing description of the destructive effects of institutional racism.

By Sarah M Broom,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Yellow House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION

'A major book that I suspect will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade' New York Times Book Review

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant - the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would…


Book cover of More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)

Daina Middleton Author Of Grace Meets Grit

From my list on ambitious women embracing their authentic selves.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been passionate about personally and professionally lifting women up throughout my career. Today, it is how I spend my time and energy – in a way that makes a difference to those individuals and the greater world. Books have always filled my insatiable desire to continuously learn and explore mysterious, unknown worlds. As a writer, I read books to expand my understanding and push my comfort zones. I also read them so that I can share with others what I have learned in the hopes they will have a positive impact on them – a pay-it-forward of sorts. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!

Daina's book list on ambitious women embracing their authentic selves

Daina Middleton Why did Daina love this book?

Highly-acclaimed and inspirational, Elaine tells her personal story and her personal struggles and self-reflection as a Black woman.

She goes into great detail about what she could have done differently – and she’s only in her 30s. She is the first Black person to be named Editor-in-Chief at Teen Vogue at the tender age of 29.

This one will make you think, better understand the Black point of view and lift you up.

By Elaine Welteroth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked More Than Enough as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

WINNER OF THE 2020 NAACP IMAGE AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING LITERARY WORK — BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY

NOW OPTIONED FOR DEVELOPMENT AS A TV SERIES BY PARAMOUNT TELEVISION STUDIOS AND ANONYMOUS CONTENT

“The millennial Becoming . . . Inspiring and empowering.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“An essential read for women in the workplace today.” —Refinery29

Part-manifesto, part-memoir, from the revolutionary editor who infused social consciousness into the pages of Teen Vogue, an exploration of what it means to come into your own—on your own terms

Throughout her life, Elaine Welteroth has climbed the ranks of media and fashion, shattering ceilings along…


Book cover of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From my list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Anna Mae Duane Why did Anna love this book?

The history of colonial and antebellum New York, in Harris’s hands, becomes a map of Black activism. This book moves beyond a history of slavery and abolition to offer a sweeping historical narrative of Black life in New York City, starting with the arrival of the first enslaved people in 1626 and culminating in the brutally violent draft riots of 1863. Harris works creatively with little-studied sources to chronicle how, even in the direst of circumstances, Black New Yorkers created vibrant communities. While Harris certainly depicts the obstacles that Black New Yorkers faced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, she also showcases individual lives, marked by sharp ambition and myriad achievements. In this narrative, talented political operatives create national movements, argue with white abolitionists, and create institutions and traditions that influence racial politics to the present day. 

By Leslie M. Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Shadow of Slavery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The black experience in the antebellum South has been thoroughly documented. But histories set in the North are few. In the Shadow of Slavery, then, is a big and ambitious book, one in which insights about race and class in New York City abound. Leslie Harris has masterfully brought more than two centuries of African American history back to life in this illuminating new work."-David Roediger, author of The Wages of Whiteness

In 1991 in lower Manhattan, a team of construction workers made an astonishing discovery. Just two blocks from City Hall, under twenty feet of asphalt, concrete, and rubble,…


Book cover of Loving before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White

Katya Cengel Author Of From Chernobyl with Love: Reporting from the Ruins of the Soviet Union

From my list on big topics that won’t totally depress you.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a journalist I have seen and experienced amazing things. As a memoirist my job is to make you shiver as I take you down a crumbling Ukrainian coal mine, laugh in frustration as I argue with a customs agent charging me $100 for a few bootleg CDs and smile with happiness when I finally locate my Ukrainian date after a classic miscommunication. I’m recommending memoirs that will take you on adventures, tackle serious topics, but leave you with hope, and oftentimes a smile of understanding. Even if you haven’t covered a war, faced death, or disappeared, these writers speak to the universal hopes, fears, and disappointments of human life. 

Katya's book list on big topics that won’t totally depress you

Katya Cengel Why did Katya love this book?

As a woman, I have experienced my share of sexism but it dims in comparison to what Lester faced in the 1950s and 1960s. When applying for a job at a bookstore, a young Lester is told the store can’t hire girls because they only have one toilet. Her plucky response—she could use the same toilet as the men—is one reason I enjoyed this book so much. 

Lester is repeatedly pushed to the sidelines even as she takes up the fight for civil rights, devoting herself to bettering the lives of others while setting aside her own dreamsfor a time. Luckily Lester never completely loses her nerve. Her second act is a fun adventure to follow for those who have faced their own setbacks, no matter their gender.

By Joan Steinau Lester,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loving before Loving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Committed to the struggle for civil rights, in the late 1950s Joan Steinau marched and protested as a white ally and young woman coming to terms with her own racism. She fell in love and married a fellow activist, the Black writer Julius Lester, establishing a partnership that was long and multifaceted but not free of the politics of race and gender. As the women's movement dawned, feminism helped Lester find her voice, her pansexuality, and the courage to be herself.

