Between the World and Me
This book has been racking up acclaim left and right, and for good reason: Known for his provocative and thoughtful reflections on race, politics, and culture for “The Atlantic,” Coates’ series of letters to his teenage son offer a thoughtful reflection on race in America, told through his own experiences, beginning with a childhood in Baltimore, and later his college years at Howard and adult life in cities like New York and Paris. Expect touching moments as he expressively writes to his son, as well as brutally honest musings on national tragedies like Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and more.
When we meet protagonist Charley, she’s packed up her life and moved her pre-teen daughter to rural Louisiana to run the sugarcane land her father mysteriously left her when he died. As she goes from Cali gal to Southern girl—all while living with her opinionated grandmother—Charley learns about her family, her past, and herself. This is the kind of slow-cooked, sweet read best enjoyed while sipping a warm mug of tea or a tall glass of lemonade. The book is so charming, in fact, that Selma director Ava DuVernay is currently adapting it as a TV series for OWN—with a role set to be played by the network CEO herself.
Ruby (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)
Speaking of Oprah, the former talk show queen and book lover chose this novel as an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick—and we agree with the selection. It’s an unput-downable narrative that chronicles the love story between a boy named Ephram and a girl named Ruby Bell, whom he describes as “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at.” We follow Ruby’s years from a small town girl in Texas to a grown-up searching for herself—and her mother—in 1950’s New York. Bond’s debut is powerful and breathtaking.
Boy, Snow, Bird
There are plenty of plot twists and surprises behind this author’s poetic prose. “Boy, Snow, Bird” brings to life Boy—a woman who’s left New York City behind for a Massachusetts small town—and her eventual stepdaughter, Snow, and her actual daughter, Bird. Woven between the webs of this family’s complicated relationships are the writer’s observations on family, love, and skin color in the African-American community. It’s undeniable: Oyeyemi is an incredibly gifted writer, with a distinct, dynamic voice.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson shares the stories of her childhood in the post-Jim Crow 60s and 70s—both in South Carolina and New York—through brilliant, colorful poetry. With each verse, you can feel the writer’s sorrow and maturity as she faces the harsh realities of the Civil Rights Movement and also discovers a love of writing. Often billed as an “adolescent” book, this is a read that can be enjoyed by all ages.
God Help the Child
You didn’t think we’d curate a list of African-American reads and leave out Toni Morrison, did you? Sure, the prize-winning author isn’t new to the game (she’s still going strong at 84!), but we couldn’t leave out her most recent novel, the first she’s published that unfolds in current time (her previous works were typically set in the past). It’s a complicated story—and we won’t give away too many spoilers—but this quick but gripping narrative centers around a young woman named Bride whose dark skin cost her the love of her light-skinned mother. A must-read for all readers, but especially Morrison fans.
Land of Love and Drowning
This young writer’s debut novel is filled with artful writing that illustrates both an enchanting and painful world: The Virgin Islands during the early 1900s. After being orphaned, two sisters and their half-brother learn they each possess their own unique brand of magic. The novel’s surrealism is a modern day twist on the likes of Gabriel García Márquez—with hints of Yanique’s Caribbean roots and culture. Don’t miss this one!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda herself might disagree with being on a list of works by African-American writers—after all, she identifies as African—but then again, her novel skillfully reexamines and blurs the lines between black, African-American, and African. This is as much a cultural critique as it is a love story, following the main character Ifemelu’s emigration from a young girl in Nigeria to a post-graduate race blogger in the US—gripping the reader all the while with a sweeping, pure, and at times heartbreaking international love story.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Fiction can run across all gamuts, from romance to thrillers, but there is one type of story that will always hit a soft spot for many readers: The generational family tale. “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” is a prime example of how that kind of story can be masterfully told from multiple perspectives—12, in this case, all somehow related to a Southern-bred black family growing up during the Great Migration. But like many family dramas, the root of all of their problems is something that remains ever elusive for characters and readers alike: the American Dream.
Claire of the Sea Light
Fiction fans have long bowed down to the powerful prose of Edwidge Danticat—and her most recent adult novel, published in 2013, lived up to the hype. This stunner transports us to the seaside town of Ville Rose, Haiti, where we meet a little girl named Claire who’s mother dies during childbirth. After bouncing from between her father and various caregivers, Claire goes missing on her seventh birthday. The rest of the story unfolds in a heart-wrenching, page-turning novel that’s vividly brought to life by Danticat’s signature style.
Black authors are often under-recognized and overlooked, but in the past five years, there has been an undeniable resurgence of books—from fiction to poetry to memoirs—detailing the black experience not just in America, but across the globe. From struggling families in the 1960s deep South to the first-person recollection of a black transgender woman’s journey, check out this list of 21 books by authors who are leaving their marks on the publishing and literary worlds.
Bookshelf curated by Arianna Davis.
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