What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Black History
It’s Black History Month, and while The Rumpus celebrates writing by Black artists year-round, we think it is especially important to share a list of work written exclusively by Black writers each February. This year, we’ve asked our editors to share new and forthcoming books from Black writers that they’re especially excited for—and we hope you’ll consider ordering and pre-ordering more than a few in support of these amazing authors!
Black artists have been creating art for centuries across a broad spectrum of mediums and styles—the below list highlights just a fraction of the new and forthcoming work by Black writers, and we are grateful to share it with you.
The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans
With The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters’ lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history. She introduces us to Black and multiracial characters who are experiencing the universal confusions of lust and love, and getting walloped by grief—all while exploring how history haunts us, personally and collectively. Ultimately, she provokes us to think about the truths of American history—about who gets to tell them, and the cost of setting the record straight. In “Boys Go to Jupiter,” a white college student tries to reinvent herself after a photo of her in a Confederate-flag bikini goes viral. In “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” a photojournalist is forced to confront her own losses while attending an old friend’s unexpectedly dramatic wedding. And in the eye-opening title novella, a Black scholar from Washington, DC, is drawn into a complex historical mystery that spans generations and puts her job, her love life, and her oldest friendship at risk.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
A community in the Piedmont of North Carolina rises in outrage as a county initiative draws students from the largely Black east side of town into predominantly white high schools on the west. For two students, Gee and Noelle, the integration sets off a chain of events that will tie their two families together in unexpected ways over the span of the next twenty years. On one side of the integration debate is Jade, Gee’s steely, ambitious mother. In the aftermath of a harrowing loss, she is determined to give her son the tools he’ll need to survive in America as a sensitive, anxious, young Black man. On the other side is Noelle’s headstrong mother, Lacey May, a white woman who refuses to see her half-Latina daughters as anything but white. She strives to protect them as she couldn’t protect herself from the influence of their charming but unreliable father, Robbie. When Gee and Noelle join the school play meant to bridge the divide between new and old students, their paths collide, and their two seemingly disconnected families begin to form deeply knotted, messy ties that will shape the trajectory of their adult lives. And their mothers—each determined to see her child inherit a better life—will make choices that will haunt them for decades to come.
The Renunciations by Donika Kelly
The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility. In this gorgeous and heartrending second collection, we find the home one builds inside oneself after reckoning with a legacy of trauma—a home whose construction starts “with a razing.”
The Other Black Girl: A Novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Memorial by Bryan Washington
Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years—good years—but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. There’s the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other. But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it. Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end.
Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé
Nephthys Kinwell is a taxi driver of sorts in Washington, DC, ferrying passengers in a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk. Endless rides and alcohol help her manage her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris, who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River. Unknown to Nephthys when the novel opens in 1977, her estranged great-nephew, ten-year-old Dash, is finding himself drawn to the banks of that very same river. It is there that Dash—reeling from having witnessed an act of molestation at his school, but still questioning what and who he saw—has charmed conversations with a mysterious figure he calls the “River Man.” When Dash arrives unexpectedly at Nephthys’s door bearing a cryptic note about his unusual conversations with the River Man, Nephthys must face what frightens her most. Morowa Yejidé shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans, and reluctant ghosts, and brings together a community intent on saving one young boy in order to reclaim itself.
Worn by Adrienne Christian
Tenderness meets pain meets joy here, offering up the voices of Black folks fostering connection with their children, their lovers, and themselves. Christian’s third collection of poetry takes the reader through love and longing, and manifests how we all cope and get dressed again after the harsh reality of our world lays us bare. From ghazals about erotic kinks to the disappointment of a father, these poems explore the clothes we reach for first when loss strips us naked.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions. There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other. With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.
The Monster I Am Today: Leontyne Price and A Life in Verse by Kevin Simmonds
Leontyne Price remains one of the twentieth century’s most revered opera singers and, notably, the first African American to achieve such international acclaim. In movements encompassing poetry and prose, writer and musician Kevin Simmonds explores Price as an icon, a diva, a woman, and a patriot—and himself as a fan, a budding singer, and a gay man—through passages that move polyphonically through the contested spaces of Black identity, Black sound, Black sensibility, and Black history. Structured operatically into overture, acts, and postlude, The Monster I Am Today guides the reader through associative shifts from arias like “weather events” and Price’s forty-two-minute final ovation to memories of Simmonds’s coming of age in New Orleans. As he melds lyric forms with the biography of one of classical music’s greatest virtuosos, Simmonds composes a duet that spotlights Price’s profound influence on him as a person and an artist: “That’s how I hear: Her.”
