Calling all bibliophiles in need of some new literary inspiration, we have just what you need.
In celebration of Black History Month, we compiled ten of the (arguably) best fiction and nonfiction books by contemporary Black authors. The list includes books in every genre from literary fiction to personal memoirs. Happy reading!
Beloved is a 1987 novel by the American writer and Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison. In fact, Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize for this very novel. This story centres around Sethe, its protagonist, who was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later, is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
This New York Times Bestseller was also named as one of Oprah’s “Books That Help Me Through”, and asks the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.
Terry McMillan, the bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale (both excellent movies to add your movie list, if they aren’t already) tells a hopeful and hilarious story, through this novel, that women of all ages can relate to. On the eve of her sixty-eighth birthday, Loretha Curry reflects on her booming beauty-supply empire, lifelong friends, and a loving husband. True, she’s carrying a few more pounds than she should be, but Loretha is not one of those women who think her best days are behind her—and she’s determined to prove wrong her mother, her twin sister, and everyone else with that outdated view of aging wrong. It’s not all downhill from here. But when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down, Loretha will have to summon all her strength, resourcefulness, and determination to keep on thriving, pursue joy, heal old wounds, and chart new paths. With a little help from her friends, of course.
James Baldwin broke several barriers as a Black queer leader. In one of the greatest American classics, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.
If there’s one book I highly recommend on the list, this one is it. The story centres around Queenie Jenkins, a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. It feels oddly like a memoir as it parallels many experiences – including my own, but is also hilarious, heart-warming and honest.
A challenging read that is fueled with social commentary in an open and uncomfortable way, Such a Fun Age tells the story of career-driven Alix Chamberlain who gets shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” and the complicated reality of being a grown up.
This stunning debut novel by Robert Jones, Jr. grips its readers right from the jump, in a heart-breaking way. It centres around the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence. You won’t want to put this one down.
There is a quote that says, “we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams” and this is a sentiment that embodies what this spectacular and inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl. Literature is an industry once dominated by white men, and these stories share the importance of black women not waiting to be called upon, but rather recognizing themselves in literature, and holding space for other people to pay attention to it.
I have gifted this book more times than I can count, as it is a manifesto for feminists, in observance and honour of what it means to live in a society of equality. In this personal essay – adapted from her much-admired TEDx talk of the same name, and referred to in Beyonce’s song “Flawless” – offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has an uncanny way of drawing her readers in with her truth and wit.
Zadie Smith has been required fictional-reading for many years, so it’s a great joy that she shared these ten completely new and unpublished stories as well as some of her best-loved pieces from the New Yorker. Varying in genre and perspective, from the historic to the vividly current, to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a rich collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us.