Improving Cultural Competency Through Community Reading
Book Club Discussion Sets
from Ohio Center for the Book
The inevitability of these It’s Time to Talk (ITT) book sets developed out of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland’s It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race, the annual forum that brings together individuals, community groups, and organizations for open and frank conversations about race, discrimination, unconscious bias, and cultural competency. The Ohio Center for the Book (OCFB) at Cleveland Public Library, in partnership with the YWCA—an organization with a long tradition of fighting racism—offers OCFB ITT Book Sets.
Sets of nonfiction and fiction works, including graphic novels and memoirs, are available for borrowing. The literary fiction titles selected are award-winning books that deal with issues of race and cultural diversity.
Why Book Clubs?
It’s Time to Talk book club discussions present a unique opportunity to engage in thoughtful and intelligent dialogue where people–co-workers, community members, and the like–can sit down together to discuss carefully assessed books focusing on issues of race and social justice.
The intent is to get people listening to one another, which will lead to greater understanding. Recent scientific research has concluded that reading literary fiction can improve empathy. After all, the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes—the capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling—can be a first step toward becoming stronger in race relations.
Interested in borrowing books for your discussion group?
Please contact CPL’s Literature Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.623.2881. CPL’s Main Library is located at 325 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114. Operating hours are: Monday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.;
Drive-Up Window, 7:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. (on Rockwell Avenue in back of the Louis Stokes Wing).
Or you can fill out the form below. All sets are subject to availability.
Do you need a space for your group to meet?
There are meeting rooms available at Main Library and some branches at no charge (except for a clean-up fee if food is served and cleaning is needed). You can find the Meeting Room Application on this page, under “Rules for Meeting Room Use.” These rooms must be reserved in advance.
YWCA It’s Time to Talk Book Club Conversation Guidelines (PDF)
The YWCA has developed conversation guidelines to help facilitate discussion around the topics of race, racism, and diversity – or any topic that might be difficult to discuss. Print out copies for your book club or reading group. The YWCA Greater Cleveland is located at 4019 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44103. For more information about It’s Time to Talk programs and services, contact the YWCA.
Looking for book club discussion questions? Book reviews and recommendations? Tips on starting a book club? Book club recipes? We’ve got it all…and then some!
An online community for reading groups, this site has everything you’ll need for your book discussion: guides to popular works, questions to spur your conversations, reviews, and a newsletter and blog – even contests – to invite your participation and feedback.
Talking about race can be a challenge: complicated and sensitive. This site offers clues to how one begins, and resource links to help anyone committed to making a difference.
Ohio Center for the Book
It’s Time to Talk Book Lists
Improving Cultural Competency Through Community Reading
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007)
by Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown, c2007. 229 pages | ISBN: 9780316013680
2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
Based in part on Alexie’s own experiences, this is the often humorous story of a young Spokane Indian boy, budding cartoonist Junior, who leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school — where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Adult, YA.
In the Time of the Butterflies (1994)
by Julia Alvarez
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010. 336 pages | ISBN: 9781565129764
Finalist for 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award; Selection of The Big Read
In the Time of the Butterflies is set during the waning days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960. The “Butterflies” of the story are the Mirabal sisters, three young Latin American women assassinated after visiting their husbands, jailed as suspected rebel leaders.
Forgotten Fire (2002)
by Adam Bagdasarian
Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2002. 272 pages | ISBN: 9780440229179
Finalist for 2000 National Book Awards-Young People’s Literature
Based on a true story, this book follows the twelve-year-old son of an influential Armenian family in Turkey, as he struggles to survive alone after witnessing the deaths of many of his family and friends during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 to 1923. (Young adult novel)
The House Behind the Cedars (1900)
by Charles Chesnutt
Penguin Books, 1993
195 pages | ISBN: 9780140186857
First published in 1900, Chestnutt’s masterpiece explores the lives of two young African Americans who decide to pass for white in order to claim their share of the American dream.
The Wife of His Youth, and Other Stories of the Color Line (1899)
by Charles Chesnutt
University of Michigan Press, 1968. 323 pages | ISBN: 9780472061341
Selected stories by the noted black writer of the late nineteenth century reflect changing racial attitudes in America. Chesnutt writes of the black search for identity in the period between the Civil War and the turn of the century.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
by Junot Diaz
Riverhead Books, 2008. 339 pages | ISBN: 9781594483295
2008 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
2008 National Book Critics Circle Award
This story documents the tribulations of Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican-American ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú – the curse that haunts Oscar’s family.
