Red at the Bone
In National Book Award–winner Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, a 16-year-old girl named Melody stands at the threshold of womanhood on the staircase of her grandparents’ brownstone in Brooklyn. As the novel’s beginning unfolds, Melody confesses that she herself is “a narrative, someone’s almost forgotten story. Remembered.” With lyrical eloquence, Woodson tells the story of two families whose fates are stitched together by Melody’s birth. With every page, Red at the Bone envelops its reader within the luminous song of a masterful storyteller.
Yrsa Daley-Ward’s memoir begins with a memory about her little brother and his ability to decipher “why adults said the things they said. And why they didn’t mean the things they said and even less what they did.” Lyrically striking, The Terrible feels like an immersive epilogue to bone that delves deep into the formative moments—good and bad—that shaped Ward’s identity. The Terrible’s episodic and unconventional structure makes each remembrance breathtaking and deeply intimate. Ward sifts through her past with courage and a tenderness that makes each page shine. The story of an unapologetic queer Black woman finding her voice, The Terrible is a reminder of why honoring and telling your story is necessary.
If They Come for Us
Fatimah Asghar’s debut collection is a fearless meditation on the way history, faith, and family can shape an individual’s identity and their sense of home. Cinematic like the short stories of Kathleen Collins, the power of Asghar’s stanzas bring to mind the work of poets like Ghadah Al-Samman, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Parker. When Asghar confesses, “I whisper my country my country my country / & my hands stay empty” in “When the Orders Came,” the limits of the American dream are confronted with an unblinking eye along with the dangers of existing in a nation where “the cost / of looking the other way” can be fatal. Urgent and illuminating, If They Come For Us is a memorable salve for times like these.
Filled with humor and heart, Meaty is the sort of essay collection best devoured in one sitting. Beginning with a list of shortcomings, needs, and wants, Meaty wastes no time before candidly diving into the deepest depths of Irby’s psyche, her relationships, and an array of her frustrations and struggles. From the pain of racism to the gritty complications of Crohn’s Disease, and the memory of her childhood habit of thumb-sucking, Irby’s dynamic musings prove that she’s a masterful storyteller who knows how to pull at her audience’s heartstrings while also making them laugh. For Irby’s latest work, check out Wow, No Thank You.
Tanwi Nandini Islam
A multigenerational narrative about family, love, and belonging, Bright Lines by Tanaïs (aka Tanwi Nandini Islam) follows Ella as she wrestles with the aftermath of her parents’ murder and the tumultuous atmosphere of post–9/11 New York. In addition to grief and political tension, Ella is forced to reckon with family secrets that challenge her understanding of the past and her definition of devotion and love. A daring depiction of desire and identity, Bright Lines proves the necessity and power of Tanaïs’s voice. A vital addition to the contemporary canon, this novel is a diasporic narrative not to be missed.
After years of being pushed to the margins of the mainstream literary canon, the words of queer writers of color are finally being celebrated and openly uplifted. Following in the footsteps of powerhouses like James Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, Assotto Saint, and June Jordan, contemporary greats like Jacqueline Woodson, Yrsa Daley-Ward, and Samantha Irby are at the forefront of literature’s evolution not only in terms of form but also in regards to craft. Each of the books on this list is meant to be read, cherished, and reread; their authors prove why queer voices of color are vital reading year-round.