I'm Still Here
Austin Channing Brown
From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with “diversity” so often falls short of its ideals. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.
How to Be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi
From the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a groundbreaking approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves. Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
Between the World and Me
In a profound work that pivots from 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. In a letter to his son, Coates shares the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder.
So You Want to Talk About Race
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.
Now a major motion picture starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. One of Bryan Stevenson’s first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
On the Other Side of Freedom
From the internationally recognized civil rights activist/organizer and host of the podcast Pod Save the People, this book is a meditation on resistance, justice, and freedom, and an intimate portrait of a movement from the front lines. Drawing from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible.
We Were Eight Years in Power
“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
The Fire Next Time
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation, gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement—and still lights the way to understanding race in America today.
In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.
The Source of Self-Regard
Here is Toni Morrison in her own words: a rich gathering of her most important essays and speeches, spanning four decades. These pages give us her searing prayer for the dead of 9/11, her Nobel lecture on the power of language, her searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., her heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin. She looks deeply into the fault lines of culture and freedom: the foreigner, female empowerment, the press, money, “black matter(s),” human rights, the artist in society, the Afro-American presence in American literature.
A Taste of Power
Elaine Brown assumed her role as the first and only female leader of the Black Panther Party with these words: “I have all the guns and all the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within. Am I right, Comrade?” It was August 1974. From a small Oakland-based cell, the Panthers had grown to become a revolutionary national organization, mobilizing black communities and white supporters across the country—but relentlessly targeted by the police and the FBI, and increasingly riven by violence and strife within. How Brown came to a position of power over this paramilitary, male-dominated organization, and what she did with that power, is a riveting, unsparing account of self-discovery.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide. Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.
Black Is the Body
Each of these essays sets out to discover a new way of talking about race and of telling the truth as the author has lived it. “Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably. . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book.”
Democracy in Black
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
Part manifesto, part history, part memoir, it argues that we live in a country founded on a “value gap”—with white lives valued more than others—that still distorts our politics today. Whether discussing why all Americans have racial habits that reinforce inequality, why black politics based on the civil-rights era have reached a dead end, or why only remaking democracy from the ground up can bring real change, Glaude crystallizes the untenable position of Black America—and offers thoughts on a better way forward.
The Inner Work of Racial Justice
Rhonda V. Magee
It is only by healing from injustices and dissolving our personal barriers to connection that we develop the ability to view others with compassion and to live in community with people of vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints. Incorporating mindfulness exercises, research, and Magee’s hard-won insights, The Inner Work of Racial Justice offers a road map to a more peaceful world.
Women, Race, & Class
Angela Y. Davis
From the widely revered and legendary political activist and scholar Angela Davis comes a powerful study of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S., from abolitionist days to the present, that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Geraldine Audre Lorde
From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her . . . Lorde brings into play her craft of lush description and characterization. It keeps unfolding page after page.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
In the story of Baldwin’s crucible, Glaude suggests, we can find hope and guidance through our own after times, this Trumpian era of shattered promises and white retrenchment. Mixing biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews—with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s endeavor, following Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today.
Here for It
R. Eric Thomas
From the creator of Elle’s “Eric Reads the News,” a heartfelt and hilarious memoir-in-essays about growing up seeing the world differently, finding unexpected hope, and experiencing every awkward, extraordinary stumble along the way.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Well-Read Black Girl
An inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl, on the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature. As she has done with her book club–turned–online community Well-Read Black Girl, in this anthology Glory Edim has created a space in which black women’s writing and knowledge and life experiences are lifted up, to be shared with all readers who value the power of a story to help us understand the world and ourselves.
Born a Crime
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. Trevor Noah’s stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminism delivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux.
Tracy K. Smith
In Ordinary Light, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith tells her remarkable story, giving us a quietly potent memoir that explores her coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. Here is the story of a young artist struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
In 1994, Clemantine Wamariya and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive. When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States; there, in Chicago, their lives diverged. In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.
You Can't Touch My Hair
A hilarious and timely essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from comedy superstar and 2 Dope Queens podcaster Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise.
Wow, No Thank You.
From Samantha Irby–beloved author of New York Times bestseller We Are Never Meeting in Real Life—a rip-roaring, edgy and unabashedly raunchy new collection of hilarious essays that draw on the raw, hilarious particulars of Irby’s new life. In Wow, No Thank You., Irby is at her most unflinching, riotous, and relatable.
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell is a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of current and evergreen issues such as the 2016 election, race relations, fatherhood, the state of law enforcement today, comedians and superheroes, right-wing politics, failure, his interracial marriage, his upbringing by divorced and very strong-willed, race-conscious parents, his early days struggling to find his comedic voice, why he never felt at home in Black comedy circles, what it means to be a Black nerd, the balance between racism and feminism, and much, much more.
Gathering in one place for the first time previously unpublished work, as well as already classic essays, such as, “Joy,” and, “Find Your Beach,” Feel Free offers a survey of important recent events in culture and politics, as well as Smith’s own life. Equally at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive—and never any less than perfect company. This is literary journalism at its zenith.
