Beale Street Talks and We Should Listen - National Council of Teachers of English
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Beale Street Talks and We Should Listen

On Sunday, as I watched, wept, and smiled through Barry Jenkins’ film rendition of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, the film’s bittersweet story that “mixes sadness and joy in a slow tale of love and injustice” ( got me thinking about the many African American stories that are part of school curricula, how they’re often challenged and censored from it, and how they shouldn’t be.



The stories listed below, in no particular order, have been challenged, even censored, yet they are the ones that have and can connect students, as James Baldwin says, to “all the people who were alive, or who had ever been.” These stories are part of us and we all need to hear them.

Richard Wright’s Native Son and Black Boy




Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sula, and The Bluest Eye




Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God




Alice Walker’s The Color Purple





Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give





Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings





Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry





Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels, Monster, Shooter, and Hoops



Nikki Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade





Jacqueline Woodson’s I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This and Miracle Boys




Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree





Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and A Gathering of Old Men



John Lewis’s and Andrew Aydin’s March, Books 1-3




Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore





Jason Reynolds’ and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys





Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watson’s Go to Birmingham





Julius Lester’s When Dad Killed Mom





As I walked the lives of Fonny and Tish during the movie, I entertained in my mind a crowd of other memorable character and friends from the texts listed above: Bigger Thomas and Richard Wright himself, Sethe, Pecola Breedlove, Nel Wright and Sula Peace, Janie Crawford, Celie, Starr, Maya, Cassie, Steve Harmon, Perry, Lonnie Jackson, Cameron, Carla, and Leonard, Wesley Boone, Marie and Lena, Lafayette and Charlie, Newton Buchanan Winger, Grant Wiggins and Jefferson, Miss Jane Pittman, Candy Marshall and Beau Baton and Mathu and Sheriff Mapes, John Lewis, both Wes Moores, Quinn Collins and Rashad, Kenny and the rest of the Watsons, and Jenna and Jeremy.

“All the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive!” A gathering of people I’ve been connected to through these texts—a world of new people to connect to our students!

During this February’s Black History Month and especially for the African American Read-In, I invite you and your students to choose these and other African American stories from the curriculum or library and to meet the people in them and relish their stories.