Valerie June

Celebrate Black History Month with Poet and Musician Valerie June

Native Tennesseean Valerie June Hockett is best known for her critically-acclaimed career as a singer-songwriter. Hailed by the New York Times as one of America’s “most intriguing, fully formed new talents,” she is now anticipating the release of a new creative project: her debut collection of poetry, Maps for the Modern World, which lands this April. Get to know Valerie June as she talks with Read Poetry about her favorite books, the beauty of Black History Month, and what she’s looking forward to in 2021.


Favorite Bookstores


Valerie June (VJ): I really love the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, and Burkes Bookstore in Memphis.


Recommended Reading


VJ: I would recommend that readers pick up Daniel Ladinsky’s translation of Hafiz (especially The Gift), and anything by Wendell Berry or Paul Laurence Dunbar.


These are a few books by Black authors that I really have enjoyed:


The Immeasurable Equation by Sun Ra

All About Love by Bell Hooks

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi


Valerie June’s TBR List


The Madman by Kahlil Gibran

This Day by Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes


Yearly reads:

The Mysticism of Sound and Music by Hazrat Inayat Khan

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (Steve Jobs read this book every year.)


Looking Forward


VJ: I’m thrilled about the new administration in Washington and look forward to seeing what changes we can make for a healthier nation. I’m also thrilled about my upcoming record release, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, and the release of my very first book, Maps for the Modern World!


On the Meaning of Black History Month


VJ: I believe every person has a gift that can uplift the world and every race has a sweetness and magic that fills the world with beauty and wonder that would not be present otherwise. Gifts of loving-kindness are our human potential. I enjoy seeing Black History Month as a special time to reflect and celebrate the lives and contributions of every Black life. After honoring those historic figures who are famous and have made tremendous contributions to humanity like Dr. King or Ida B. Wells, I hope Black History Month leaves each of us asking ourselves how we can be more open-hearted and respectful of the Black community in our personal encounters from the post office to the grocery store, from the news to a TV show, or from a book or to a blog. Are there ways we can show more loving-kindness toward the Black community in our everyday actions? It is a question of remembering the golden rule.


For more from Valerie June, find her on Instagram and watch out for Maps for the Modern World this April.