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern Black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? 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.
How to Carry Water: Selected Poems by Lucille Clifton
How to Carry Water: Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton celebrates both familiar and lesser-known works by one of America’s most beloved poets, including ten newly discovered poems that have never been collected. These poems celebrating Black womanhood and resilience shimmer with intellect, insight, humor, and joy, all in Clifton’s characteristic style―a voice that the late Toni Morrison described as “seductive with the simplicity of an atom, which is to say highly complex, explosive underneath an apparent quietude.” Selected and introduced by award-winning poet Aracelis Girmay, this volume of Clifton’s poetry is simultaneously timeless and fitting for today’s tumultuous moment.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.
100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
Transgressive, foulmouthed, and brutally funny, Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends is a revelatory spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men desperately fighting the urge to self-sabotage. As they tiptoe through minefields of romantic, substance-fueled misadventure—from dirty warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to desolate farm towns in Alabama—Purnell’s characters strive for belonging in a world that dismisses them for being Black, broke, and queer. In spite of it—or perhaps because of it—they shine.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. 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. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief—a novel about faith, science, religion, love.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential as the valedictorian of Bronx Science. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Midtown office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother’s home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC’s hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor. After enduring a “hell week” of training, Darren, the only Black person in the company, reimagines himself as “Buck,” a ruthless salesman unrecognizable to his friends and family. But when things turn tragic at home and Buck feels he’s hit rock bottom, he begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America’s sales force, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game.
Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump
In this alternately witty and heartbreaking debut novel, Gabriel Bump gives us an unforgettable protagonist, Claude McKay Love. Claude isn’t dangerous or brilliant—he’s an average kid coping with abandonment, violence, riots, failed love, and societal pressures as he steers his way past the signposts of youth: childhood friendships, basketball tryouts, first love, first heartbreak, picking a college, moving away from home. Claude just wants a place where he can fit. As a young Black man born on the South Side of Chicago, he is raised by his civil rights–era grandmother, who tries to shape him into a principled actor for change; yet when riots consume his neighborhood, he hesitates to take sides, unwilling to let race define his life. He decides to escape Chicago for another place, to go to college, to find a new identity, to leave the pressure cooker of his hometown behind. But as he discovers, he cannot; there is no safe haven for a young Black man in this time and place called America.
The Essential June Jordan edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller
The Essential June Jordan honors the enduring legacy of a poet fiercely dedicated to building a better world. In this definitive volume, introduced by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jericho Brown, June Jordan’s generous body of poetry is distilled and curated to represent the very best of her works. Written over the span of several decades―from Some Changes in 1971 to Last Poems in 2001―Jordan’s poems are at once of their era and tragically current, with subject matter including racist police brutality, violence against women, and the opportunity for global solidarity amongst people who are marginalized or outside of the norm. In these poems of great immediacy and radical kindness, humor and embodied candor, readers will (re)discover a voice that has inspired generations of contemporary poets to write their truths. June Jordan is a powerful voice of the time-honored movement for justice, a poet for the ages.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the Black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away. The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Irby is forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin despite what Inspirational Instagram Infographics have promised her. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and has been friendzoned by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife in a blue town in the middle of a red state where she now hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. This is the bourgeois life of a Hallmark Channel dream. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “TV executives slash amateur astrologers” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” who still hides past-due bills under her pillow.
