In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books by black authors! Some authors I’ve loved recently are Tayari Jones and Brit Bennett (and Brit has a new novel coming out in June!)…and an author I loved awhile back is Stephen L. Carter who writes political thrillers often involving Harlem elite society.
Plus, there are some lesser known authors on this list whose books I adored (i.e. Naomi Jackson, Yewande Omotoso, and Yvvette Edwards).
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Fiction Books by Black Authors
Plot Summary: When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.
My Thoughts: An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and is one of my favorite novels of 2018! It’s about so many things (marriage, race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery), but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). Jones handles them in a way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.” And, the last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Mireille Duval Jameson, the U.S. transplant daughter of a wealthy Haitian construction magnate, is kidnapped while visiting her parents in Haiti and is forced to live with the aftermath.
My Thoughts: An Untamed State is an incredibly intense, brutal book, touching almost every emotion imaginable (horror, terror, humor, pride, strength, and romance…yes, all in one book). Gay, drawing from her real life experience as a gang rape victim, brought incredible emotion to this story. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Margo Jensen, a nineteen year old black Cornell student, is recruited into the world of espionage as the U.S. and the Soviet Union face off in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
My Thoughts: Fans of historical fiction, the Cold War, and espionage will love this female espionage novel. A back channel is an “unofficial negotiation that runs parallel to the official one. Typically, the official negotiators know nothing about it.” What if a back channel negotiation, and not the “official” version between the U.S. and Soviet governments, was what actually resulted in the deal that dissolved the Cuban Missile Crisis? It’s this question that Carter explores in Back Channel. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Korede, the “good” sister, does everything right and always cleans up after Ayoola, the beautiful sister, who sails through life without a care in the world…yet kills her boyfriends and manages to be their mother’s favorite.
My Thoughts: The premise of this book is ridiculous in a campy way and specific parts are preposterous, but it works! It’s a story of sibling dynamics…obviously taken to the extreme…but, the underlying point is one many people can relate to. And, it’s weirdly funny…even though people keep dying. Honestly, I picked up this book because of the fantastic title and because it’s so short…but, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Despite the murderous title, this one is a fun, light read and would make a perfect palate cleanser!
Plot Summary: A political thriller about a powerful group plotting to use the US President as a puppet.
My Thoughts: Carter is known for writing complex thrillers against the backdrop of Harlem elite society and Palace Council is my favorite of his books so far. Carter weaves real people (Nixon, Langston Hughes) into his fiction – causing me to wonder if something like this could actually happen.
Plot Summary: Set in 1980’s Atlanta, the story of James Witherspoon and his two families, his “legitimate” one and his secret one, and his two daughters of the same age, born to different mothers.
My Thoughts: Y’all know how much I loved Jones’ An American Marriage and I think I loved Silver Sparrow just as much! It has a very similar feel to An American Marriage and also takes place in Atlanta. The dynamic between Witherspoon’s two daughters (initially, one is aware of the other, but not vice versa) is fascinating and poignant. I ended up feeling for both of his families…much like Jones made me empathize with all three main characters in An American Marriage.
Plot Summary: When African-American Emira Tucker gets stopped by a grocery store security guard for “kidnapping” while babysitting, her relationship with her boss (successful blogger Alix Chamberlain) changes.
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this debut novel and it read more like brain candy than a profound book about race and class. BUT, I love readable books about serious topics, so this isn’t a bad thing for me. When the book ended, I was left with a feeling of “I need to sit with this to figure out what I’m supposed to take from it.” When I read back over my highlights to write this review, it sunk in that Reid makes excellent observations about race and class, but in the moment, they got lost a bit in the craziness of story. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Following the death of his father (a Justice whose Supreme Court nomination ended in scandal), Talcott Garland tries to unravel the mystery behind “the arrangements”, a series of clues his father left him.
My Thoughts: Previously known for his nonfiction writing, The Emperor of Ocean Park is Carter’s first novel. It’s fast-paced, intricate, and covers what will become Carter’s signature themes of elite Harlem society, Ivy League academia, race, conspiracy, and politics. Full Review.
