For Black History Month, I wanted to share some recommendations of incredible books by black authors. This is in no way an exhaustive list – I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments!
1 The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze -- the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years -- collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman's vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She'll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
Goodreads summary for The Fifth Season, first book in the trilogy
Every book in this series won the Hugo Award. EVERY single one!
Jemisin weaves together a complex narrative that is equal parts clever, searingly observant and heartwrenchingly sad. This is a series I recommend to anyone who enjoys sci fi, fantasty, dystopian or speculative fiction.
2 White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
In a vast, mysterious house on the cliffs near Dover, the Silver family is reeling from the hole punched into its heart. Lily is gone and her twins, Miranda and Eliot, and her husband, the gentle Luc, mourn her absence with unspoken intensity. All is not well with the house, either, which creaks and grumbles and malignly confuses visitors in its mazy rooms, forcing winter apples in the garden when the branches should be bare. Generations of women inhabit its walls. And Miranda, with her new appetite for chalk and her keen sense for spirits, is more attuned to them than she is to her brother and father. She is leaving them slowly -
Slipping away from them -
And when one dark night she vanishes entirely, the survivors are left to tell her story.
Oyeyemi's lyrical prose and unique narative voice grips you from the very first sentence of this book, the mystery she weaves and exploration of the intergenerational family history and how they're inextricably tied to the house. I couldn't put it down!
3 Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
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.
A powerful examination of race and privilege that holds a lens up to the concept of 'white saviours' and performative activisim. Reid contructs a fairly simple story, from which these complex ideas can truly take root.
4 Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.
Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
I vividly remember reading this book as a child, and being confronted with the idea of race, racism and privilege for the first time. This book is still as relevant now as it was back when it was first published in 2001, and definitely worth the read.
5 Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Another for sci fi fans! Roanhorse builds a unique world with an intriguing mythology and strong characters plus also including some brilliant queer and disability representation.
A few really good reads are:
1. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, it is the true memoir of a free northern black man in 1853 who was kidnapped and enslaved during a trip to Washington, DC.
2. An American Marriage is a more modern book by Tayari Jones about the struggles of married life when circumstances change.
3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–it is her own story of moving to America from Nigeria, and how “she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time”.
4. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, about the Black American women who were mathematicians who contributed to the NASA space program
And for the children, there are two that we really enjoyed–
1. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, set in the 1930s about a boys quest to find his mother.
2. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, about a black American family in the 1930s in Mississippi (This is great for the adults too!).