The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard
For fifteen years August Sitwell has worked for the Barclays, a well-to-do white family who plucked him from an orphan asylum and gave him a job. The groundskeeper is part of the household’s all-Black staff, along with “Miss Mamie,” the talented cook, pretty new maid Jennie Williams, and three young kitchen apprentices—the latest orphan boys Mr. Barclay has taken in to “civilize” boys like August. But the Barclays fortunes have fallen, and their money is almost gone. When a prospective business associate proposes selling Miss Mamie’s delicious rib sauce to local markets under the brand name “The Rib King”—using a caricature of a wildly grinning August on the label—Mr. Barclay, desperate for cash, agrees. Yet neither Miss Mamie nor August will see a dime. Humiliated, August grows increasingly distraught, his anger building to a rage that explodes in shocking tragedy. Elegantly written and exhaustively researched, The Rib King is an unsparing examination of America’s fascination with Black iconography and exploitation that redefines African American stereotypes in literature.
The Malevolent Volume by Justin Phillip Reed
Subverting celebrated classics of poetry and mythology and examining horrors from contemporary film and cultural fact, Justin Phillip Reed engages darkness as an aesthetic to conjure the revenant animus that lurks beneath the exploited civilities of marginalized people. In these poems, Reed finds agency in the other-than-human identities assigned to those assaulted by savageries of the state. In doing so, he summons a retaliatory, counter-violent Black spirit to revolt and to inhabit the revolting.
The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You: Stories by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
These perspectival, character-driven stories center on the margins and are deeply rooted in New Orleanian culture. In “Beg Borrow Steal,” a boy relishes time spent helping his father find work after just coming home from prison; in “Ghetto University,” a couple struggling financially turns to crime after hitting rock bottom; in “Before I Let You Go,” a woman who’s been in NOLA for generations fights to keep her home; in “Fast Hands, Fast Feet,” an Army vet and a runaway teen find companionship while sleeping under a bridge; in “Mercury Forges,” a flash fiction piece among several in the collection, a group of men hurriedly make their way to a home where an elderly gentleman lives, trying to reach him before the water from Hurricane Katrina does; and in the title story, a young man works the street corners of the French Quarter, trying to achieve a freedom not meant for him. These stories are intimate invitations to hear, witness, and imagine lives at once regional but largely universal, and undeniably New Orleanian.
This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope by Shayla Lawson
Shayla Lawson is major. You don’t know who she is. Yet. But that’s okay. She is on a mission to move Black girls like herself from best supporting actress to a starring role in the major narrative. Whether she’s taking on workplace microaggressions or upending racist stereotypes about her home state of Kentucky, she looks for the side of the story that isn’t always told, the places where the voices of Black girls haven’t been heard. The essays in This Is Major ask questions like: Why are Black women invisible to AI? What is “Black girl magic”? Or: Am I one viral tweet away from becoming Twitter famous? And: How much magic does it take to land a Tinder date? With a unique mix of personal stories, pop culture observations, and insights into politics and history, Lawson sheds light on these questions, as well as the many ways Black women and girls have influenced mainstream culture―from their style, to their language, and even their art―and how “major” they really are.
Negotiations by Destiny O. Birdsong
What makes a self? In this debut collection of poems, Destiny O. Birdsong writes fearlessly towards this question. Negotiations is about what it means to live in this America, about Cardi B and top-tier journal publications, about autoimmune disease and the speaker’s intense hunger for her own body—a surprise of self-love in the aftermath of both assault and diagnosis. It’s a series of love letters to Black women, who are often singled out for abuse and assault, silencing and tokenism, fetishization and cultural appropriation in ways that throw the rock, then hide the hand. It is a book about tenderness and an indictment of people and systems that attempt to narrow Black women’s lives, their power. But it is also an examination of complicity—both a narrative and a Black box warning for a particular kind of self-healing that requires recognizing culpability when and where it exists.
Just Us by Claudia Rankine
As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history. Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine’s questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture’s liminal and private spaces―the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth―where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect.
