New York-based artist Cheryl Donegan shares her reading list of histories of slavery in America. “It’s been a bracing course of study,” she says.
My list is a bit intense but it represents some study I have been pursuing for the last few years: the history of Slavery in the United States. I went to art school, so of course so I never really formally studied American history beyond high school. Recent events have lead me to want to examine the history of our country from the vantage point of the one feature that truly defined America in a greater way all other institutions—the enslavement of a people of African descent to build the wealth of the nation and all the compromises of democracy that served those in power to make in order to see that end achieved.
It has been a bracing course of study, but one that has enabled me to comprehend how our currently unfolding crisis has been facilitated by something that appears to me to be a feature of our national character of those who rise to positions of authority—transactionalism, profiteering, the financialization of human life, the marshaling of technologies to oppress some and enrich others, the tortured logic of power.
I began with:
The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World by David Walker
The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
I also just recently bought Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. It’s a door stopper but I am using it as a reference book to have around. Jill went to the same high school I did. She was in my younger sister’s class! I have a sort of vicarious pride in her—coming out of a regional public school in Central Massachusetts, she has become one of the most valued historians in the nation! That warms my nerdy heart!!!
In addition to this I will add:
Ninth Street Women, which I read this summer past along with 1/2 the art world.
I’m also learning French, which is a big long-term project. I read my first book in French over Christmas, Le Petit Prince (bien sûr). Now I just downloaded La Peste by Camus and I’m going to start that, in conjunction with a French language learning group I am part of on WHATSAPP.