Our work is not done.
I was really mad last week. I hope you were, too. I was mad about the injustices in this country. I was mad about people not understanding the power in their words and actions. And I was mad that I had previously been a part of the problem. I am listening, learning, and growing just like a lot of people in this country, and I am committed to staying mad until things change.
I compiled a list of reading recommendations based on books I’ve read and books I’ve heard are amazing and want to read. I’ve also separated it by non-fiction and fiction because it’s important to read creative works by Black authors, too. Let me note that this compilation is barely scratching the surface of the pieces of literature I have yet to read.
Let’s get started!
Amazing Books I’ve Already Read and Highly Recommend
1// Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone takes place in a fictional land that used to be ripe with magic but was purged of it when the king became scared of the power the Magi held. Zélie must go on a dangerous quest with her brother and the princess of Orïsha to restore magic to the land. It sounds pretty run of the mill fantasy, but I promise it’s anything but ordinary.
2// Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo
Picking Cotton is the story of an unlikely friendship that formed between a falsely accused rapist and his accuser. Jennifer was raped in 1984 in Burlington, North Carolina. After escaping with her life, she was able to (wrongly) identify her rapist as Ronald Cotton. After serving 10 years in prison, DNA testing technology was developed, and Cotton was able to prove his innocence. Two years later, the pair formed the strangest friendship and still work together today to spread information about wrongful convictions. Check out my full review of “Picking Cotton.”
3// Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sethe may have escaped Sweet Home with her daughter, but can she ever escape her past. After 18 years of living in a free state, Sethe is still haunted by the memories of the plantation she grew up on. One day, a mysterious girl appears who claims to be called “Beloved.” With the sudden appearance of this girl, Sethe’s secrets begin to unfurl. Beloved tells the tale of what it was really like to escape to a free state and how your past can always follow you.
4// Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This collection of poems tells the story of what it was like for a young, African American girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s. It’s told from a child’s perspective as she tries to find her place in this world.
5// Becoming by Michelle Obama
Becoming is all about Michelle Obama’s life before and during her husband’s presidency. She shows readers exactly what it was like for her growing up in Chicago, how Princeton was everything she never knew it could be, and how life in the White House is far from what you could imagine.
6// Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is about a boy growing into a man finding his way in a world he wasn’t ever supposed to be a part of. Noah is the product of his Swiss father and Xhosa mother during a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Noah spent much of his childhood hidden away indoors, but once South Africa was liberated from tyrannical rule, Noah and his mother set out on many an adventure. Noah’s life was anything by ordinary, and it’s an amazing life to hear about.
7// Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
Rhimes chronicled her “year” of saying yes to things. What started as a challenge to accept more appearance opportunities, turned into saying yes to saying no, saying yes to healthier choices, and ultimately, saying yes to happiness no matter what form it comes in.
1// Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F Saad
This book was born from a viral Instagram challenge where Saad encouraged people to open up and share their own racist behaviors. Saad took that challenge and made it into a 28-day journey focused on helping readers dismantle their own privilege. Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change.
2// How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi
Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist, promises to weave together ethics, history, law, and science to share a story about how to make this world more just and equitable. Kendi shares his own personal awakening to antiracism while reshaping the conversation around justice in America.
3// Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is about Eddo-Lodge’s frustration toward conversations about race and racism in Britain that were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She dives deeply into eradicated black history, white-washed feminism, the link between class and race, and more to uncover what it means to be a person of color in Britain today.
4// Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since my university assigned it as required reading for the freshman class when I was an upperclassman. It’s about Bryan Stevenson’s efforts to defend those most in need of justice through his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative. One of his first cases was Walter McMillian’s, a young man sentenced to die for a crime he insisted he did not commit. This singular case transformed Stevenson’s understanding of justice forever.
5// Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates
Between the World and Me is Coates attempt at answering questions and explaining life as a black man to his son. From the south side of Chicago to Civil War battlefields to Howard University, Coates shares his stories with his son about what it’s like to inhabit a black body and try to live in it every day. This book promises to illuminate the past, confront our present, and offer a transcendent vision for a way forward.
