Claude Atcho was shopping at Target when a display of James Baldwin books got him thinking: Who would read them? Or get lost trying? At that moment, Atcho—a Charlottesville, Virginia, pastor who had taught African American literature at the collegiate level—was inspired to write a guide for Christians on reading and discussing Black classics (like Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain). The result, Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just, applies a literary and theological lens to these classics. Journalist and mystery novelist Patricia Raybon spoke to Atcho about his invitation to readers.

What is a Black book? How do you define it?

For me, it’s those classic, canonical texts that look at African American experience, hope, and concern but also—as literature—have stood the test of time. It’s not just about having an interesting plot; these books take up significant themes and ask important questions about human experience universally, but Black experience in particular.

What’s an example?

I remember reading Richard Wright’s novel Native Son as an undergraduate and being just floored by the power of the writing and the portrayal of human existence it puts forth. It rocked my world. I just remember thinking: What does this story mean for me as a Christian? I felt this burning urge to talk about the book from a literary and religious perspective—as a matter of theology and lived faith alike.

How can books like Native Son—or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, or Toni Morrison’s Beloved—move readers to a deeper theological understanding of, say, the imago Dei?

With Invisible Man, for instance, you can ...

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Reading Black Books
Reading Black Books
Brazos Press
208 pp., 17.99
Buy Reading Black Books from Amazon