Plot Summary: When Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend, Khalil, by a police officer, straddling between her life in the poor neighborhood where she lives and her life at the fancy school she attends becomes even harder.
My Thoughts: Highly readable, super compelling, and heart-breaking. This debut novel is an “issue” book that happens to also be, at its heart, a flat-out great story about a family. I can see why people are buzzing about this one. Don’t be scared away by the YA label…I don’t generally like YA, but this one is an exception!
Plot Summary: When Marcia Williams, drowning in grief following the murder of her sixteen year-old son, faces his teenage killer at the trial, she is forced to make sense of how something so horrible could happen to her son.
My Thoughts: This novel kicks off with an incredibly powerful first chapter that pulled me in immediately, even though it was obvious this would be an emotionally difficult read. The Mother is part story of a mother’s grief, part courtroom drama, part portrait of grief’s impact on a marriage, and part statement about race, poverty, and what happens to people born into a rough life on the streets. Full Review.
Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.
My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Elwood Curtis is sent to the notoriously brutal Nickel Academy after being in the wrong place at the wrong time (based on the real life Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL).
My Thoughts: The subject matter is horrifying, especially since the crux of the story is based on real life, but Colson Whitehead writes about it in simple, yet hauntingly beautiful language. The ending is heart-wrenching and brilliant. The Nickel Boys isn’t the type of reading experience where I was saying “oh my gosh, I absolutely love this book” while I was reading it, but it made me face tough issues and still has me thinking…it’s one I can see being taught in schools for a long time. Full Review.
Plot Summary: After their mother becomes unable to care for them in Brooklyn, sisters Dionne (16) and Phaedra (10) are sent to live with their midwife grandmother (Hyacinth) on Bird Hill in Barbados.
My Thoughts: Everything about this debut novel is just gorgeous: most obviously the writing, but also the coming of age story with generational and cultural clashes front and center. Dionne and Phaedra have been raised in troubling circumstances in Brooklyn and experience quite a culture shock when they arrive on conservative Bird Hill. Full Review.
Plot Summary: Two next door neighbors (Marion and Hortensia) can’t stand each other and are constantly plotting how to figuratively take the other one down.
My Thoughts: The Woman Next Door was a fantastic surprise for me! It’s like Grumpy Old Men crossed with Desperate Housewives set in South Africa and involving race. The story kicks off with snarky humor before taking a more contemplative turn. It ends up being a story about friendship and regret and a lesson in how you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. Plus, the writing shines!
Nonfiction Books by Black Authors
Plot Summary: Obama’s story of her childhood and experience being the wife of Barack Obama and the First Lady of the United States.
My Thoughts: I don’t typically like political books…especially Presidential (or, First Lady in this case!) memoirs…so I didn’t initially think I’d read Becoming. But, I do really like politically adjacent memoirs (i.e. memoirs of life in the political world, but that are light on the politics themselves.) I loved Michelle’s perspective as a person who was not particularly interested in politics and found that whole world overwhelming. Full Review.
Plot Summary: The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa.
My Thoughts: Born A Crime is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place.
Plot Summary: Onwuachi’s memoir of growing up in the Bronx and rising to culinary fame (and a successful appearance on Top Chef) by the age of 27.
My Thoughts: Let me start by saying only a small part of Notes from a Young Black Chef goes behind the scenes of Top Chef…so don’t read it solely for that reason. But, Onwuachi’s story is one of drive, hustle, hard work, and dreaming big. He shares his experience at the Culinary Institute of America, externing at Per Se, how he turned his life around after getting kicked out of college for dealing drugs, and the dark place he was in when his ambitious first restaurant failed.
Plot Summary: Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Army Captain, traces his story about growing up in inner city Baltimore alongside the story of “the other Wes Moore,” a child from the same neighborhood (with the same name) who ended up serving a life sentence for killing a police officer.
My Thoughts: The structure of this book is a powerful and effective way for Wes Moore to make his point. The two men’s stories are pretty similar up to a point, at which they drastically diverge. It’s incredibly readable and I blew through it in a couple days. Full Review.
What are your favorite books by black authors?
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