History in the Making

Written by Francisca Goldsmith on Wednesday, June 15, 2016


This week’s pair of audiobooks explores America's racial awareness across more than a century, giving us pause to consider what we mean when we think about our own identities against the background of what others say we must be.

HOW IT WENT DOWN, by Kekla Magoon and performed by a full cast for Recorded Books, is a fictional account of realistic and contemporary reported cases: the shooting of a black teenager by a white man. The 17 points of view of what happened between Tariq and Jack are those of friends and family and passersby, coming to us through the voices of Cherise Boothe, Shari Peele, Kevin R. Free, Patricia R. Floyd, Avery Glymph, Korey Jackson, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Peter Jay Fernandez, Ezra Knight, Myra Lucretia Taylor, and Brian Hutchinson. Adding to the novel’s realism is its open-endedness: there is no voice that can tell us exactly how it went down. That’s why this book is important to us all. Instead of offering certitude about a specific event, we are forced to look at the larger history of how we got here.

This week’s classic is THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN, a realistic novel written by James Weldon Johnson and narrated here by Alan Bomar Jones for Tantor Media. First published in 1912, Johnson’s fictional memoir of a biracial man in Post-Reconstructionist America and the choices he makes about his racial identity illustrates the dramatically different ways in which black men and white men were treated. Jones narrates this story with energy and warmth, offering an excellent introduction to a book that inspired authors with whom many listeners may be more familiar, such as Ralph Ellison  and Ishmael Reed, to move concerns with identity into American literature’s 20th century development.

To further explore this week’s classic, we are also offering some material for group audiobook discussions. The brief discussion guide will be posted to this blog over the weekend. This pair of titles is brought to SYNC near the annual Juneteenth celebration, the oldest holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery in the US, in the hopes that we can encourage participants to consider how we create an inclusive cultural fabric.

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