This month is black history month and so I wanted to take the time to celebrate some of my favorite books by black authors that I’ve read recently! 6 of these books are fiction books written by black authors with black main characters, and 4 of them are memoirs. I loved all of these books, and although unfortunately I don’t have a lot of reviews written on this blog I do highly recommend that you read all of them. If you’re a non-black person, I also highly recommend that you also read at least one book to educate yourself on black specific issues this month, but that is not the focus of this list- you should be reading diversely in more ways than just “educational” books!
At the bottom of this list there are links to a few different places that I would recommend donating to this month. I have donated to all of them and love the work that they do for the community! Let’s get into the list.
by Raven Leilani
Goodreads Summary: No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we’re ready to take it?
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties — sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage — with rules.
As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home — though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life — her hunger, her anger — in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was painful and sad but in all of the best ways, and Raven Leilani’s writing broke my heart open. If you can handle a book that will be emotionally difficult to get through, or if you enjoy books that don’t have a cliched happy ending, then this is the book for you.
Read my Words Wednesday Here
The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Goodreads Summary: The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
I loved The Vanishing Half! It was such an interesting look at the way race is a social construct but also affects the way we walk through the world. I really liked the way all of the stories interconnected, the transgender rep that didn’t feel forced or cliché, and I grew truly attached to each and every one of the characters. Also, it’s recent historical fiction, which I don’t think we read enough of (or at least I don’t read enough of) because it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as 1800s historical fiction does.
Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernardine Evaristo
Goodreads Summary: Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
This book admittedly took me a while to get into, but once I did I was so glad that I kept it up. The book is actually twelve interconnected stories about black women’s lives. Each story intersects in such fun and unexpected ways, and I was excited each time I realized a connection that maybe took me a little too long to put together. It was also great to see how people’s lives grow and change, and the different perceptions that different people have about each other, purely based on the contexts in which they meet.
Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
Goodreads Summary: A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone family, and the complicated reality of being a grown up. It is a searing debut for our times.
I didn’t know anything about this book when I checked it out, but I’m so glad I ended up reading it. I loved the main character, her perspective was so fun and relatable while simultaneously being different from my own. The story definitely touched on some pretty hard topics, most specifically stereotyping and fetishizing of black women, but at the end of the day it was also still a story about a young woman trying to navigate her 20s. This is a great book if you enjoy reading New Adult but can’t find any books because the genre somehow ceased to really exist.
by Angie Thomas
Goodreads Summary: If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.
Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.
Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.
Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.
When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can’t just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.
You guys have all heard of Angie Thomas before, and I honestly debated not putting her on this list because it seems like she’s the default “i read a black author!” response by white people, but at the end of the day she’s a great author and I loved this book at lot. Plus it’s one of the only YA books I’ve read recently that I can put on this list, so I wanted something that would appeal to slightly younger audiences. Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate You Give, and it’s about the life of Maverick, the THUG main character’s dad. It was super different than THUG and I honestly loved it more.
by Octavia Butler
Goodreads Summary: Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.
The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.
Octavia Butler is a legend and it’s embarrassing that this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. Dawn is the first book in the Xenogenesis series, and I probably won’t continue reading them just because I sort of hate series, but I did really love this book and am happy with it as a stand alone (despite not real conclusion, there was conclusion enough for me). Dawn is a fantasy/dystopian type world about a girl who is abducted by aliens and trained to help them train other humans. There’s confusion and mistrust, and you feel it right alone with the main character.
by Janet Mock
Goodreads Summary: In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.
Welcomed into the world as her parents’ firstborn son, Mock decided early on that she would be her own person—no matter what. She struggled as the smart, determined child in a deeply loving yet ill-equipped family that lacked the money, education, and resources necessary to help her thrive. Mock navigated her way through her teen years without parental guidance, but luckily, with the support of a few close friends and mentors, she emerged much stronger, ready to take on—and maybe even change—the world.
This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity, from an early, unwavering conviction about her gender to a turbulent adolescence in Honolulu that saw her transitioning during the tender years of high school, self-medicating with hormones at fifteen, and flying across the world alone for sex reassignment surgery at just eighteen. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth and brave girls like herself.
Despite the hurdles, Mock received a scholarship to college and moved to New York City, where she earned a master’s degree, enjoyed the success of an enviable career, and told no one about her past. She remained deeply guarded until she fell for a man who called her the woman of his dreams. Love fortified her with the strength to finally tell her story, enabling her to embody the undeniable power of testimony and become a fierce advocate for a marginalized and misunderstood community. A profound statement of affirmation from a courageous woman, Redefining Realness provides a whole new outlook on what it means to be a woman today, and shows as never before how to be authentic, unapologetic, and wholly yourself.