Half Blood (2011)
by Esi Edugyan
Picador, 2012. 329 pages | ISBN: 9781250012708
2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
In 1939 Berlin, a popular jazz band has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young star trumpeter, Hieronymus Falk, is arrested in a Paris café and never heard from again. A German citizen, Falk was also black. Jump to Berlin in 1952, where Falk is now a legend and two African American band members from Baltimore set out to fill in his story.
Invisible Man (1952)
by Ralph Ellison
Vintage Books, 1995, c1952. 581 pages | ISBN: 9780679732761
1992 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Landmark Achievement
1953 National Book Award for Fiction
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature. The nameless narrator describes growing up in a black community in the South, being expelled from a Negro college, moving to New York and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. A milestone in American literature, this passionate and witty novel established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.
Love Medicine (1984)
by Louise Erdrich
Harper Perennial Modern Classics, . 331 pages | ISBN: 9780062206312
The first book in Louise Erdrich’s Native American series, Love Medicine explores 60 years (from 1981 back through recent history) in the lives of a small group of Chippewa (aka Ojibwa or Anishinaabe) living on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
A Gathering of Old Men (1983)
by Ernest Gaines
Vintage Books, 1992, c1983. 214 pages | ISBN: 9780679738909
2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
Although it includes a whole cast of Southern characters, A Gathering of Old Men is the story of a young white woman fighting to protect an elderly black man from the revenge of a murdered man’s family. She rallies seventeen elderly African American men, each between the ages of 70 and 80, who make the collective decision to take on the sufferings of another, and act out against a lifetime of oppression.
A Lesson Before Dying (1993)
by Ernest Gaines
Vintage Contemporaries, , c1993. 256 pages | ISBN: 9780375702709
2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
1993 National Book Critics Circle Award
Set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s, A Lesson Before Dying is an “enormously moving” (Los Angeles Times) coming-of-age story of two young black men, one condemned to die for a crime he did not commit, and another who visits him in his cell. In the end, the two men forge a bond as they both come to understand the simple heroism of resisting—and defying—the expected.
The Book of Unknown Americans (2014)
by Cristina Henriquez
Knopf Doubleday, 2014. 304 pages | ISBN: 9780385350846
Nominee 2015 Alex Award; NPR Great Read; The Daily Beast‘s Novel of the Year 2014
The Riveras uproot their family from their home in Mexico to head to America with a dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, their injured 15-year-old daughter can get better. They befriend the Toros from Panama. Woven into their stories are the testimonials of people who have come to the U.S. from all over Latin America, whose inspirational journeys will touch your heart
The Wall (1950)
by John Hersey
Vintage Books, 1988, c1950. 632 pages | ISBN: 9780394756967
1952 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
The Wall tells the inspiring story of forty men & women who escape the dehumanizing horror of the Warsaw ghetto. John Hersey’s novel documents the Warsaw ghetto both as an emblem of Nazi persecution and as a personal confrontation with torture, starvation, humiliation, and cruelty.
The Kite Runner (2003)
by Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead Books, 2005, c2003. 371 pages | ISBN: 9781594481772
South African Boeke Prize in 2004; Alex Award 2004
The heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is set against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years.
Kind One (2012)
by Laird Hunt
Coffee House Press, 2012. 211 pages | ISBN: 9781566893114
Winner, 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
As a teenage girl, Ginny marries Linus Lancaster, her mother’s second cousin. Moving to his Kentucky pig farm, she discovers his empty promises. His charm falls away to reveal a troubled man and cruel slave owner. Ginny befriends two young slave girls, and the events that follow Linus’s death change all three women for life. Haunting, chilling, and suspenseful, Kind One is a powerful tale of redemption and human endurance in antebellum America.
The Residue Years (2013)
by Mitchell S. Jackson
Bloomsbury, 2013. 345 pages | ISBN: 9781620400296
College senior Shawn “Champ” Thomas has one goal: to buy back the house on Portland’s Sixth Street where his family found brief happiness. Champ is dealing crack cocaine in order to save up for his dream, but his pregnant girlfriend wants a better life, and his mother, Grace, is newly out of rehab. Grace fights to stay clean while her world falls apart. Yielding to drugs once again, she inadvertently starts to take Champ down with her.
