While watching The Jane Austen Book Club today, I questioned how one might go about adding a “multicultural touch” to the film. Of course, this remix would have to begin with a change in the author. While I’m positive that black women read Jane Austen (although the book/film/Hollywood might force you to believe otherwise), I doubt many of us are gathering to discuss it at book group meetings. What would we discuss for six months straight? Zane? Terry McMillan (like Austen many of her books have been made into film)? J. California Cooper? What author would draw a literary and popular culture audience?

So, Tyler Perry this straight to DVD synopsis is free.

Six diverse male ex-cons gather once a month to discuss six books by Donald Goines. Thus, we have The Donald Goines Book Club. During the discussions, the men reflect on their own lives and what earned them their prison stints, prison life experiences, and difficult post-release adjustments. Unfortunately, I’ve only read two Goines books so I can’t say what titles would be on the member’s list or how it might relate to their lives. Interesting twist though, right? You know I’m casting Derek Luke and Nate Parker. Yup.

But seriously though . . . speaking of prison/ex-cons, there are several black fiction books that tackle the topic. I’m sure there are more authors than just Cheryl Robinson, Donald Goines, and Chester Himes, but my research skills are currently on vacation.

When I Get Free by Cheryl Robinson

Theodore “Tower” Evans is smart, clever, and always one step ahead of the game. Under a different set of circumstances, he could have become a top executive at a Fortune 500 company or a successful entrepreneur. Instead, he became a statistic: one in three black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine under correctional supervision or control. He’s sentenced to forty years in an Oklahoma state prison for drug trafficking. Ten years later, Tower’s paroled and living in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, trying to adjust to the changes that have occurred in the world. The only problem: His mind is still on lockdown. As the pressure of the outside mounts against Tower and the voices in his head begin to collide, his paranoia takes over. He trusts no one. Not Tonya, the evangelist who believes in spreading more than the good news to Tower. Not Gail, an aspiring writer who begins penning a novel based on Tower’s life. Not Mary, his married parole officer whose possessiveness turns dangerous when she threatens to send him back to prison. The years Tower spent on the inside have taken away the hope that he needs to regain before his temper destroys his second chance. When I Get Free is a novel inspired by the true events of an anonymous ex-con.


Yesterday Will Make You Cry by Chester Himes

In 1937 Chester Himes, newly released from a seven-year stretch in the Ohio State Penitentiary for grand larceny, began his first novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry. By turns brutal and lyrical and never less than totally honest, it tells the autobiographical story of young Jimmy Monroe’s passage through the prison system, which tests the limits of his sanity, his capacity for suffering, and his definition of love. Stunningly candid about racism, homosexuality, and prison corruption, the book would take sixteen years and four subsequent revisions before being published in a much-altered form as Cast the First Stone in 1953. Even bowdlerized, it was recognized as a sardonic masterpiece of debasement and transfiguration. This edition, the first hardcover publication in Norton’s Old School Books series, presents for the first time the book precisely as Himes intended it to be read, with its raw honesty and startling compassion entirely intact.


White Man’s Justice, Black Man’s Grief by Donald Goines

Goines’ classic novel of prison life, it has been called “one of the most revealing books ever written about prison life and bigotry built into our system.” This is the story of Chester Hines, who thought he was the baddest man to come down the street. Behind prison walls he was nothing more than fresh meat.

Happy reading ya’ll.