During this really weird and anxiety-producing time, I think while it’s important to spend time and energy dismantling the systems of oppression that us Black people experience, it’s also time to appreciate our talented writers, artists and other creators. Sooo I made a list. This isn’t a exhaustive list of every book by Black authors in history, because I am a small child who hasn’t read every book in the world (yet), but I’ll probably make this into a series, maybe even recommend some underrated black filmmakers and musicians.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde: The amazing Audre Lorde defined herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She was also a genius. Sister Outsider is a collection of her essays on many different subjects. My favorite essay, The Transformation Of Silence Into Language and Action, explores how speaking up and using our voice is dangerous but necessary.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland: This ingenious and gripping novel is an alternate history set after the American Civil War, which ground to a screeching halt when the dead started to rise from the battlefields and corrupt the living. Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk, and is eventually sent to one of the combat schools where Black and Native children are forced to learn to put down the dead. Jane is a snarky, rebellious, determined and intelligent teenager who has gone through a lot, but is dead set (no pun intended) on finding a way back to her mother and her community in Kentucky, although it seems becoming an Attendant, an assistant and protector for wealthy white women is the only option for her future. But when Jane is pulled into a dangerous web of conspiracies involving missing families, a possible zombie vaccine, and creepy racist outposts in the middle of nowhere, she has to work together with both her ex-beau (whose sister has disappeared) and her school rival, Katherine, who is a wonderful character in her own right. Anyway I love this book, please read it, I will bake you cupcakes if you do. (I’m not even kidding)
Well-Read Black Girl edited by Glory Edim: This book is a collection of essays by black women about Black writers who influenced them as young people. I really connected with this one because like?? there are other black girls who like books as much as I do?? and they become successful authors and find people like them who accept them??? It makes me want to cry happy tears. It’s curated by the founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club, which is an online book club recommending books by Black women writers!
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson You’ve probably heard of the movie version of this book, which is also really good. It’s written by Bryan Stevenson, who is a lawyer that works to get people off death row. The fact that America has a death row at all is deeply disturbing; Let alone the fact that most people on death row in America are black, and one in nine of them are innocent. Bryan Stevenson has done a lot of important work, and this book is about some of the cases he has taken on, as well as raising awareness of the flaws in the American “justice” system. Be prepared to cry.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This book is a short, hard-hitting book about police brutality. The main character, twelve-year-old Jerome has been shot by a police officer, after which he becomes a ghost. While struggling to figure out what has happened to him, he meets the ghost of Emmet Till, a teenage boy murdered in the 1950s for allegedly whistling at a white woman (which is a true story, by the way). Jerome soon finds out that the only person who can see him is the daughter of the police officer who murdered him. I would recommend this book to audiences 13+.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
This graphic novel follows Jordan Banks, a seventh-grader who just wants to draw comics in peace. When his parents enroll him in a upscale private school where he’s one of the only Black kids in his entire school, Jordan has to deal with making new friends, dealing with privileged teachers and students, and the feeling that he’s torn between two worlds. But it’s also funny and light-hearted, and I think a lot of middle schoolers will like this book.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D Williams
This is one of the only young adult/ middle-grade books I’ve read that confronts the very real issue of colorism in black communities. The book follows Genesis, a dark-skinned, musically talented girl who is suffering from internalized racism. Her father, who has a gambling addiction that gets their family evicted often, tells her how he wishes she was light skinned like her mother. Her grandmother fights with her mother all the time, telling her “if you’d married a lighter-skinned man none of this would be happening”, and their family has just had to move to a new home and school. But Genesis has strength and talent she wouldn’t expect inside of her. With the support of her mother, her choir teacher and her new friends, she learns to love and understand herself and her family. I love this book, and though it’s heartbreaking to read about Genesis experimenting with skin lightening and going through self-hate, I think young Black girls and boys who read this will come away with more appreciation of themselves and how beautiful they are, no matter their skin color.
I will not be erased: edited by gal-dem This book is a collection of tiny memoirs by members of gal-dem, who are all women and nonbinary people of color. They talk about things like their first experiences with activism, their relationships with their parents, coming out, dating while Muslim, accepting their bodies, breaking gender and race stereotypes and other interesting life experiences. Not every writing piece in the anthology is by a Black writer, but I’m including it in this list because it made me feel a little less alone in the world. Just knowing that there were people in the world who looked like me and felt the same way I did as teenagers (and are now super cool people who write for a living!) was comforting.
Well if you’ve read all the way to the end, thank you! Remember to keep fighting for racial justice in your community, no matter where you live. There are some places to donate to, educational resources, petitions, and other ways to help in these links: blacklivesmatters.carrd.co , Patia’s Fantasy World Anti-Racism Resource Hub.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have any more books by black authors to recommend?? let’s talk!