The Invention of Wings (2014)
by Sue Monk Kidd
Viking, 2014. 372 pages | ISBN: 9780670024780
The novel begins on Sarah Grimke’s eleventh birthday, when her wealthy parents give her ownership over Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a Charleston slave, who is to be her handmaid. The Invention of Wings follows the next thirty-five years of their lives. Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist), Kidd allows herself to go beyond the record to flesh out the inner lives of all the characters, both real and imagined.
The Namesake (2003)
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Mariner Books, 2004. 291 pages | ISBN: 9780618485222
The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. Shortly after their arranged marriage, they settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The engineer husband adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world.
The Boat (2008)
by Nam Le
Vintage Books, 2008. 272 pages | ISBN: 9780307388193
2009 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; 2010 PEN/Malamud Award; 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize
2009 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction (AUS – $100,000 prize)
The seven stories in Nam Le’s masterful collection The Boat take us across the globe, from the slums of Colombia to Iowa City; from the streets of Tehran to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea. They guide us to the heart of what it means to be human—and herald the arrival of a remarkable new writer.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
by Harper Lee
Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, c1960. 323 pages | ISBN: 9780061120084
1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
A gripping and heart-wrenching tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of 8-year-old Scout. Her father, Atticus Finch is a crusading local lawyer, risking everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.
Association of Small Bombs (2016)
by Karan Mahajan
Penguin Books, 2016. 276 pages | ISBN: 9780143109273
2017 Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; 2017 Bard Fiction Prize Recipient
2017 Winner of the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award
When two brothers, Delhi schoolboys, are involved in one of the many “small” bombings that take place seemingly unheralded across the world, the devastation ripples through their family. A survivor of the bomb becomes entangled with a mysterious and charismatic young activist. A third thread is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland.
by Tony Morrison
Vintage, 2004, c1987. 324 pages | ISBN-13: 9781400033416
1988 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this novel is a profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1998)
by Walter Mosley
Washington Square Press, 1998. 208 pages | ISBN: 9780671014995
1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Meet the philosophical and astonishing Socrates Fortlow in this acclaimed collection of entwined tales by bestselling author Walter Mosley. Fortlow is a tough, black ex-con seeking truth and redemption in South Central Los Angeles — and finding the miracle of survival.
Buddha in the Attic (2011)
by Julie Otsuka
Anchor Books, 2011. 129 pages | ISBN: 9780307744425
This short novel is a tour de force of economy and precision as it presents the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco are marked by backbreaking migrant work, cultural struggles, children who reject their heritage, and the prospect of wartime internment.
Cry, the Beloved Country (1948)
by Alan Paton
Scribner, 1987, c1948. 316 pages | ISBN: 9780743262170
1949 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
The most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, this impassioned work looks at a black man’s country under white man’s law. It is the story of Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice, and in need of the love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.
The Help (2009)
by Kathryn Stockett
Berkley Books, 2011, c2009. 534 pages | ISBN: 9780425232200
It is 1962, Jackson, Mississippi, and African-American maids work in the white households. Skeeter, a new college graduate, comes home to find that her beloved maid Constantine has disappeared. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and sassy enough to lose her job. These three very different women come together for a clandestine project that puts them all at risk, starting a movement of their own that forever changes their town.
The Joy Luck Club (2006)
by Amy Tan
Penguin Books, 2006, c1989. 289 pages | ISBN: 9780143038092
In 1949 four Chinese women – drawn together by the shadow of their past – begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and “say” stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother’s lifelong wish—and the tragic way in which it has come true.
The Underground Railroad (2016)
by Colson Whitehead
Doubleday, 2016. 306 pages | ISBN: 9780385542364
Winner, 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; 2016 National Book Award for Fiction
2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence
A suspenseful tale of escape and pursuit, it combines elements of fantasy and the counter-factual with an unflinching, painfully truthful depiction of American slavery. Whitehead revisits the grotesque barbarities of our nation’s history in the interest of our common stake in freedom and dignity.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal (vol.1)
by G. Willow Wilson
Marvel Worldwide, 2014. [120 unpaged] | ISBN: 9780785190219
This update of the classic Ms. Marvel comic finds teenage Muslim high school student Kamala Khan, an ordinary girl from Jersey City, suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle?
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016)
by J. D. Vance
Harper Collins, 2016. 272 pp. | ISBN: 9780062300546
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, it’s a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.
