Compelling Black Stories from the Free Library Podcast

By Jason F. RSS Wed, February 21, 2024

The Free Library's podcast archive dates back more than 25 years and features scores of author talks to help you commemorate, celebrate, and reflect on Black History Month. Even in just this last year, we’ve hosted an incredible variety of Black voices across a rich spectrum of genres and topics.

Here are 13 (out of many more!) to start you off. We’ve got literature, politics, social justice, entertainment, sports, journalism, and more!


Joseph Earl Thomas | Sink: A Memoir

Recorded February 21, 2023 

Referred to by Carmen Maria Machado as “all blood and nerve and near-unbearable beauty,” Joseph Earl Thomas’ Sink is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles the author’s escape from an upbringing of deprivation and abuse to a geek culture in which he could build a family and community on his own terms. An excerpt of this work won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize. His other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in n+1The Kenyon Review, and Gulf Coast, among other literary journals, and he has received writing fellowships from the Fulbright program, Bread Loaf, and Tin House. A doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas is the Director of Programs at Blue Stoop in Philadelphia and an associate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Heather McGhee | The Sum of Us (Adapted for Young Readers): How Racism Hurts Everyone

Recorded March 7, 2023

The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee’s 2021 odyssey across the American landscape of inequality, won wide acclaim for its empathetic and incisive imagining of a future that could offer more than our current racial paradigm. A New York Times bestseller longlisted for the National Book Award and named one of the best books of the year by numerous media outlets, it was recently adapted as a podcast on the Obamas Higher Ground network. One of the nation’s foremost experts in economic and social policy, McGhee is the chair of the board of directors at Color of Change, the United States’ largest online racial justice group. She is also the former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, where she currently serves as a distinguished senior fellow.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Linda Villarosa | Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation

Recorded May 15, 2023

A contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and The 1619 Project, Linda Villarosa has won numerous awards for articles concerning Black mother and infant health issues, medical myths, America’s hidden HIV epidemic, environmental justice, and COVID-19’s toll on Black American communities. She is the author of Body & Soul: The Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and the novel Passing for Black, which was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. The director of the undergraduate journalism program at City College of New York, Villarosa formerly worked as executive editor at Essence magazine and as a science editor for The New York Times, and her articles have been published in numerous periodicals, including The RootO Magazine, and Glamour. Relying on human stories and exhaustive research, Under the Skin exposes the powerful forces within healthcare and society itself that cause Black Americans to “live sicker and die quicker” than their white peers.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Airea D. Matthews | Bread and Circus

Recorded June 1, 2023

Airea D. Matthews is the 2022–23 Philadelphia Poet Laureate and directs the poetry program at Bryn Mawr College. Her collection Simulacra won the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best American Poets, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, and VQR, among other journals. Matthews’ other honors include a 2022 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, a 2020 Pew Fellowship, and the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Addressing themes of income inequality, commodification, and conventional economic theories, Bread and Circus combines poetry, prose, and imagery to tell an intimate story about the author and her family.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Christian Cooper | Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World

Recorded June 27, 2023 

Central Park birder Christian Cooper is the host and consulting producer on the National Geographic channel’s Extraordinary Birder and is on the board of directors of the New York City Audubon Society. Also a groundbreaking comics writer, he introduced the first openly lesbian character for Marvel, conceived the first gay male character in the Star Trek universe via the Starfleet Academy comics series, and created Queer Nation: The Online Gay Comic. In Better Living Through Birding, Cooper tells the story of his life leading up to the morning in May 2020 when he was engaged in the birdwatching ritual that had been a part of his life since he was a child—and what might have been a routine encounter with a dog walker exploded age-old racial tensions. Cooper’s viral video of the incident would shock the nation. Also part-travelogue and primer on the art of birding, the book follows his worldwide avian adventures, explores his unique career, and offers insights into the ways his long history of looking up has prepared him to be a gay, Black man in contemporary America.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page

James McBride | The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store

Recorded August 10, 2023 

James McBride is the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird, “a brilliant romp of a novel” (The New York Times Book Review) in which a young boy born into slavery joins abolitionist John Brown’s doomed crusade. He is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother and the biography Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. His other fiction includes the novels Miracle at St. AnnaSong Yet Sung, and Deacon King Kong, which was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Also an award-winning composer, screenwriter, journalist, and saxophonist, he is a distinguished writer in residence at New York University and received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2016. In The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, McBride tells a story of small-town secrets, cultural collisions, and the sustaining love of community — in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Sheryl Lee Ralph | Diva 2.0: 12 Life Lessons From Me To You!

