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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Strong

10 Brilliant and Beautiful Books by Black Authors To Read Right Now.

I like to read. This is probably an understatement if I am being honest. I love it. Give me a day to sit with a book really the rain, on a train, with a fox, in a box, well, you get my drift. Me plus a good book? I'm a happy woman. (Add the ocean and I am in heaven.)

Given that this is Black History Month and that I have read a significant number of beautiful and brilliant books by black authors I thought I'd share some of my faves. These are all contemporary authors because that's what I read, but of course James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright should be all means also have some play in your library. These are just some of my most recent faves. You'll love them all. (Links are to Bookshop which supports independent book sellers). And please do drop me a note and share some of your faves that I have not included, I'd love to know about them.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah was one of my favorite books of all time. It taught me so much about what it is to be black in America (and also about black hair). Here's the write up from Bookshop: "From the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Half of a Yellow Sun--the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion--for each other and for their homeland."

Naima Coster's What's Mine and Yours is one of those sweeping novels that goes back in forth in time and weaves different lives and families together to explore legacy, identity, the American family-and the ways that race affects even our most intimate relationships. I loved it.

Anything by Colin Whitehead is terrific, and The Nichol Boys is his latest, but his Underground Railroad is a good a place to start. Here's what Good Reads has to say about it: The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing was a sensation, deservedly so. It follows the parallel paths of sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. It's about the memory of captivity and how that plays out and is burned onto the soul of our nation. It is a devastating and intense multigenerational saga of slavery and the search for home. It was at times almost too hard to read.

I have to say I loved her latest book even more—Transcendent Kingdom, really one of the best books of last year. This is the story of the addiction and loss told through the eyes of a phD student, Gifty, who is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. Good Reads wrote: "But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family's loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive." It's a brilliant, moving, and powerful read.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas should be required reading in High School. It's a book that explores all the painful and brutal chaos of racism in America but told through the eyes of a teen dealing with the mirder her best friend, a black boy in a hoodie, by a police officer. Yes it was a movie, and you may have seen it but even so, if you haven't read it, you must. Here's the blurb from Bookshop: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does--or does not--say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, again this was a film, and a good one at that, but this book is really required reading for anyone concerned with black lives, mass incarceration, the broken criminal justice system, and racism, in this nation. It changed my life. It's brutal but it's necessary. From Bookshop: Bryan Stevens

on was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship--and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

In West Mills, by De'Shawn Charles Winslow is a debut named A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and Winner of the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. So you know it's worth picking up. It's been described as "a bighearted novel about family, migration, and the unbearable difficulties of love. Here's a cast of characters you won't soon forget," by Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. It's a good one people.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet was on everyone's must read list so it's probably you have read it. If you haven't get to it. Here's the description from Good Reads: "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."

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole is part Get Out, part Rear Window, all amazing. A thriller wrapped book on race and privilege, it was a page turner that hit home given that it takes place in Brooklyn. Creepy, stormy, and brilliant, it's a tale of the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood that takes on a sinister new meaning.

The Death of Vivek Oji by Awaeke Emezi is a beautiful and heartbreaking book and one that stayed with me for a long while. I'm not the only one who loved it; it's gotten a fair share of acclaim —Best Book of 2020 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, USA TODAY, Vanity Fair, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Shondaland, Teen Vogue, Vulture, Lit Hub, Bustle, Electric Literature, and BookPage. From Bookshop, here is the summary: "What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son's body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous,

heart-wrenching story of one family's struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek's closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens--and Osita struggles to understand Vivek's escalating crisis--the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom. Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations--a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward is nearly a classic at this point (as is Sing Unburied Sing). I loved this book that takes place in NOLA in advance of Katrina. Here's the blurb from Good Reads: As the twelve days that comprise the novel's framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel's heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, "Salvage the Bones" is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

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