Stressing the significance of reading to the development of critical
thinking skills, Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert
recently distributed a list of books he deemed important to the
African Diaspora to deans and administrators at Howard.
Swygert said he compiled the list because he thought it would
be interesting to see people's reactions to the list and also
to produce discussions about what books are essential reading.
"I used to put lists together in the past and folks would always ask me from
time to time what I was reading," Swygert said.
Jannette Dates, dean of the School of Communications, said she,
like Swygert, would be pleased if his list generates conversation.
"This is the type of intellectual stimulation that our campus can use," Dates
said. "It (I hope) will have students and faculty members discussing
their views about the cited works--and other works that they would have
The list contains mostly non-fiction works pertaining to the
history of the African diaspora and a number of books about prominent
African-Americans such as Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell, and John
"Recently more autobiographies and biographies have been published about modern
black figures," Swygert said. "I thought it would be interesting to look
at that body of work."
An undergraduate history major, Swygert said he chose
historical books and memoirs because those are the works
that most interest him. He also said he intentionally
left popular classics such as The Souls of Black Folk and The
Autobiography of Malcolm X off of his list, assuming
most people on campus would have read them already.
One book of fiction that did make the president's list
was Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo. Swygert said he is
particularly fond of Reed's writing, which he describes
as sympathetic to the human condition and also very celebratory.
"['Mumbo Jumbo'] is a book written by one of the nation's leading authors. I've
read a lot of what he has written," Swygert said. "[Mumbo Jumbo]
has everything in it from mysticism to history."
Another book Swygert is particularly fond of from his
list is Succeeding
Against the Odds, an autobiography of the late founder
of Jet and Ebony Magazine John H. Johnson co-written
by Lerone Bennett, Jr. To Swygert, Johnson's tale of
persevering in the world of publishing and defying racial
obstacles is one to be both applauded and learned from.
"It's a wonderful story," Swygert said. "If I were to retitle it, I would call
it 'Succeeding Against Everything.'"
Franklin Chambers, vice provost of student affairs, said he was
very pleased that the president compiled this book list.
"I think it is a wonderful idea, and was excited that President Swygert was thoughtful
enough to share his list with us," Chambers said. "It's important that
we continue to promote reading at all stages of our lives. Although we
are all extremely busy, it's important to know that our president continues
to read regularly and promotes the practice to others."
In addition to Chambers, Kurt Schmoke, dean of the law school,
also applauded the Swygert.
"This book list reminds us of the need to broaden our intellectual horizons beyond
the confines of our professional concerns or college majors," Schmoke said. "Hopefully,
there will be an opportunity for the community to engage in discussion
about these important works."
Although Swygert said he hopes students will be interested in
his book list, he said he views his list as merely a foundation
that others can build off to create their own personal lists.
"It's one person's view of [what's important to read]," Swygert said. "The important
thing is we are reading."
Books on the president's list include:
The Afrocentric Idea
Molefi Kete Asante'
Temple Press, 1998
A Howard Reader, An Intellectual Quilt of the African-American Experience
Paul E. Logan, Editor
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997
The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson
Sandra G. Shannon
Howard University Press, 1995
Among the Believers, An Islamic Journey
Afred A. Knopf, Inc., 1981
W.E.B. DuBois, The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963
David Levering Lewis
Henry Holt and Company, 2000
Succeeding Against the Odds
John H. Johnson with Lerone Bennett, Jr.
Warner Books, 1989
Vernon Can Read! A Memoir
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.
Public Affairs, 2001
How To Succeed in Business Without Being White
Earl G. Graves
Harper Collins, 1997
No Boundaries, A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey
LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr.
Howard University Press, 2005
Howard administrators tell The
Hilltop what books they would
include on their own must-read book lists...
James Donaldson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences:
Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural
Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity
Dante's Divine Comedy
W.E.B. Dubois's Souls of Black Folks
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Why? "These works, since their publication, while addressing
many of the themes [intellectual openness and cultural
diversity, historical awareness, empirical analysis,
and social and human relations,] have had a profound
effect upon humankind."
Richard English, Provost:
Andrew Billingsley's Black Families in White America
Why? "Throughout most of my scholarly career, my interest
has been the study of African American families. While
Professor E. Franklin Frazier's studies of Black families
were pioneering, Andrew Billingsley's book Black Families
in White American, which was published in 1968, significantly
influenced research and scholarship on African American
Kurt Schmoke, Dean of the School of Law:
Michael Barone's The New Americans: How the Melting
Pot Can Work Again
Juan Williams's Thurgood Marshall: An American Revolutionary
Frank H. Wu's Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and
Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat: A Brief History
of the Twenty First Century
Franklin Chambers, Vice Provost of Student Affairs:
Oren Harari's The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
Why? "The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell in my
opinion is a must read. I
think Colin Powell is one of the greatest minds of this
generation, and his transition from military to civilian
life is worth reading about. I'm a firm believer that
leadership skills are transferable, and Colin Powell
is a true example."