Ann Arbor District Library’s Black Lives Matter Discussion Series

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May of 2020, anti-racist book lists flooded the market. Bookstores and libraries jumped in to do their part, stocking shelves and building displays for their patrons. 

Books are a wonderful way to learn because we can sit with a book for as long as we need to, rereading passages or taking notes, without the book judging us. But there comes a point when one needs to look outside the text. Maybe we need more clarification on something the book said, or we’re emotionally troubled, and we need a community, however small, to discuss these topics with. That is where things like book discussion groups come in.

In 2020, the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) put together the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Discussion Series. As the website says, this is an “intentionally broad discussion series [that] seeks to encourage and support community members in their exploration of and engagement with works that provide insight on anti-Black racism.” 

Sherlonya Turner, one of the AADL’s associate directors, was kind enough to share some insight into why the AADL wanted to create, and continues to support, the BLM Discussion Series. “This series started out as a discussion series of a collection of non-fiction titles that were selected to cover different perspectives, and also different historical aspects of anti-Black racism, and how that has impacted a variety of people.” 

All prior and future book discussions between AADL staff members are available to watch on Turner explained, “One thing that we learned in the early days of the discussion series is that many of our in-person participants were interested in hearing what others thought of the books, sometimes not having read it themselves. Or that people were wanting to listen in a book discussion to determine whether or not they wanted to read the book. With that in mind, we decided to directly provide that type of experience by presenting pre-recorded book discussions.”

The chosen books largely were published throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, but at least one title, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs, was published in 1861. Said Turner, “Currently there is a small team of staff who choose the titles… They aim to choose titles that highlight a variety of Black experiences, across a wide timeline, and that span genres.” Now, and moving forward, the series focuses on fiction because “sometimes fiction feels more approachable.”

Previously discussed books include the autobiographical I Can’t Date Jesus (2018) by Michael Arceneaux; modern thriller My Sister, the Serial Killer (2018) by Oyinkan Braithwaite; the classic of science fiction Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler; and Indigo (2014) a historical romance by the prolific Beverly Jenkins. There are also recorded discussions of the films Selma (2015) directed by Ava DuVernay, I am not your Negro (2017) directed by Raul Peck, and King in the Wilderness (2018) directed by Peter Kunhardt.

Some upcoming discussion books to keep an eye out for are…

  • Swing Time (2016) by Zadie Smith
  • Babel-17 (1967) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Oreo (1974) by Fran Ross
  • Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives From Black History Volume 1 (2014) by Joel Christian Gill
–Crysta Coburn