Hi, friends! It is always my goal to read diverse books, which means reading books authored by people with various lived experiences. For Black History Month, I wanted to share some of my favorite books by Black authors. If you are looking for new recommendations, I hope this blog hope is helpful for you. For the sake of readability, I am not including every book I’ve read by a Black author in this post (because there are a lot of great Black authors and a lot of great books written by Black authors) so check out my Bookshop for an even longer list (some I loved but didn’t include in the list because I need to re-read them before I can write a paragraph of my thoughts).
In alphabetical order, here are some of my favorite books by Black authors:
AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is one of the most talked about books on this list, and there are many good reasons why. Americanah follows the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, young lovers in Nigeria. Their lives diverge as Ifemelu moves abroad to study at an American university while Obinze stays behind. Obinze eventually attempts to start a new life in London but ultimately returns to Nigeria. I absolutely adored this book—there is so much in this book to discuss. From the economic situation of and hopelessness many young people experience in Nigeria, life as an (undocumented) immigrant and expiring racism for the first time in a new country, and so much more.
BIG FRIENDSHIP by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
This book is coauthored by a Black woman and a white woman who have been (long-distance) besties for a long time. In Big Friendship, Aminatou and Ann discuss friendship in unconventional ways–the extensiveness of the “friend web” built over time, how we are conditioned to not value or prioritize friendships the way we do romantic or familial relationships, the need to “stretch” for each other throughout the course of a friendship, and the importance of clear and open communication (especially in the times of social media). I absolutely loved reading it because it gives friendship the significance deserves. It also brings up the unspoken discomfort that sometimes arises in interracial friendships. If you have friends you want to keep around, give this a read! Also check out their podcast Call Your Girlfriend!
THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
I first read The Color Purple back in high school and re-read it last year in anticipation of seeing the (now cancelled/indefinitely postponed) musical version at DPAC. The story revolves around two sisters Celie and Nettie, who live apart for twenty years without knowing the whereabouts of each other. Told in letters addressed to God from Celie and to Celie from Nettie, The Color Purple explores topics of domestic and sexual violence but also resilience, growth, and strength. It’s a bit depressing in the beginning (had forgotten how heartbreaking and triggering parts of the book are), but I absolutely love this book. Can’t wait to see the musical!
THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE by Abi Daré
A few months ago, earlier during quarnatine, I had asked my Instagram friends about their favorite books, and this book was recommended by my fellow Salemite Dorinda. Girl with the Louding Voice is a story of Adunni, a Nigerian girl who dreams of going to school and finding her “Louding Voice.” Once her mother passes away, education seems out of reach for Adunni as her father sells her as a child bride and she eventually finds herself as a slave in a wealthy household. Some parts of the book broke my heart, but Adunni is resilient and courageous throughout. It was incredible to read about a strong girl like Adunni and other strong women, including Adunni’s mother Idowu, second-wife Khadija, and Ms. Tia.
THE IDEA OF YOU by Robinne Lee
Well-known as Harry Styles fan fiction, The Idea of You is a steamy romance! At her ex-husband’s last minute request, Solène Marchand takes her daughter to a boy band concert where she meets Campbell Hayes, one of the August Moon members, with whom she develops an intense relationship. It’s widely known as Harry Styles fan fiction, and as someone who never fangirled over OneDirection or read any type of fan fiction (not even Harry Potter ones), this book was fascinating! It gets steamy very fast and stays steamy throughout the entire book.
I’M STILL HERE by Austin Channing Brown
In this short but powerful memoir, Brown shares her lived experiences as a Black woman living in America. One of the first stories in the book is why Austin’s parents gave a “white man’s name” to their Black daughter. Sometimes when I am reading books, I take photos of the book so I can remember the phrases or sentences that particularly resonated with me or punched me in the gut. I took so many photos of this book while reading (which probably means I should get a copy of my own). I particularly appreciated the Austin Channing Brown calling out White Innocence and the idea of nice white people making it difficult/impossible to call out covert racists. Highly, highly recommend this book.
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead
This was one of my favorite reads from 2019, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone since then. Based on a true story about a reform school, The Nickel Boys is set in 1960s Florida. Elwood Curtis is a bright and gifted Black boy. On his first day of university classes, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sent to Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory. Boys at Nickel Academy receive little to no education and are subject to physical and sexual abuse by the school staff, with Black boys being treated even worse. Elwood befriends Turner, with whom he eventually attempts an escape. I remember while reading this book, I kept stopping to read because of the dread of what was going to happen to Elwood, such a young and innocent boy. While it is still incomprehensible to me that this book is based on an actual school, it is important that we learn about this history and acknowledge the trauma many experienced. Whitehead also authored the Underground Railroad.