Braiding intellectual, personal, and political history, Lester tells the story of a writer and activist fighting for love and…


Book cover of Colour Bar: Movie Tie-In: A United Kingdom

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on mixed relationships.

Why am I passionate about this?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

Sylvia's book list on mixed relationships

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

London 1945: the heir to the largest tribe of Bechuanaland (Botswana) arrives in Britain. Seretse Khama, an urbane 24-year-old was welcomed into the elite world of Oxford. But when he fell in love with Englishwoman Ruth Williams, the full force of colonial power was brought to bear to prevent their marriage. 

It has personal resonance for me because when I met Atam, in 1964, Smethwick was in the grip of a racist campaign. Atam and I volunteered to help the sitting Labour MP, Patrick Gordon Walker combat the Conservative Peter Griffiths’ campaign. The slogan was, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour’. Atam was welcomed because he spoke Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu and we accompanied Patrick Gordon Walker canvassing. When I watched A United Kingdom, the film about Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, I knew that they had portrayed it well when the government representatives treat…

By Susan Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Colour Bar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of a love which defied family, Apartheid, and empire - the inspiration for the major new feature film A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.

This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.

'Reading the book, I realised that I had never…


Book cover of One Thousand White Women

Terry Baker Mulligan Author Of These Boys Are Killing Me: Travels and Travails With Sons Who Take Risks

From my list on how those who differ from the norm are treated by society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I read voraciously and have been fortunate to interact with people and situations such as those on my list. I also grew up in New York City, the melting pot displayed in Humans of New York. There I lived, jumped double-dutch, studied, and worked in a multicultural community. After moving to St Louis, I discovered it was a place that did not always embrace “others.” That inspired me to write my first book, Sugar Hill. Living in St Louis also strengthened my appreciation for diversity in race, religion, and to appreciate people whose sexual identity, or mental and physical ability might differ from mine. 

Terry's book list on how those who differ from the norm are treated by society

Terry Baker Mulligan Why did Terry love this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by American Indian culture. Girls wore intricately beaded dresses and headbands with feathers. Moms carried elaborately decorated baby backpacks. Also, I didn’t understand why the cowboys couldn’t get along with the Indians. In this novel, based on a historical event, the government strikes a deal with the Cheyenne, trading 1000 white women for 1000 horses. 

The women are culled from poorhouses, prisons, and asylums, like May whose father committed her for living in sin. May jumps at the opportunity to escape the asylum. Once on the reservation, the newcomers bond and slowly adapt to their new lives and families. Readers too get an intimate portrait of Indian life, and compared to actions of the US Army, it begs the question, who should be labeled savages?

By Jim Fergus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Thousand White Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on an actual historical event but told through fictional diaries, this is the story of May Dodd―a remarkable woman who, in 1875, travels through the American West to marry the chief of the Cheyenne Nation.

One Thousand White Women begins with May Dodd’s journey into an unknown world. Having been committed to an insane asylum by her blue-blood family for the crime of loving a man beneath her station, May finds that her only hope for freedom and redemption is to participate in a secret government program whereby women from “civilized” society become the brides of Cheyenne warriors. What…


Book cover of Saga Volume 1

JD Jordan Author Of Calamity: Being an Account of Calamity Jane and Her Gunslinging Green Man

From my list on cross-genre stories with highly personal narratives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been interested in personal, character-driven stories set in huge speculative worlds. Not every story should be about saving the world/galaxy/multiverse. Sometimes, the best story is just about surviving growing up or navigating a rocky relationship. If that happens on a spaceship or in the Wild West, great. And if that spaceship happens to be in the Wild West, all the better! Making the fantastic ordinary through a personal POV lets us see the otherworldly as plainly as we see the mailman or grumpy alien cowboy. Fortunately, my dueling careers as a UX designer, historian, and writer give me a lot of material and appetite for cross-genre storytelling. 

JD's book list on cross-genre stories with highly personal narratives

JD Jordan Why did JD love this book?

While published as an Image comic series, Saga is best approached in its collected graphic novels. I particularly love taking in the ebook version’s artwork on my iPad. This space opera vs. fantasy epic is beautifully scaled down by both its illustrated panels and its close focus on a family of characters through which we encounter a surreal and hostile universe. Hazel, the unlikely daughter of the series’ leading couple, steps in to provide memoir-esque insights from time to time and serves as something of an (adorable) cipher for her parents’ cross-genre Romeo and Juliet arc. Conceived “to do absolutely everything [the author] couldn't do in a movie or a TV show,” Saga pushes both genre envelopes.

By Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (artist),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saga Volume 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story! When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. This specially priced volume…


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