cover image Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Farah Jasmine Griffin. Norton, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-65190-4

“What might an engagement with literature written by Black Americans teach us about the United States and its quest for democracy,” asks Griffin (Uptown Conversations), a comparative literature and African American studies professor at Columbia University, in this remarkable triptych. Blending memoir, political musings, and literary criticism, Griffin considers novelists, essayists, poets, and musicians as she recounts growing up Black and embracing her community. In “The Question of Mercy,” poet Phillis Wheatley’s concept of mercy (which “brings her Christianity”) meets Toni Morrison’s (as it relates to freedom). “Rage and Resistance” recounts how Griffin discovered the poet Frances E.W. Harper, who set her “on the path to becoming a scholar,” “The Quest for Justice” explores representations of justice in Black literature recalls the killing of Philando Castile, and “Black Freedom and the Idea(l) of America” studies the writings of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X and pinpoints their influence on Barack Obama. Throughout, Griffin writes with learned poignance: “Our writers and our organizers make poetry of the rage. They have been working, building, creating, envisioning, showing us how to live like the future we are hoping to build is already here.” Perfect for literature lovers, this survey and its moving insights will stick with readers well after the last page is turned. (Sept.)