Works of literature by Black authors have influenced and shaped audiences throughout history, however such books are being banned and removed from libraries, while Black-owned bookstores struggle to stay open.
Preserving Black books means preserving American history and moving the nation forward, literary experts told Callie Crossley on Basic Black.
"Black books are an important part of the American and the world consciousness, the American and the world creative and literary and intellectual heritage. We often don't think of Black books in that larger concept," said Marita Golden, a literary consultant, writing coach, and an award-winning author of many books including her own called, “The Strong Black Woman." Golden is also the co-founder of The Hurston/Wright Foundation, which serves as a resource and community hub for Black writers.
White authors make up 79% of the largest publishing houses and just 5.6% of the authors are Black, according to a 2019 survey. Seeing a Black author on the cover of a book can be life-changing for some people, said Kim McLarin. She's a professor and interim dean of graduate and professional studies at Emerson College. McLarin is also an award-winning author of several books. Her latest is, "James Baldwin's Another Country: Bookmarked."
McLarin noted the first Black book she ever saw, which was when she was in seventh or eighth grade and went to the library and saw Maya Angelou's face on the back of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
"I never read a book by a Black person until then. I didn't know Black people could be writers, let alone Black women. It was revelatory and that is the importance for us, of representation...I will never forget that moment. That is literally the moment that showed me that I could become what I was really born to become," McLarin said.
Watch Basic Black: Preserving Black books
For Caroline Kautsire, a professor at Bunker Hill Community College and author of "What Kind of Girl?," preserving Black books is a way to honor Black culture and excellence.
Kautsire, who is from Malawi, said she often tells her students stories don't always have to be sad or negative, especially when it comes to African narratives.
"It's time to have new narratives. You don't want these narratives about, you know, Africans always need saving, Africans are always the victims and you know, somebody needs to come in to save them," Kautisire said.
She shared that it has at times been challenging to find a publisher for her work, as many ask her to change her narrative or to tell stories set in the United States instead of Africa.
Even today, some people remain unfamiliar with the greatest Black authors and their works, which Carmen Fields came across when she was in graduate school.
Fields is an award-winning TV host, journalist, and writer. She is being honored for contributing her collection of 500 books written by Black authors to the Salem State University Library. She said it is important to preserve these works, while also making society and the world aware of them.
"Those are the ones that are most important to me," she said, "and it's books by Black authors and other authors who have written about Black subject matter or minority subject matter."
The article accompanying this video was produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.