PATSY by Nicole Dennis-Benn
I have been thinking about Patsy in the back of my head since I read it last July. Patsy comes to America, leaving behind her daughter Tru in Jamaica. When she is reunited with her love Cicely, her dream of happily-ever-after is crushed as Patsy learns Cicely has chosen a life of physical comfort with a husband and a son. While Patsy is surviving as an undocumented immigrant and finding her independence and her true self, her daughter Tru is grappling with her reality of being abandoned by her mother as well as her identity and sexuality. Nicole Dennis-Been is masterful in her creation and development of characters; I equally empathized with and loved both Patsy and Tru. Though Patsy might seem like a selfish mother on a superficial level, I loved her for being who she is and going for what she wants, which is opposite of what is expected for a woman a mother, and an immigrant. People are complex creatures, and Dennis-Benn does an incredible job depicting that in Patsy.
QUEENIE by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie is a 25-year old Jamaican British woman living in London, and the book begins with Queenie experiencing a couple of major losses: a miscarriage and a break-turned-breakup of her first long-term romantic relationship. As the story progresses, Queenie’s life seems to fall apart and hits rock bottom eventually. You learn about Queenie’s past trauma (childhood abandonment, sexual and emotional abuse) and racism she experiences as a Black woman are affecting her. Therapy and a few solid friends help Queenie get back on her feet eventually. I loved getting to know Queenie—I need more people to read it and talk about it!
SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid
Synopsis of this modern coming-of-age story: Emira, a recent college graduate, lands a babysitting gig with Alix Chamberlain, an influencer who has begrudgingly relocated to Pennsylvania from NYC. One night, Amira is babysitting Briar for the Chamberlains in a grocery store where she gets accused by a security guard of having stolen the child and gets rescued by a random guy who records the incident for her. The random guy named Kelly and Emira run into each other later and start dating. It turns out Alix and Kelly dated a long time ago, and they both try to “save” Emira from the other person who is awful and racist. I loved Such a Fun Age for a few different reasons. It portrays covert, everyday racism in the forms of white savior complex, fetishization of Black women, and Black people being accused of wrongdoing for literally no reason. It is set in modern times in the world of viral videos and influencers. It chronicles honest struggles of a young twenty-something woman who is trying to figure out what she is doing with her life, sometimes feeling jealous of her friends who seem to have it together. All of this makes Such a Fun Age such a real and relatable book.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson
My very last read but one of my favorite reads from 2020. The Warmth of Other Suns is about the Great Migration of Black people from the South to up North and out West. As she chronicles the decades of the Great Migration, Wilkerson follows the stories of three migrants in depth but also incorporates narratives of many others and shares statistics. Like The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, this book was eye-opening (did you know that sheriffs would arrest Black people for not working even if it was the weekend or they had worked earlier in the day?). Besides the content itself, Wilkerson writes in a way that keeps the reader engaged despite the length of this book. I can’t wait to read Wilkerson’s new book Caste!
YEAR OF YES by Shonda Rhimes
It might sound ridiculous but I can be very good at saying no–because I don’t want to overcommit and I don’t want to disappoint people. A few years ago, I felt like my boundaries (aka saying no to most things) were allowing me excuses to not push myself out of my comfort zone. INSERT: Year of Yes. In this memoir, Shonda Rhimes (aka the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and Shonda Rhimes of Shondaland behind Brigerton, in case you didn’t know) shares how she decided to say yes to doing things for a whole year and how life-changing it was. How doing things that seem scary opens up opportunities (like meeting Michelle Obama!!). Recommend Year of Yes to anyone who needs a nudge to try new things.
MY TBR LIST
For fun, I am sharing some of the books by Black authors that I want to read! I am only sharing ten tiles here so you can actually finish reading this blog post before tomorrow…if you have any recommendations I should add to my list, let me know!
BORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD by Trevor Noah
HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou
KINDRED by Octavia Butler
JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson
THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander
PARTY OF TWO by Jasmine Guillory
SWALLOW THE FISH by Gabrielle Civil
WE ENEED NEW NAMES by Noviolet Bulawayo
THICK by Tressie McMillan Cottom
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