As the new Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, Daina Ramey Berry is busy settling into her role as an administrator, professor and leader of the campus’s creative core. But she’s always got time for a good book.
Berry, who joined UC Santa Barbara from her position as chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin, calls herself a voracious reader when it comes to her research interests: the history of slavery and Black women’s history. She is particularly drawn to books with descriptive writing about tactile experiences that transport her to new places.
As she begins work on a biography of Anna Murray Douglass (the wife of abolitionist Frederick Douglass), Berry has been delving into memoir and fiction. She describes her reading as reflective of the kind of writing she’s doing and says that she is currently endeavoring to learn the art of how to talk deeply about one person’s life.
Here are five books that have inspired her, in her words:
1. Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
A powerful memoir by one of the most prolific young writers of our time. Laymon shares the intimate history of growing up in Mississippi, a complex relationship with his mother, and a host of coming-of-age experiences that will both shock and resonate with his readers.
2. Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of
Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry
A journey into the life and experiences of an American icon. Hansberry is a playwright and the first African-American writer to have her work appear on Broadway.
3. Liberty's Prisoners: Carceral Culture in
Early America by Jen Manion
Manion unveils the early history of incarceration in the United States, a topic that interests me given contemporary problems facing system-impacted people.
4. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Butler is one of my favorite writers because she allows readers to see into the future and to imagine a world beyond our wildest dreams. I started this book with a good friend and she’s anxiously waiting for me to finish it.
5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I decided to reread this novel because it is currently on several banned books lists. It had a profound impact on me when I was young and it drew me into my profession as a scholar of the enslaved.