Between the World and Me (2015)
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 152 pages | ISBN: 9780812993547 | E185.615.C6335 2015
2015 National Book Award
Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men … What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.
March. Book One (2013)
by John Lewis; [co-written by] Andrew Aydin; [art by] Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions, . 121 pages | ISBN: 9781603093002 | E840.8.L43 A3 2013
2016 National Book Award Winner, Young People’s Literature
In this superb graphic memoir, Congressman John Lewis, a resounding moral voice in the quest for equality for more than 50 years, now shares his riveting story of the Civil Rights Movement. It is a powerful tale of courage, principle, and perseverance igniting sweeping social change, told by a strong-minded, uniquely qualified eyewitness.
To Sir with Love (1959)
by E. R. Braithwaite
Jove, 1977, c1959. 189 pages | ISBN: 9780515083729 | LA639.L8 B7 1977x
1961 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
This autobiographical novel is set in the East End of London in 1959. A Black engineer, desperate for work after being demobilized from the RAF, accepts a teaching post in this tough corner of the city. His pupils are unresponsive to his efforts, unmotivated, semi-literate, and semi-articulate. He decides to take a radical new approach: he shames them into showing more respect for each other, wrestles with them, enlightens them, and – ultimately – learns to love them.
A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
by Lorraine Hansberry
Vintage Books, 1994. 151 pages | ISBN: 9780679755333 | PS3515.A515 R3 1994
New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play, 1959
The breadwinner for his family living in poverty on Chicago’s south side, Walter Younger desperately wants to become wealthy. Within this context, Hansberry addresses issues that were new to open discussion at the time: concepts of black beauty, generational conflict, class differences, feminism and black Americans’ relationship to their African past. It was the first play written by an African American to be produced on Broadway and Hansberry was the first black to win the coveted New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the year.
The Life of Langston Hughes. 2nd Ed. Vol.1&2 (1987)
by Arnold Rampersad
Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN (v.1): 9780195151602 | PS3515.U274 Z698 2002
1987 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards
Rampersad’s highly-praised biography, now in its 2nd edition, covers the life of this most extraordinary and prolific American writer. In young adulthood Hughes possessed a nomadic but dedicated spirit that led him from Mexico to Africa and the Soviet Union to Japan, and countless other stops around the globe. Associating with political activists, patrons, and fellow artists, and drawing inspiration from both Walt Whitman and the vibrant Afro-American culture, Hughes soon became the most original and revered of black poets.
Dust Tracks on the Road (1942)
by Zora Neale Hurston
Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. 308 pages | ISBN: 9780060854089 | PS3515.U789 Z465 2006
1943 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
This autobiography of Hurston, daughter of the Mayor of the “all Negro” town Eatonville, Florida, vividly documents her younger years into adulthood in the early 19th century. She writes with candid honesty of the loss of her mother, her fights with her stepmother who eventually leaves, and the challenging journey that takes her through college at Howard University.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
by Maya Angelou
Ballantine Books, 2009, c1969. 289 pages | ISBN: 9780345514400 | PS3551.N464 Z46 2009
Powerful and poetic, this is the 1969 autobiography of the early years of African-American writer and poet Maya Angelou. The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma.
The Big Smoke (2014)
by Adrian Matejka
Penguin Books, 2013. 109 pages | ISBN: 9780143123729 | PS3613.A825 B54 2013
2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
The child of emancipated slaves, Jack Johnson overcame the violent segregationism of Jim Crow, challenging white boxer and white America to become the first African-American heavyweight world champion. The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka’s third work of poetry, follows the fighter’s journey from poverty to the most coveted title in sports through the multi-layered voices of Johnson and the white women he brazenly loved.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013)
by Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury, 2013. 258 pages | ISBN: 9781608195213 | PS3623.A7323 Z46 2013
Jesmyn’s memoir shines a light on the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, a place of quiet beauty and fierce attachment. Here, she lost five young men dear to her, to drugs, accidents, murder, and suicide. Their deaths were seemingly unconnected, yet Jesmyn chronicles their true stories and a staggering truth: these young men died because of who they were and the place they were from, because certain disadvantages breed a certain kind of bad luck, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016)
by Margot Lee Shetterly
William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016. 349 pgs. | ISBN: 9780062363602 | QA27.5 .L44 2016
2016 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Hidden Figures is the true story of four black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement. Their calculations and vision helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space—a powerful, revelatory contribution that is essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America.