What We Lose
In Zinzi Clemmons’s award-winning debut, Thandie grapples with the death of her mother and the impact of her absence. Coupled with the aftermath of a devolving romance, Thandie’s grief becomes the epicenter of her world. Conveyed by images, graphs, historical anecdotes, and breathtaking vignettes, Clemmons artfully maps out what it means to mourn and love. What We Lose unflinchingly explores how the loss of a parent, much like the loss of a home, can alter a person irreversibly. It’s a meditation on how our connection to the past determines who we become.
The Opposite House
Helen Oyeyemi’s second novel teases the boundaries between reality and myth, reconfiguring her readers’ sense of possibility with each transfixing page. The Opposite House follows Maja and Aya—a 20-something Afro-Cuban singer on the brink of motherhood, and a divine emissary who lives between two realms—through the streets of London and Lagos where gods walk disguised among men. With electrifyingly vivid prose, Oyeyemi examines the physical, psychological, and psychic experience of existing between two worlds, two nations, and two identities. Seeped in magical realism, her novel highlights the experience of migration and Black womanhood.
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers
This multi-genre compilation pairs the voices of previously under-celebrated Black women writers with well-known giants like Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Wilson. Opening with the words of an anonymous yet inspiring woman, the anthology is a testament to the importance of perseverance. With soul-shaking foresight and conviction, the unknown opening orator proclaims, “Go forward.” Pulling together an illuminating chorus of activists, thinkers, and storytellers, this collection is a necessary primer—not just for women of the African diaspora, but for all readers.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
With fiery wit and depth, ZZ Packer’s celebrated short story collection exquisitely embodies the intersecting complexities of gender, race, and class. Presenting readers with characters that feel as familiar as one’s own reflection in the mirror, Packer’s prose shines brightest when straddling the thin line between humor and tragedy. Whether it be through the eyes of an alienated Ivy League freshman, a flawed father, or a naive traveler, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere captures each protagonist’s trials and triumphs with unfaltering dignity and memorable empathy.
Throughout the pages of Yaa Gyasi’s riveting debut novel, the story of a family’s legacy unfolds. Beginning in 18th-century Ghana, the narrative takes root as two sisters—Effia and Esi—come of age. Although unaware of one another, both Effia and Esi’s lives set into motion a series of events that define the history of not only a a family, but also two nations. Reminiscent of Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, Homegoing is a breathtaking meditation on Blackness, resilience, and colonization’s ghosts. Gyasi’s prose is as arresting as each of the characters she breathes to life. Masterfully crafted and unforgettable, Homecoming is a novel meant to be read again and again.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Danielle Evans’s canon-worthy collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self exalts with heart and humor the glory and horror of adolescence, the steadfastness of familial love, and the occasionally volatile unpredictability of desire. In each of her stories, Evans paints a portrait of the American experience that so many writers have failed to accurately depict on the page. With the same tenacity, grit, and spirit present in each stanza of Kate Rushin’s “The Bridge Poem,” Evans’s stories prove that she isn’t just a literary genius, but a truth teller and worthy successor to all the Black women writers who’ve come before her.
Anything We Love Can Be Saved
The legendary Alice Walker charts her path toward political and personal enlightenment via a series of searingly honest essays. Originally released in 1997, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism investigates the ways in which social justice, motherhood, her icons, vocation, and ancestry shaped the woman she is today. Revealing a side of herself rarely seen within the pages of her fiction, each essay affirms the limitlessness of her wisdom. The perfect text to begin or end your day with, Walker’s musings will leave you energized and inspired. Consider this collection a guide on how to decolonize your spirit.
Danzy Senna’s novel centers around the biracial daughters of Civil Rights activists. Birdie and Cole come of age during an era defined by political tension and historic change. Although forever linked by their familial bond, their connection to one another is viewed differently by the outside world due to the difference in the color of their skin. Cole (who looks more like their father, who is Black) and Birdie (who takes after their mother, who is white) quickly learn that the politics and hopes of their parents are at odds with the prejudice of the world that surrounds them. A gripping exploration of race, love, and family, Caucasia is as much a story about America as it is about sisterhood and belonging.
The candid and undeniably memorable memoir from Pulitzer Prize–winner Margo Jefferson gives readers an intimate glimpse into the world of Chicago’s Black bourgeois. A community defined by intellectualism, affluence, and an insatiable appetite for being the best, Jefferson’s Negroland also casts light on the more insidious side effects of social mobility, exposing and contrasting the systemic drawbacks of privilege alongside its benefits. A story about childhood, sisterhood, and coming of age, Jefferson’s book is an inarguably engrossing read from beginning to end.
In the opening to bone, Yrsa Daley-Ward greets her audience with the following epigraph: “Because writing is a soft and a hard place, all at once.” The perfect preface to a collection of poems that revel in the dualities that define the world, each of Daley-Ward’s lines captures the beauty of juxtaposition with earnest. Perhaps best conveyed through the short yet potent promise of “what is now will soon be past,” Daley-Ward urges that we embrace the ebb and flow of life and the many things that make, unmake, and reshape who we are. With stirring brevity and insight, she memorializes the malleability of the self. She reminds us, “Whether you’re dancing dust / or breathing light. / you’re never exactly the same, / twice.”
Land of Love and Drowning
Rooted in a world awash in myth, magical realism, and inherited specters, Tiphanie Yanique’s debut, Land of Love and Drowning, centers around the unbreakable bond between Eeona and Anette, two sisters, both daughters of the Virgin Islands, whose lives are forever changed by a cataclysmic family tragedy. With lush description and gut-wrenching prose, Yanique’s novel examines the way history can shape a person’s fate and how love can redirect the trajectory of one’s path. When you read Land of Love and Drowning, don’t be surprised if the world outside of the novel seems to drift away. Just embrace it.
Beginning with the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, the fiction of Harriet E. Wilson, and the first-person accounts of Sojourner Truth, the act of Black women documenting their experiences on the written page has always been revolutionary. Throughout the African diaspora, women have kept the tradition of storytelling alive, each of their voices serving as an irreversible catalyst for generations to come. In celebration of the remarkable and diverse perspectives contained within this tradition, we’ve selected 12 phenomenal texts that give us substance and bring us joy. Reminding us of the traditions and triumphs of our foremothers, sisters, and ourselves, each of these books is testament to the rich history and promising future of Black womanhood.