A Reader’s Guide to “Luke Cage” on Netflix

Rachel Dixon
3 min readOct 2, 2016
Luke Cage, thinking Easy Rawlins mysteries are “not bad.”

I cannot claim to be a Marvel/comic book/graphic novel type — but I know a few things about Harlem and I am a book nerd, so I made a list of literary allusions in Luke Cage. I was more than a bit surprised and delighted that there are so many of them. Since dating my current comics-nerd partner, I’ve seen a lot of superheroes and capes and villains and there’s not a one who I’d share a bookshelf with until now.

Here’s my list. I’ll be updating as I try to not-binge-watch the heck out of the series this weekend. Apparently I am not alone.

I don’t miss the snow, but I miss those brownstones.

What was the real Harlem Renaissance?
You can’t have a new one without an old one. “New Harlem Renaissance” is the villains’ movement in this show, and they want to stop the rampant gentrification of Harlem -a very real thing- by being gross villains. Why? Because comics. The true life Harlem Renaissance was an era during the 20’s and 30’s during The Great Migration where an insane number of artists, musicians, and poets emerged from Harlem. Poets.org has a good quick longread (trust me, it’s a thing) here. Some folks associated with this include:
Jean Toomer
Countee Cullen
Sterling Brown
Nella Larsen
Marcus Garvey
Zora Neale Hurston
W.E.B. DuBois
Every known jazz musician pretty much
And more!

We can’t have a list of Harlem Renaissance anything without:

Langston Hughes Da Gawd:
Poetry Foundation overview
Collected works
Good Langston Hughes news you can use

Also featured:
The New Yorker, maybe you’ve heard of this rag
Shirley Chisolm: Unbought and Unbossed

Other Harlem Notables:
Percy Sutton
Billy Strayhdorn

Episode 1, Invisible Man, Duh
Black Folktales (wink, wink, wink, this show has become self-aware)

The Attica Report

Malcom Gladwell

Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man

Episode 2: Mosley v Goines (“You’re saying Kenyatta was better than Easy Rawlins??”)
Walter Mosley
Little Green (Luke carries this one around for most of the ep)
Devil in a Blue Dress — This one starred Denzel that one time!
— Most recent Easy Rawlins: Charcoal Joe
The Man in My Basement (my favorite Mosley)

Donald Goines
Crime Partners

Dennis Lehane
Mystic River
— Like, everything. Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Moonlight Mile

George Pelicanos
The Night Gardener: What a great title!
— Little known TV series called The Wire

Richard Price:
The Whites
The Color of Money, Sea of Love, Night and the City
The Night Of

Chester Himes (Harlem bonus points)
The Harlem Cycle (presented by Melvin Van Peebles? I die.)
If He Hollers, Let Him Go
— “The Buick Roadmaster: Motion, Agency, and Defeat in “If He Hollers Let Him Go,”” LA Review of Books Oct 2016

Benign neglect :(

Episode 5:
Jeff Chang
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation

Episode 9: What’s the 49th Law of Power?
Robert Greene
The 48 Laws of Power
I feel kind of dirty recommending this book, once described to me as a textbook for douchebags, and yet I’ve bought it twice. Supervillain training? Also, I haven’t read it but Greene wrote a biz book with 50 Cent. The 49th Law remains elusive.