Recorded August 22, 2023

A celebrated veteran of film, television, and the Broadway stage, Sheryl Lee Ralph won an Emmy Award, a Critic’s Choice Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her comedic supporting role on ABC’s Abbott Elementary. In a career that spans almost 45 years, she also originated the role of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, for which she earned a Tony Award; starred in the shows It’s a LivingNew Attitude, and Moesha, for which she was voted one of "TV’s Favorite Moms;" and starred in dramatic and comedic films with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Eddie Murphy, Whoopie Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Robert De Niro. In Diva 2.0, Ralph offers a guide to elevating your journey to new heights through her recollections of the highs and lows of stardom, and she reveals the lessons of family love that have helped her soar.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Malcolm Jenkins | What Winners Won't Tell You: Lessons from a Legendary Defender

Recorded October 3, 2023 

One of pro football’s all-time defensive greats, Malcolm Jenkins won Super Bowls with the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints and appeared in three Pro Bowls. He won the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award as a senior at Ohio State University before entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick, where he would ultimately play for an impressive 13 seasons. The now-retired Jenkins has since become a media personality, executive producer, writer, racial justice advocate, and entrepreneur whose business ventures include the Listen Up Media conglomerate and an eponymous company called Malcolm Inc. His philanthropic organization, The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, assists young people in underserved communities. A memoir about life on the playing field, advocating for Black Americans, and the highs and lows of his personal life, What Winners Won’t Tell You is a meditation on what it means to find balance in that thin space between victory and defeat.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Kimberlé Crenshaw | #SayHerName: Black Women’s Stories of Police Violence and Public Silence

Recorded November 14, 2023 

One of the country’s foremost authorities in civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, race, and the law, Kimberlé Crenshaw is a law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School, where in 1996 she founded the African American Policy Forum. She is the co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women and Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected, and her articles have appeared in Harvard Law Review, the National Black Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, The New Republic, and The Nation. The coiner of the terms “critical race theory” and “intersectionality,” Crenshaw served on the legal team of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and wrote the background paper on race and gender discrimination for the United Nations’ World Conference on Racism in 2001. Including a forward by Janelle Monáe, #SayHerName explains how Black women are especially susceptible to police violence and how various communities can help empower them.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter | The Upcycled Self: A Memoir on the Art of Becoming Who We Are

Recorded November 18, 2023 

The winner of three Grammy Awards and three NAACP Image Awards, Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought, is the MC and co-founder of The Roots. The Philly-based hip-hop group has produced 11 albums and is the house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Trotter’s solo work includes three volumes of Streams of Thought, collaborative albums with Danger Mouse and El Michels Affair, and guest appearances on dozens of other artists’ tracks. He also co-wrote, co-composed, and starred in the off-Broadway play Black No More; acted in other such varied projects as The DeuceTick, Tick . . . Boom!; and Brooklyn Babylon; and, with Roots partner Questlove, founded the production company Two One Five Entertainment. “Refined literary fire from the soulful furnace of pain and suffering” (The New York Times), The Upcycled Self tells the story of Trotter’s difficult early life, his redemptive steps toward success and happiness, and the lessons he gleaned that readers can use to move forward on their paths.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Raquel Willis | The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation

Recorded November 29, 2023 

A writer, activist, and media strategist dedicated to Black transgender liberation, Raquel Willis has served as director of communications for Ms. Foundation for Women, a national organizer for the Transgender Law Center, and executive editor of Out magazine. In 2017, she spoke at the National Women’s March that took place just after the presidential election of Donald Trump. She has contributed articles to EssenceVICE, The Cut, and Vogue, and her writing has been anthologized in Black Futures and Four Hundred Souls. Referred to by Elliot Page as “deeply engaging with searing honesty and compassion,” The Risk It Takes to Bloom recounts Willis’ childhood in Georgia in a Black Catholic family, how her career in journalism and community organizing showed her the courage to come out, and how this particular moment can propel us all to collective liberation.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Ruha Benjamin | Imagination: A Manifesto

Recorded February 7, 2024 

Ruha Benjamin is the author of Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, a “galvanizing” and “inventive and wide-ranging” (The Nation) look at how new technologies reinforce social inequities; and Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want, a pragmatic yet poetic vision of how our minor everyday choices can add up to larger societal growth. Also the author of many scholarly publications, she is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, where she is the founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab. Benjamin’s writing has been featured in The New York TimesThe Guardian, CNNThe Root, and Vox, among numerous other media outlets. A revelatory call to action, Imagination calls for readers to consider the arena of the mind as a very real space for struggle, interconnectedness, and societal change.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Shayla Lawson | How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir

Recorded February 8, 2024

Shayla Lawson is the author of This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope, a “whip-smart” (People) essay collection about politics, pop culture, politics, and history. Named one of the most anticipated books of 2020 by numerous periodicals, it was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and a LAMBDA Literary Award. Also the author of two poetry collections, Lawson has contributed writing to SalonNew York magazine, and ESPN, among other places. They have also earned fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell. In How to Live Free in a Dangerous World, they present a globetrotting essay collection about the need for beauty during tough times, the unexpected wisdom we find when we fall in and out of love, and the transformative power of freedom.

Enjoy this episode on the Free Library Podcast or the Author Events YouTube page.

Browse the Free Library Author Events page for more upcoming author discussions.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

Leave this field empty

Add a Comment to Compelling Black Stories from the Free Library Podcast

Email is kept private and will not be displayed publicly
Comment must be less than 3000 characters