6// We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is the only book that’s not strictly about race on this non-fiction list, but it’s written by an amazing Black author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this book, Adichie shares what it’s like to be a woman today from her experiences in America, her native Nigeria, and abroad. She talks about the institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, and how the gender divide is harmful to both women and men. Essentially, she explains why we should all be feminists.
7//So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
If you’re scared to ask questions, this is the book you should pick up. Oluo addresses head-on questions readers may have about privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more. She bridges the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities during this difficult time. If you’re really looking for the answers, this is a great place to start.
1// The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children. It features Elwood Curtis, a boy who was abandoned by his parents but raised well by his grandmother. Elwood makes one mistake, and he’s sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory school whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.” The school turns out to be a vicious environment that pushes Elwood to the brink of his good nature. Elwood makes a friend, Turner, but the two have very different ideas about how to make it out of Nickel alive.
2// The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she grew up and the rich prep school she attends during the week. Her life is forever changed on the night she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil’s death sparks protests and national headlines. Everyone wants to know the truth of what happened that night, and Starr is the only one who can tell it. But what she does or doesn’t say could put her life in danger.
3// Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
When Emira, an African American babysitter to a white family, is asked to take Alix Chamberlain’s toddler to the store for a late-night distraction while Alix gets some work done, Emira’s world flips upside down. Emira is accused of kidnapping the child, and when Alix attempts to right the situation, everything gets much, much worse.
4// Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
This one especially interests me because it’s about a Jamaican British woman (my parents were both born and raised in Jamaica). Queenie Jenkins is living in London searching for herself after a particularly messy breakup that leaves her dating the wrong guys for quite some time. Queenie finds herself wondering what she is doing, why she is doing it, and asking herself who she wants to be. This coming-of-age story isn’t just about Queenie being torn between her roots and her surroundings, but also about what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.
5// Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written an adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Tracker is known as a hunter, but when he’s enlisted to find a boy who disappeared three years ago, everything changes for him. He finds himself a part of a group, something he’s never done before, to find this boy, and everyone has a secret that makes them particularly good at what they do, like shape-shifting. Black Leopard, Red Wolf explores the fundamentals of truths, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.
6// Gingerbread by Helem Oyeyemi
Gingerbread tells the story of a family whose one constant throughout the years in a famous gingerbread recipe. The novel follows Perdita, who as a teenager wants to learn more about her family, as she sets out to find her mother’s long-lost best friend. Perdita gets much more than she bargained for and ends up learning her family’s entire history — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
7// My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede is called in time and time again to save her sister from herself. Korede’s sister keeps killing her boyfriends. Korede struggles with turning her sister in to the Nigerian police, but ultimately, she decides family is more important than anything else. That is, until Korede’s sister starts dating the doctor Korede has been madly in love with for some time. Korede must choose between saving the man she loves from the inevitable or protecting her sister.
8// The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical, but the way they choose to live their lives after running away at age 16 will not. While one sister chose to stay in her southern hometown to raise her black daughter, the other secretly passes for white in her new town with her white husband who knows nothing of her past. 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.
9// Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Yahaira Rios lives in New York. Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic. Both girls share the same father, but neither one knows the other exists. Until their father is killed in a plane crash one summer and their lives are changed forever. This story of the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives is told in verse and explores the devastation of loss and the difficulty of forgiveness.
10// The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hiram Walker was born into slavery. When his mother is sold away, Hiram was robbed of any memory of her, but he was also gifted a mysterious power. When Hiram nearly drowns in a river, this same power saves his life. This brush with death inspires Hiram to escape from the Virginia plantation he has known his whole life to go an unexpected journey.
11// Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jojo and his younger sister Kayla live with their grandparents. Mam is dying of cancer, and Pap is trying to teach Jojo how to be a man. Sometimes, their mother Leonie shows up, but she’s usually high and experiencing hallucinations of her dead brother. When Jojo and Kayla’s white father is released from prison, Leonie packs up her kids and sets out for the Mississippi Penitentiary. Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family.
That’s a lot of books. I hope it gives you a place to start.