6 Books, Movies, and Artwork to Pair with Richard Wright's 'Black Boy' | Refreshing the Canon

Black Boy, published in 1945, is Richard Wright's memoir about growing up in the South during the Jim Crow era. Pair it with these books, movies, and art pieces to translate Wright's experience to modern day.


Last month, SLJ asked librarians and educators to weigh in on which classics should remain on summer reading lists. Inspired by the most popular titles that emerged, SLJ editors and members of NCTE’s Build Your Stack® Committee have curated this year’s round of “Refreshing the Canon” selections. 

Additionally, we’ve put together multimodal lists of recommendations—including nonfiction, graphic novels, documentaries, and more—that educators can feature in classrooms and libraries alongside the exemplar texts. Our aim is to inspire educators to breathe fresh life into lessons around these works by giving students context to understand why these classics are still relevant today.

Be sure to check out the 2022 “Refreshing the Canon” lists for more read-alikes of longtime summer reading picks.

Black Boy, published in 1945, is Richard Wright's memoir about growing up in the South during the Jim Crow era. A new edition that includes an afterword by Wright's grandson was released in January 2023.

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond. Crown. 2023. ISBN 9780593239919.
Desmond explores why the richest nation on earth has more people living in poverty than any other developed nation. His argument helps readers to see how the circumstances of Wright’s life in Black Boy have not changed all that much.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy. illus. by Janelle Washington. Roaring Brook. 2022. ISBN 9781250220950.
The story of Emmett Till is shared here, with a focus on his mother and the role she played in speaking truth to power. Experiences of life in Mississippi and Chicago, as well as relationships with maternal figures, can be juxtaposed with the lives of Wright and Till.

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers). Delacorte. 2019. ISBN 9780525582168.
This memoir of growing up in South Africa paints a picture of systemic racism in its many iterations. It takes place in a different country than Black Boy, but illustrates similar implications for the individual.


Ain’t Burned All the Bright
by Jason Reynolds. illus. by Jason Griffin. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. 2022. ISBN 9781534439467.
Written in just a few lengthy sentences over the space of a few hundred pages of artwork, the book follows a Black family during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. This powerful graphic novel adds to the African American story in the present climate, connecting to Black Boy thematically as well as experientially.

Django Unchained. 
Columbia Pictures. 2012.
The film is an often humorous reimagining of the experience of a Black man finding agency in a time when that was not often available. Clips from this movie could be used in class or be recommended to students to watch on their own. It is rated R, so the YouTube Clips feature can provide censored clips, or limit the content to sections that are more suitable for younger students.


“Better Homes, Better Gardens”
by James Kerry Marshall. 1994.
This painting from a contemporary artist portrays life in low-income housing projects; particularly, the contradictions between expectations and reality. 



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