As Black History Month draws to a close, it’s necessary to carry the importance of Black culture, artistry and history with us year round. While February stands to commemorate the achievements of Black Americans, why don’t we continue to take our celebrations into all months of the year with literature? The books listed below showcase the literary prowess of seven Black authors, but I also encourage you to seek out other talented Black writers beyond those included.
When sitting down to curate this list, I realized how few books I’d read by Black authors. Aside from Jazz and The Fire Next Time, I’ve probably admired the other books’ covers in passing, but never actually read them. I partially blame this on a white-washed Southern education, pointing me in the direction of white male authors since fifth grade. I also blame the lack of representation in the publishing industry. Ultimately, though, I blame myself.
My reading preferences tend to lean toward literary fiction, often featuring white protagonists, written by white authors. It’s where I feel comfortable and where characters look like me and experience life as I do. But, I don’t think that’s the point of literature. Books, especially fiction, allow the reader to engage with experiences they haven’t had and don’t know personally. They are fertile ground for empathy and insight. They spark conversation and ward off ignorance. Are they the final solution? No, not by any means. They’re a small step and they remind us of the importance of Black History Month.
In a continued celebration of Black History Month, I will be reading and reviewing all the books included on this list. Black achievement stands at the base, the center and the forefront of American history. Should it not be recognized year round?
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
“The novel — one of several new children’s books that use fiction to address police shootings of unarmed black teenagers — debuted at the top of The New York Times’s Young Adult best-seller list, and has drawn ecstatic praise from critics, librarians, book sellers and prominent young-adult novelists. John Green, the author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” called the work “a stunning, brilliant, gut-wrenching novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.” – The New York Times
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
“Authentic picture of Negroes, not in relation to white people but to each other. An ageing grandmother marries off her granddaughter almost a child to a middle-aged man for security—and she leaves him when she finds that her dreams are dying, and goes off with a dapper young Negro, full of his own sense of power and go-getter qualities. He takes her to a mushroom town, buys a lot, puts up a store and makes the town sit up and take notice. His success goes to his head—their life becomes a mockery of her high hopes. And after his death, she goes off with a youth who brings her happiness and tragedy.” – Kirkus Reviews
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
“For Baldwin, America’s racial turmoil derived from solipsism: “White people, mainly, look away,” preferring barriers, and “if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will.” It’s difficult to write about love without embarrassment, still more difficult to summon it as an answer to geopolitical disaster. Baldwin summoned it nonetheless as the prerequisite for bravery and truth. “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” – The New York Times
Jazz by Toni Morrison
“One of Morrison’s richest novels yet, with its weave of city voices, tough and tender, public and private, and a flight of images that sweep up the world in a heartbeat: the narrator (never identified) contemplates airships in a city sky as they “swim below cloud foam…like watching a private dream….That was what [Dorcas’s] hunger was like: mesmerizing, directed, floating like a public secret.” In all, a lovely novel—lyrical, searching, and touching.” – Kirkus Reviews
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
“This is a book that will read, I suspect, quite differently to various audiences — funny to some, deeply uncomfortable and shamefully recognizable to others — but whatever the experience, I urge you to read Such a Fun Age. Let its empathic approach to even the ickiest characters stir you, allow yourself to share Emira’s millennial anxieties about adulting, take joy in the innocence of Briar’s still-unmarred personhood, and rejoice that Kiley Reid is only just getting started.” – NPR
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
“In the final pages of Colson Whitehead’s forceful and tightly wrought novel, Millie, new partner to the main character, recalls: “It was hard to remember sometimes how bad it used to be – bending to a colored fountain when she visited her family in Virginia, the immense exertion white people put into grinding them down – and then it all returned in a rush, set off by tiny things, like standing on a corner trying to hail a cab … [and] by the big things, a drive through a blighted neighborhood snuffed out by that same immense exertion, or another boy shot dead by a cop.” – The Guardian
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“The Water Dancer” is a jeroboam of a book, a crowd-pleasing exercise in breakneck and often occult storytelling that tonally resembles the work of Stephen King as much as it does the work of Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead and the touchstone African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler.” – The New York Times
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