Blake summer reading list 2020

Dear students, parents and guardians,

Living in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and too many others before him, I know we’re all grappling with what we can do to dismantle systemic injustice and to heal our community. As we protest, rebuild, petition, heal and vote, many of us are asking what role reading could play in our collective listening, learning and activism. What, after all, can reading do in the face of such violent injustice?

In "Between the World and Me," Ta-Nehisi Coates struggles to explain to his son why Michael Brown’s killers had been exonerated: “I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay” (11). 

Instead of giving a hug, he writes his son a letter to read, a 152-page-long embrace. He passes along his parents’ advice “that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it” (11-12). Like them, Coates “refuse[s] to offer an answer and instead refer[s] [his son] to more books,” “always pushing [him] away from secondhand answers––even the answers [his parents] themselves believed” (34).  

Relentlessly questioning how he knows what he knows, Coates transforms his reading into a “politically conscious” act, one that is “as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty" (34). 

Reading alone empowers him to figure out what he thinks about the words, discourse, consciousness and experience of another person independently. Reading alone gives him the power to “live free in [his] black body” (12). Coates challenges us to ask not just how we might live free within our bodies, but how we might use our reading to empower others to live free in theirs. Perhaps, if we read like Coates, we can generate ever more effective responses to the systemic injustice and violence in our community. 

The following assignments collectively challenge students to read widely and inclusively in forms as traditional as literary realism and as contemporary as genre-bending multimedia “texts.” Between the titles these lists provide and what you choose to read on your own, we challenge you to read both “you” and “not you.” Blake’s online bookseller, MBS Direct opens the week of July 20, 2020. 

Wishing you avid reading,

Rick Cawood
PK-12 English Language Arts Chair