These thirty-two taut poems and poetic sequences, including an oratorio based on Mississippi “barkeep, activist, waiter” Booker Wright that was performed at Carnegie Hall and the vibrant sonnet cycle “De La Soul Is Dead,” about the days when hip-hop was growing up (“we were black then, not yet / African American”), remind us that blackness and brownness tell an ongoing story. A testament to Young’s own—and our collective—experience, Brown offers beautiful, sustained harmonies from a poet whose wisdom deepens with time.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
A haunting, evocative recounting of her life as a slave in North Carolina and of her final escape and emancipation, Harriet Jacobs’s classic narrative, written between 1853 and 1858 and published pseduonymously in 1861, tells firsthand of the horrors inflicted on slaves. In writing this extraordinary memoir, which culminates in the seven years she spent hiding in a crawl space in her grandmother’s attic, Jacobs skillfully used the literary genres of her time, presenting a thoroughly feminist narrative that portrays the evils and traumas of slavery, particularly for women and children.
From navigating the oft-competing worlds of religion and desire, to balancing society’s expectations with the raw experience of being a woman in the world; from detailing the experiences of growing up as a first generation Black British woman, to working through situations of dependence and abuse; from finding solace in the echoing caverns of depression and loss, to exploring the vulnerability and redemption in falling in love, each of the raw and immediate poems in Daley-Ward’s bone resonates to the core of what it means to be human.
The Chiffon Trenches
André Leon Talley
From the pages of Vogue to the runways of Paris, this deeply revealing memoir by a legendary style icon captures the fashion world from the inside out, in its most glamorous and most cutthroat moments. The Chiffon Trenches offers a candid look at the who’s who of the last fifty years of fashion. At once ruthless and empathetic, this engaging memoir tells with raw honesty the story of how André not only survived the brutal style landscape but thrived—despite racism, illicit rumors, and all the other challenges of this notoriously cutthroat industry—to become one of the most renowned voices and faces in fashion.
And Still I Rise
These poems are powerful, distinctive, and fresh—and, as always, full of the lifting rhythms of love and remembering. And Still I Rise is written from the heart, a celebration of life as only Maya Angelou has discovered it.
Pulitzer Prize–winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 into upper-crust black Chicago. In these pages, Jefferson takes us into this insular and discerning society: “I call it Negroland,” she writes, “because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.” Negroland’s pedigree dates back generations, having originated with antebellum free blacks who made their fortunes among the plantations of the South. It evolved into a world of exclusive sororities, fraternities, networks, and clubs—a world in which skin color and hair texture were relentlessly evaluated alongside scholarly and professional achievements. At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, Negroland is a landmark work on privilege, discrimination, and the fallacy of post-racial America.
Policing the Black Man
Angela J. Davis
A comprehensive, readable analysis of the key issues of the Black Lives Matter movement, this thought-provoking and compelling anthology features essays by some of the nation’s most influential and respected criminal justice experts and legal scholars.
When They Call You a Terrorist
Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele; foreword by Angela Davis
Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
The New Jim Crow
Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations today—without putting the emotional labor on a black friend to educate you.
In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately, gambling.
Me And White Supremacy
Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy, so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on Black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too. The book goes beyond the original workbook by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and includes expanded definitions, examples, and further resources.
Jacqueline Woodson’s first middle-grade novel since National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories. It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat—by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.
Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out. But when Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned way up, they spark the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. And in the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
The Bluest Eye
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The bestselling novel from the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele. The story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.
The Underground Railroad
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
A first novel by a previously unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
The Nickel Boys
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
The Water Dancer
This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
With piercing humor, exacting dialogue, and a beautiful sense of place, Regina Porter’s debut is both an intimate family portrait and a sweeping exploration of what it means to be American today. American history comes to vivid, engaging life in this tale of two interconnected families (one white, one black) that spans from the 1950s to Barack Obama’s first year as president.
The Vanishing Half
From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.
Octavia E. Butler
The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.
Toni Morrison’s magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning work—first published in 1987—brought the wrenching experience of slavery into the literature of our time, enlarging our comprehension of America’s original sin. Set in post–Civil War Ohio, it is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.
Not Without Laughter
When first published in 1930, Not Without Laughter established Langston Hughes as not only a brilliant poet and leading light of the Harlem Renaissance but also a gifted novelist. In telling the story of Sandy Rogers, a young African American boy in small-town Kansas, and of his family—his mother, Annjee, a housekeeper for a wealthy white family; his irresponsible father, Jimboy, who plays the guitar and travels the country in search of employment; his strong-willed grandmother Hager, who clings to her faith; his Aunt Tempy, who marries a rich man; and his Aunt Harriet, who struggles to make it as a blues singer—Hughes gives the longings and lineaments of black life in the early twentieth century an important place in the history of racially divided America.
Such a Fun Age
A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
The Girl with the Louding Voice
A powerful, emotional debut novel told in the unforgettable voice of a young Nigerian woman who is trapped in a life of servitude but determined to fight for her dreams and choose her own future.
Behold the Dreamers
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy.
Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor named Julius wanders, reflecting on his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. He encounters people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.
What We Lose
From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.
