The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Releases Black Liberation Reading List

In response to uprisings across the globe demanding justice for Black lives, and to mark its 95th anniversary,  the Schomburg Centerpart of The New York Public Libraryshares 95 books that help celebrate and foster better understanding of the Black experience

Media Contacts:  Angela Montefinise, angelamontefinise@nypl.org / Christina Santi, christinasanti@nypl.org

Images of a selection book covers available here

JUNE 9, 2020 - For 95 years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem has preserved, protected, and fostered a greater understanding of the Black experience through its collections, exhibitions, programs, and scholarship. In response to the uprisings across the globe demanding justice for Black lives, the Schomburg Center—part of The New York Public Library—has released its Black Liberation Reading List, featuring 95 books that the Schomburg and the public turn to regularly as activists, students, archivists, and curators.

Curated by Schomburg staff, including curators, archivists, and from the Schomburg Shop, the list has a particular focus on books by Black writers and those whose papers are in the Schomburg Center’s robust collections, such as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Ann Petry, and Harry Belafonte. The Schomburg’s collections, which include manuscripts, photographs, rare books, film, and more, currently total over 11 million items. 

“While no list can be complete, we wanted to include not just antiracist books, but those that describe Black Liberation in terms of history, poetry, and even joy,” said Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center. “In difficult times, and times of transformation, joy is an act of resistance.”

The list can be found at nypl.org/Schomburg95. Patrons can use the hashtag #Schomburg95 to share and discuss the list on social media.

A Schomburg Center list of 30 Black Liberation titles for young people will be released soon. 

“The Schomburg Center is the world’s premier cultural institution dedicated to the Black experience, and we have a responsibility, in a world divided by pervasive injustice to connect people with books, resources, and knowledge that can help them foster a better understanding of Black history and culture, and celebrate that culture,” said Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center. “Staff across the institution contributed their unique expertise and thoughts to make this Schomburg Center Black Liberation List, in honor of our 95th anniversary and our founder Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. We hope it is a good starting point to explore these Black authors and to understand the history of, and ongoing struggle for, Black Liberation.”

The list features a wide range of genres, including nonfiction, fiction, poetry, photography, essays, memoir, and scholarly works, and includes luminaries such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Roxane Gay, Isabel Wilkerson, Zadie Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lorraine Hansberry,  Langston Hughes, Tracy K. Smith, and Colson Whitehead, among many others. Titles range from “classics” such as The Bluest Eye and A Raisin in the Sun, to university press publications, to 2020 Pulitzer Prize winners such as Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys and Jericho Brown’s poetry winner The Tradition. It also includes James Baldwin’s 1963 title The Fire Next Time and the 2016 collection of essays edited by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, showing how voices have changed (or not changed) over time. 

Nearly all of the books on the list can be borrowed for free in a digital format via The New York Public Library’s e-collections, including its e-reader SimplyE (for iOS and Android).  New Yorkers who don’t have a library card can apply and receive on through the SimplyE app. With the Library system’s physical locations, including the Schomburg Center,  temporarily closed to the public since mid-March to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Library has invested in additional e-copies of each of the books, including unlimited use licenses for the more popular titles. The Library’s virtual collections, however, remain open to students, researchers, readers, and scholars.

Many of the books are also available from the Schomburg Shop, dedicated to books and materials chronicling global Black culture, which has already posted parts of the list to overwhelming response. 

"We love that people have shown us how much they want these books in their lives,” said Rio Cortez, manager of the Schomburg Shop. “These are the titles we offer year-round in our Harlem store, and not having access to that space during the pandemic has been tough for our community, and for us. We are so grateful for the support we have seen in our online shop, and grateful to continue to connect books and readers. Each sale goes to support the work we do here at the Schomburg Center, and this support has been meaningful for us."

The Schomburg Center is a research division of The New York Public Library, which for 125 years has worked to provide education, knowledge, and opportunity to all.  As a trusted source of information, the Library has been utilized over the last two weeks by New Yorkers trying to learn more about the history of racial injustice following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. From May 26 to June 2, the top 10 e-books with the highest percentage increase in holds all focused on issues of race.

“We know people want and need these resources, whether new to the struggle or just seeking to learn,” said Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center. “This Black Liberation List is just the beginning, but it’s an important step in a lifelong and global journey toward equity.”

The Schomburg Center has shared and will continue to share many other resources to support communities looking to learn more. Just a few examples:

About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation, research, interpretation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences. As a research division of The New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections totaling over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global black history, arts, and culture. Learn more at schomburgcenter.org.

About The New York Public Library

For 125 years, The New York Public Library has been one of the world’s leading free providers of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves nearly 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.

About the Schomburg Shop

An emporium for products related to the global Black experience, the Schomburg Shop has many items ranging from classic and contemporary books for adults and children, unique gifts, and an exclusive collaborations and products designed for the Schomburg Center.  Like the Schomburg Center, named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the shop's selections are chosen to inspire learning and advance knowledge, providing a distinctive shopping destination. Not only is the Shop “Your Black Bookstore Uptown,” we are also online. All proceeds from the Shop go toward support the Schomburg Center’s public services, collections, programming, and exhibitions..