Throughout February, we commemorate the black writers, leaders, and inventors of influence from our history who contributed to the rich identity of America. However, today there are many black voices emerging from different parts of the world, engaging us in compelling conversations on race, identity, politics, and more—and urging us to think inclusively and creatively. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (among the writers listed below) warns us of the danger of a single story, we bring you this list of contemporary black authors who offer new and refreshing perspectives on issues from race—and hair—to the wounds of our past.
If you’ve listened to Phoebe Robinson’s podcast, “2 Dope Queens,” which she cohosts with “Daily Show” alum Jessica Williams, you know that Robinson tells it like it is—and always does it with a good dose of humor. In her memoir YOU CAN’T TOUCH MY HAIR, Robinson uses her trademark wit and a wealth of pop-culture references to brilliantly delve into the historical foundations of many of the microaggressions (and overt racism) black women experience today.
Just like his novel PYM, Mat Johnson’s LOVING DAY meditates on the nuances of race through the lens of satire. In this ruthlessly comic tale, Warren Duffy discovers a lost daughter, confronts an elusive ghost, and stumbles onto the possibility of utopia. This story about blacks and whites, fathers and daughters, and the living and the dead is hilarious, and surprisingly moving.
Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. HOMEGOING traces the descendants who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and 300 years of history, each life indelibly drawn.
In A. Igoni Barrett’s debut novel, a young Nigerian man wakes up the morning of a job interview transformed into a white man. He must quickly learn to navigate a world made unfamiliar and deal with those riding the coattails of his newfound privilege. BLACKASS is a fierce comic satire that touches on everything from race to social media, all while questioning how we are valued by society simply by virtue of the way we look.
On the heels of her bestselling essay collection BAD FEMINIST, Roxane Gay delivers a collection of stories of rare force and beauty. Portraying women who live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail, DIFFICULT WOMEN is a wry and beautiful vision of modern America.
Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, THE FIRE NEXT TIME, as the catalyst for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems. Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today in light of recent tragedies. In response, she turns to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.
The latest work from Zadie Smith—one of the most prolific writers on race and identity of our time—follows two brown girls who dream of being dancers. SWING TIME moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, and the origins of a profound inequality are not just a matter of distant history.
With works like AMERICANAH and WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not one to shy away from big subjects like race and feminism. Her debut novel, PURPLE HIBISCUS, follows a pair of privileged siblings living in Nigeria. As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, the siblings are sent to their aunt, where they discover a life beyond the confines of home. PURPLE HIBISCUS is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a lauded journalist for The Atlantic, a MacArthur Genius, and the National Book Award–winning writer of BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. In BLACK PANTHER, Coates takes the helm to usher in a new era for Marvel’s African superhero. When a superhuman terrorist group, The People, sparks a violent uprising in Wakanda, T’Challa must confront forces that threaten a long and powerful line of Black Panthers.
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches. In HERE COMES THE SUN, Margot works as a prostitute to send her little sister to school while shielding her from the same fate. When she catches a glimpse of opportunity for financial independence, Margot must fight to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves.
National Book Award winner Jason Reynolds is a dynamic and essential voice on race in the YA space. The first installment of his Track series, GHOST follows the titular character who wants to be the fastest sprinter on his middle-school track team…but he lacks formal training and “ghosts” on all of his problems. Then Ghost meets his ex-Olympic medalist coach, who is determined to keep him and the other kids from blowing their shots at life.
Helen Oyeyemi’s playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined story collection is cleverly built around the idea of literal and metaphorical keys: the key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret. The tales in WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities.
In 1955, Emmett Till was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Ten years earlier, Emmett’s father, an iconic Civil Rights martyr, was executed by the Army for rape and murder. In WRITING TO SAVE A LIFE, John Edgar Wideman searches for Louis Till, a silent victim of American injustice. An evocative and personal exploration of individual and collective memory in America by one of the most formidable intellectuals of our time.