Deacon King Kong
From James McBride, author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the bestselling modern classic The Color of Water, one of the most anticipated novels of the year: a wise and witty tale about what happens to the witnesses of a shooting.
The Death of Vivek Oji
Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.
Hum If You Don't Know the Words
This novel feels like The Secret Life of Bees set in Johannesburg. A perceptive and searing debut about Apartheid South Africa, as told through the story of one unique family brought together by tragedy. Told through Beauty and Robin’s alternating perspectives, the two narratives interweave to create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid South Africa. Hum If You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
In her first short story collection, Zadie Smith combines her power of observation and her inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world. Interleaving eleven completely new and unpublished stories with some of her best-loved pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere, Smith presents a dizzyingly rich and varied collection of fiction. Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient 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.
If You Come Softly
A lyrical story of star-crossed love perfect for readers of The Hate U Give, this story centers on Jeremiah, who feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he’s in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he’s going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don’t exactly fit in there. So it’s a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock, and after that they know they fit together–even though she’s Jewish and he’s black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that’s not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.
If You Want to Make God Laugh
A rich, unforgettable story of three unique women in post-Apartheid South Africa who are brought together in their darkest time and discover the ways that love can transcend the strictest of boundaries.
We Cast a Shadow
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
In this near-future Southern city plagued by fenced-in ghettos and police violence, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, our narrator just wants the best for his son, Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is getting bigger by the day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. But how far will he go to protect his son? And will he destroy his family in the process?
Red at the Bone
An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.
The prize-winning, bestselling author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours returns with a bewitching and inventive novel. Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories, beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions—affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.
In this psychologically gripping and chilling novel, Nella Larsen explores the blurriness of race, sacrifice, alienation, and desire that defined her own experience as a woman of mixed race, issues that still powerfully resonate today. Ultimately, Larsen forces us to consider whether we can ever truly choose who we are.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James combines masterful storytelling with his unrivaled skill at characterization and his meticulous eye for detail to forge a novel of dazzling ambition and scope. It’s a thrilling novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is the first of three novels in Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed African Trilogy. It is a classic narrative about Africa’s cataclysmic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political andreligious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.
Troy Maxson is a strong man, a hard man. He has had to be to survive. Troy Maxson has gone through life in an America where to be proud and Black is to face pressures that could crush a man, body and soul. But the 1950s are yielding to the new spirit of liberation in the 1960s, a spirit that is changing the world Troy Maxson has learned to deal with the only way he can, a spirit that is making him a stranger, angry and afraid, in a world he never knew and to a wife and son he understands less and less. This is a modern classic, a book that deals with the impossibly difficult themes of race in America, set during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
A Raisin in the Sun
When it was first produced in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for that season and hailed as a watershed in American drama. A pioneering work by an African-American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever.
Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life.
Land of Love and Drowning
Chronicling three generations of an island family from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning is a novel of love and magic, set against the emergence of Saint Thomas into the modern world. Uniquely imagined, with echoes of Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and the author’s own Caribbean family history, the story is told in a language and rhythm that evoke an entire world and way of life and love.
Black No More
George S. Schuyler
Lampooning myths of white supremacy and racial purity and caricaturing prominent African American leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois, Madam C. J. Walker, and Marcus Garvey, Black No More is a masterwork of speculative fiction and a hilarious satire of America’s obsession with race. It begs the question, “What would happen if all black people in America turned white?”
The Blacker the Berry . . .
One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, and the first novel to openly address prejudice among black Americans and the issue of colorism, The Blacker the Berry is a book of undiminished power about the invidious role of skin color in American society.
Amiable with Big Teeth
At once a penetrating satire of political machinations in Depression-era Harlem and a far-reaching story of global intrigue and romance, Amiable with Big Teeth plunges into the concerns, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of African-Americans at a moment of crisis for the soul of Harlem—and America.
The Salt Eaters
Toni Cade Bambara
Set in a town somewhere in the South, here is the story of a community of Black people searching for the healing properties of salt who witness an event that will change their lives forever. Some of them are centered, some are off-balance; some are frightened, and some are daring. From the men who live off welfare women to the mud mothers who carry their children in their hides, the novel brilliantly explores the narcissistic aspect of despair and the tremendous responsibility that comes with physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.
In the city of Houston—a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America—the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.
The Poet X
Fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing New York Times-bestselling novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.
Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward’s first National Book Award winning novel (her second is Sing, Unburied, Sing) delivers a gritty but tender novel about family and poverty in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. A big-hearted story about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
An American Marriage
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, and the other brutal murders of Black people, including Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and more, there have been many antiracist books circulating around social media. These reads are vital to learning about the Black experience of the past and present, and the racism that exists in this country and around the globe to this day. Black stories are powerful—they’re invaluable sources that are not shared enough, and we want to take action to change that.
We recognize that reading isn’t enough to combat racism but we hope that by elevating Black voices, they will reach more people and push the Black Lives Matter movement forward, creating real and lasting change.
This list is not complete—and never will be complete—because we will work to update it and revise it and add to it. We hope that readers who come across this page find at least one book that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives and share with everyone they know.
Featured image: @thejoeyyouknow via Twenty20