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The Reading Culture

The Blackest Book Ever: Derrick Barnes on Writing Unapologetically

The Reading Culture
The Reading Culture
  • "I'm putting every single ounce of who I am into every single book that I write, so y'all know to expect the blackest books you have ever read from yours truly.” - Derrick Barnes

Derrick Barnes’ introduction to vulnerable storytelling was through the jazz and R&B records he found in his family’s collection. For young Derrick, reading the liner notes in albums was just as important as any other kind of reading. Eventually, artists like Prince, Rakim, and John Coltrane taught him about the power in simply and truly being yourself. Inspired, young Derrick began writing his own poetry and short stories, which served as the beginning of a long and fruitful writing career. A career that includes being the first black creative copywriter for Hallmark cards.

In his work as an author, Derrick embodies the authenticity of his idols, being uncompromising in his goal to tell an array of black stories, for black kids. Although already an established writer, Derrick’s breakthrough picture book, "Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut" brought him national attention and accolades such as the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, a Newbery Honor, and the Coretta Scott King Award. More recently he earned a National Book Award honor for the graphic novel “Victory Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice.”

In this episode, Derrick tells the story of how music inspired him to write, how his idols taught him to never compromise his voice as a black man, and why he considers himself a freedom fighter.


Connect with Jordan and The Reading Culture @thereadingculturepod and subscribe to our newsletter at thereadingculturepod.com/newsletter.


In Derrick’s reading challenge, "Resistance and Resilience" he invited us to read powerful stories of resilience from America’s black history.

You can find her list and all past reading challenges at thereadingculturepod.com.

Today's Beanstack Featured Librarian is Connie Sharp, a Librarian Training and Development Specialist at Metro Nashville Public Schools. She told us about how her district utilizes Beanstack with community partnerships to encourage students to read.


Chapter 1 - Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B (1:59)

Chapter 2 - Literacy and Lyrics (6:31)

Chapter 3 - A Hallmark Story (9:11)

Chapter 4 - The Fresh Cut (12:52)

Chapter 5 - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (19:22)

Chapter 6 - Freedom Fighter (25:00)

Chapter 7 - The Blackest Books (28:56)

Chapter 8 - The Legacy of Derrick Barnes (31:29)

Chapter 9 - Resistance and Resilience (35:31)

Chapter 10 - Beanstack Featured Librarian (37:29)


Host: Jordan Lloyd Bookey

Producer: Jackie Lamport and Lower Street Media

Script Editors: Josia Lamberto-Egan, Jackie Lamport, Jordan Lloyd Bookey

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