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Five Great Books About Kick-Ass Black Men

In what seems like a long ago era, black literature was very male dominated – Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin. Now most of the successful black writers are women – Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Terri McMillan. Even most of the successful new jacks, like Alice Randall and Zane, are women.

It’s wonderful that black women are getting heard and making money off it. There are a lot of brothers doing their thing too, like Nelson George, Charles Johnson and Toure, who are all writing good and important work.

But this list is very specific – these are not just books about black men, but well-written books about black men who kick ass and take names…men of action.

  BLACK EMPIRE – George Schuyler
Schuyler is a fascinating man. My first exposure to him was as the author of “The Negro Art Hokum”, which was a send-up of the Harlem Renaissance. Having grown up on MAD magazine, anyone who does parody is okay with me. Then it turns out when he wasn’t taking the piss out his peers, he was writing a Black Nationalist science fiction serial for a black newspaper (which is collected into BLACK EMPIRE). Now I’m really loving him.

His daughter Phillipa turns out to be a world class pianist. Wow. Then the tragic part kicks in. His daughter dies tragically in Viet Nam. He loses him mind and becomes a right wing shill, joining the John Birch Society. Sad sad sad.

But read BLACK EMPIRE. It’s a great book even if you didn’t know all that stuff.

INVISIBLE MAN – Ralph Ellison
The unnamed protagonist of this classic can’t really fairly be called an “action hero” but his showdown with Ras the Destroyer at the finale of the book must be considered one of the great “set pieces” in literature. If you’ve never read it, it’s a must read. If you have, can’t hurt to read it again.

Read Charles Johnson’s essay on INVISIBLE MAN here.

I don’t know what the young kids are into today, but there was a time that this was the one book every black man read. Just on storytelling merits alone, it’s as good as the New Testament.
MUMBO JUMBO – Ishmael Reed
If you’re a George Clinton fan, this is the literary equivalent of P.Funk. It’s a Romare Bearden painting in prose. It’s about a voodoo detective and a beat so funky it might take over the world. What more can I say?
This is without a doubt the most kick ass book about ass kicking in the pantheon of black literature. It’s like an incredibly well written blaxsploitation movie. In fact, there’s so much foot-to-ass action in this book you get tired, like you were the one opening all those cans of whup ass.

And the nice thing about it is there’s a sequel, so when you start jonesin’ for more, it’s there for you.