I often wonder when I’m reading something what the writer was reading while she or he was writing it. Sometimes it’s because I suspect the influence of a certain earlier work, sometimes it’s because the period or procedural details suggest a lot of research. 

So in case anyone gives a hoot, this is a list of things I read or re-read during the period I was writing Underground Airlines (divided into a few different categories and using some sort of vaguely correct-looking bibliography format.)

Category 1: history of racism and slavery

Baptist, Edward A. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism 

Blackmon, Douglas. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

Coates, Ta-Nahisi. “The Case for Reparations,” from The Atlantic Monthly, June 2014

Cover, Robert. Justice Accused: Antislavery and the Judicial Process

Farrow, Anne; Lang, Joel; & Frank, Jennifer. Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery

Genovese, Eugene. The Political Economy of SlaverySlavery and Social Death

Genovese, Eugene. Roll Jordan Roll: The World The Slaves Made

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death

Various. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938

Category 2: speculative/”alternative-history” fiction

Martin, George R.R. (editor). Wild Cards anthology (volume 1)

Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

YPUHarris, Robert. Fatherland

Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle

Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America

Category 3: classics of African American literature (fiction and non-) 

Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Mancover-Ralph-Ellison-Invisible-Man

Morrison, Toni. Beloved

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye

Rankine, Claudine. Citizen

Category 4: classics of African American literature which are ALSO speculative/”alternative-history” fiction (i.e. books that are literally sui generis, “of their own category”):

Butler, Octavia. Kindred


7 thoughts on “Influences

  1. Brian

    I just want to say how happy I am that you have not one, but two Toni Morrison books on this list. An old high school friend recently posted on FB what a shame it is that more high school students in this country don’t read her work, especially as she is the only living American Nobel laureate. I look forward to reading Underground Airlines, and I’m very happy to see such a great list of influences

  2. Fred

    I just read the profile in The New York Times, and I’m eager to read Underground Airlines. You’ve consulted some terrific readings. I especially love teaching Kindred and Beloved (mostly to high school seniors), and I hope I can assign and teach yours one day. If you’re still interested in reading about the history of slavery and racism (and it’s understandable if you’re ready to move on from this subject), you might find interesting Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America and David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Kevin Willmott’s satirical film C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America is also worth a look.

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  4. Rachel

    I’m so excited to read Underground Airlines, especially after seeing this list. YES to Kindred and Octavia Butler being one of a kind.

    Loved The Last Policeman, thanks for writing what you do!

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