This is the first of the four memoirs that I put on this list, and the one that I read longest ago. Redefining Realness is the story of Janet Mock, a black trans woman who started her journey working the streets to be able to afford her dream. Mock is pretty famous now in the television world, so it’s cool to read a book about someone who started off with so little and grew to become so successful.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
by Audre Lorde
Goodreads Summary: ZAMI is a fast-moving chronicle. From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her . . . Lorde brings into play her craft of lush description and characterization. It keeps unfolding page after page.
Audre Lorde is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. I haven’t read any of her poetry yet, so I can’t speak to that, but this book was written with nearly as much poetic-ness as I could imagine in any piece of poetry. Zami is the story of Lorde’s life during childhood, mixed with the story of her life during early adulthood. It should come as no surprise to people who have read other works by Lorde, but it heavily emphasizes the connection of all women, particularly black queer women. If you are a queer woman then Zami and Lorde’s other works are an absolute must read.
by Ashley C. Ford
Goodreads Summary: For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he’s the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him too. He’s sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She’s certain that one day they’ll be reunited again, and she’ll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there.
Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.
Somebody’s Daughter steps into the world of growing up a poor Black girl, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. As Ashley battles her body and her environment, she provides a poignant coming-of-age recollection that speaks to finding the threads between who you are and what you were born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.
After reading this book, I followed Ford on Twitter and I’m so glad I did! This book was very interesting and different than other memoirs I’ve read in the past in a way I can’t quite put my finger on (and I’ve read a lot of memoirs). Ford’s willingness to be completely transparent about her childhood, even the bad parts about her family, is extraordinarily brave and I respect it a lot. Plus, she’s just a really good writer and made her story incredibly interesting to me, despite not being able to relate to much of what she talked about.
I Can’t Date Jesus
by Michael Arceneaux
Goodreads Summary: In the style of New York Times bestsellers You Can’t Touch My Hair, Bad Feminist, and I’m Judging You, a timely collection of alternately hysterical and soul‑searching essays about what it is like to grow up as a creative, sensitive black man in a world that constantly tries to deride and diminish your humanity.
It hasn’t been easy being Michael Arceneaux.
Equality for LGBT people has come a long way and all, but voices of persons of color within the community are still often silenced, and being black in America is…well, have you watched the news?
With the characteristic wit and candor that have made him one of today’s boldest writers on social issues, I Can’t Date Jesus is Michael Arceneaux’s impassioned, forthright, and refreshing look at minority life in today’s America. Leaving no bigoted or ignorant stone unturned, he describes his journey in learning to embrace his identity when the world told him to do the opposite.
He eloquently writes about coming out to his mother; growing up in Houston, Texas; that time his father asked if he was “funny” while shaking his hand; his obstacles in embracing intimacy; and the persistent challenges of young people who feel marginalized and denied the chance to pursue their dreams.
Perfect for fans of David Sedaris and Phoebe Robinson, I Can’t Date Jesus tells us—without apologies—what it’s like to be outspoken and brave in a divisive world.
Arceneaux is a black gay man who was raised in the church, and then was forced to reckon with the fact that it didn’t really accept him. He tells anecdotes from his own life, launches into discussions about being a minority in the United States, and does it all with a humor that hooked me from page one. I don’t normally read memoirs written by men, although that’s far from intentional, and this book was a very interesting glimpse into a life that I rarely read about.
Where To Donate
If you can afford to, please donate your money to one of these charities this month!!! There’s so many organizations out there doing so many incredible things, but they can’t do it without funding and support from the people who have it easier. I tried to pick organizations that touch on a variety of different areas, but if you have another organization that’s near and dear to your heart that you think people should know about, feel free to comment it below!
- Black Girls Code– The world of tech is so white male-centric, and Black Girls Code is doing their best to put an end to that by empowering young black girls to learn to code early on.
- Black Male Voter Project– There’s so many organizations dedicated to breaking down the barriers that people of color face while voting and registering to vote, and this is just one of them. They have direct contact with black male voters to help get them out to the poles!
- NAACP Legal Defense Fund– Black people are incarcerated at a far higher rate than anyone else in America. The LDF works through the legal system to fight for legal justice.
- Local Bail Funds– Like I said, black people are incarcerated at wrongfully high rates, and people who protest the system are oftentimes locked up unnecessarily. Find your local bail fund here, or donate to places where there have been wide scale protests lately.
- Loveland Foundation– Mental health resources are often unaffordable and stigmatized, and the Loveland Foundation attempts to remedy that. There’s many fun ways to donate or start campaigns to raise money for mental health treatment typically targeted at black women and girls.