Are you ready to double your TBR stack? Good, because Tara Betts over at Black Nerd Problems combed through Luke Cage and pulled out some fantastic references to authors including Walter Mosley, Ralph Ellison, and Donald Goines. But even better, she’s created a “Luke Cage Syllabus” for Season One that provides historical context for many of the plot points in the show!
Luke Cage drops a lot of references to detective novels. With nods to Donald Goines, Chester Himes, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane, the show makes it clear from the outset that, in addition to a show about a superhero, Luke Cage is going to have detective work at its core, as Luke tries to figure out what type of hero he wants to be as well as solve mysteries from his past. This is fantastic, and will lead you to a great mystery reading list, but Betts goes above and beyond when she also provides historical context for Luke’s experiences in Harlem.
Luke gets his powers in prison, and as with Wolverine and Deadpool, his consent is questionable at best. But these experiments have a particular resonance for Black Americans, and Betts recommends Allen M. Hornblum’s Acres of Skin and Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present to look at real-life medical experimentation involving people of color.
On a brighter note, Quincy T. Mills’ Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America takes readers through the history and cultural significance of the Black barber shop, introducing us to the real-world Pops and their various neighborhood “Switzerlands” that became important spaces in the Black community both physically and spiritually.
And it only takes a few minutes of watching Luke Cage to see that Harlem itself is a major character. For those of you who want to take a look at the neighborhood’s history, Betts recommends Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada’s Fist Stick Knife Gun, and Paul Tough’s book about Canada, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, or, if you want to look at the city as a whole, you can’t go wrong with Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.
This only scratches the surface of the syllabus—head over to Black Nerd Problems for the rest of Betts’ recommendations!