Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.
A list of incredible black writers could go on and on and on. But my publisher told me I shouldn’t recommend that many good books at once. It would be “overwhelming to the reader” or something. I can’t lie—this list of 12 black writers everyone needs to read is pretty overwhelmingly remarkable as it is. We’ve got jaw-dropping novels, powerful memoirs, and stunning story collections. You’re sure to find at least one new favorite book.
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven unnamed gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS is Marlon James’s fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond.
Morgan Jerkins’s highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism. In THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING, she takes on perhaps one of the most provocative contemporary topics: What does it mean to be a black woman today? This is a book about black women, but it’s necessary reading for all Americans.
Recently named an Oprah’s Book Club pick, AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE is an exquisite novel about newlyweds Celestial and Roy. They’re just settling into the routine of their life together when Roy, a young black man, is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned after five years, he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together—not knowing Celestial was unable to hold on to their empty marriage. AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE is an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while still moving forward.
Pulitzer Prize–winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 into upper-crust black Chicago. Her father was head of pediatrics at Provident Hospital and her mother was a socialite. In these pages, Jefferson takes us into this insular and discerning society—a world of exclusive sororities, fraternities, networks, and clubs. 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.
This is a dazzlingly accomplished debut collection that explores the ties that bind people to one another and to the places they call home. In these stories, a woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair with unsettling results, a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground, three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, and a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves.
The first novel from the National Book Award-winning author of SING, UNBURIED, SING is a timeless Southern fable of brotherly love and familial conflict. Joshua and Christophe are twins, raised by a blind grandmother and a large extended family. They’ve just finished high school and need to find jobs, which is not easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Joshua gets work on the docks, but Christophe’s not so lucky and starts to sell drugs. Christophe’s downward spiral is accelerated first by crack, then by the sudden reappearance of the twins’ parents.
The stories in FIVE CARAT SOUL are funny and poignant, insightful and unpredictable, imaginative and authentic—all told with James McBride’s unrivaled storytelling skill and meticulous eye for character and detail. An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens. Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment. An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. And members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives.
A KIND OF FREEDOM is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South, told through three generations of a black family in New Orleans. First there’s Evelyn, who is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves. Then there’s Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. And finally, Jackie’s son, T.C., who tries to start fresh after four months in prison, but finds himself sucked back into selling drugs.
From an author of rare, haunting power, WHAT WE LOSE is a stunning novel about a young African American woman growing up. Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.
From Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, BORN A CRIME is a wild coming-of-age story set during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed that is by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty.
This novel about a mother trying to stay clean and her son, who begins selling crack to support his mom and siblings, is in part based on Mitchell S. Jackson’s experience growing up black in Portland, Oregon (also known as America’s whitest city). A commanding meditation on social judgment, THE RESIDUE YEARS is a force to be reckoned with.
This story of a mother trying to stay clean and her son, who begins selling crack to support his mom and siblings, is in part based on Mitchell S. Jackson’s experience growing up black in Portland, Oregon (also known as America’s whitest city). A commanding meditation on social judgment, THE RESIDUE YEARS is utterly commanding and a force to be reckoned with.
ALL OUR NAMES is a transfixing exploration of the relationships that define us. Fleeing war-torn Uganda for the American Midwest, Isaac begins a passionate affair with the social worker assigned to him. But the couple’s bond is inescapably darkened by the secrets of Isaac’s past: the country and the conflict he left behind and the beloved friend who changed the course of his life.