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, How Beautiful We Were tells of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of cleanup and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price. Told from the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold on to its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
Fred Daniels, a Black man, is picked up by the police after a brutal double murder and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from custody and flees into the city’s sewer system. This is the devastating premise of this scorching novel, a masterpiece that Richard Wright was unable to publish in his lifetime. Written between his landmark books Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), at the height of his creative powers, it would eventually see publication only in drastically condensed and truncated form in the posthumous short story collection Eight Men (1961). Now, for the first time, the full text of this incendiary novel about race and violence in America, the work that meant more to Wright than any other (“I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from sheer inspiration”), is published in the form that he intended, complete with his companion essay, “Memories of My Grandmother.” Malcolm Wright, the author’s grandson, contributes an afterword.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
Doppelgangbanger by Cortney Lamar Charleston
With the wit and musicality fitting of a 90s baby raised during the golden age of hip-hop, Cortney Lamar Charleston grapples with the landscapes of Chicago’s South Side and surrounding suburbs, and the tensions that impact a Black boy’s struggle through self-destructive definitions of manhood. While the language in these poems is playful, Charleston’s vulnerability invites readers to intimately witness the speaker’s journey from adopted persona to an authentic self that defies traditional molds.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties―sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage―with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home―though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows. Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life―her hunger, her anger―in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
Unearth [The Flowers] by Thea Matthews
In the wake of the Me Too movement, Thea Matthews’s debut collection provides a path to healing. Her empowering poems illustrate how survivors can find a safe place within themselves to reclaim their own identity and sexuality.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony. Robert Jones, Jr. fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.
Anodyne by Khadijah Queen
The poems that make up Anodyne consider the small moments that enrapture us alongside the daily threats of cataclysm. Formally dynamic and searingly personal, Anodyne asks us to recognize the echoes of history that litter the landscape of our bodies as we navigate a complex terrain of survival and longing. With an intimate and multivocal dexterity, these poems acknowledge the simultaneous existence of joy and devastation, knowledge and ignorance, grief and love, endurance and failure―all of the contrast and serendipity that comes with the experience of being human. If the body is a world, or a metaphor for the world, for what disappears and what remains, for what we feel and what we cover up, then how do we balance fate and choice, pleasure and pain? Through a combination of formal lyrics, delicate experiments, sharp rants, musical litany, and moments of wit that uplift and unsettle, Queen’s poems show us the terrible consequences and stunning miracles of how we choose to live.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power. In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her. In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels. And they’re not the only ones.
Finna by Nate Marshall
These poems consider the brevity and disposability of Black lives and other oppressed people in our current era of emboldened white supremacy, and the use of the Black vernacular in America’s vast reserve of racial and gendered epithets. Finna explores the erasure of peoples in the American narrative; asks how gendered language can provoke violence; and finally, how the Black vernacular, expands our notions of possibility, giving us a new language of hope.
A Girl Is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
In her twelfth year, Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small village of Nattetta―her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts—but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature. Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, a local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”―an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.
Un-American by Hafizah Geter
Dancing between lyric and narrative, Hafizah Geter’s debut collection moves readers through the fraught internal and external landscapes―linguistic, cultural, racial, familial―of those whose lives are shaped and transformed by immigration. The daughter of a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist Black man, Geter charts the history of a Black family of mixed citizenships through poems imbued by migration, racism, queerness, loss, and the heartbreak of trying to feel at home in a country that does not recognize you. Through her mother’s death and her father’s illnesses, Geter weaves the natural world into the discourse of grief, human interactions, and sociopolitical discord.
Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South by Regina N. Bradley
This vibrant book pulses with the beats of a new American South, probing the ways music, literature, and film have remixed Southern identities for a post-civil rights generation. For scholar and critic Regina N. Bradley, Outkast’s work is the touchstone, a blend of funk, gospel, and hip-hop developed in conjunction with the work of other culture creators, including T.I., Kiese Laymon, and Jesmyn Ward. This work, Bradley argues, helps define new cultural possibilities for Black Southerners who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s and have used hip-hop culture to buffer themselves from the historical narratives and expectations of the civil rights era. Andre 3000, Big Boi, and a wider community of creators emerge as founding theoreticians of the hip-hop South, framing a larger question of how the region fits into not only hip-hop culture but also contemporary American society as a whole.
Cardinal by Tyree Daye
Tyree Daye’s Cardinal is a generous atlas that serves as a poetic “Green Book”—the travel-cum-survival guide for Black motorists negotiating racist America in the mid-twentieth century. Interspersed with images of Daye’s family and upbringing, which have been deliberately blurred, it also serves as an imperfect family album. Cardinal traces the South’s burdened interiors and the interiors of a Black male protagonist attempting to navigate his many departures and returns home—a place that could both lovingly rear him and coolly annihilate him. With the language of elegy and praise, intoning regional dialect and a deliberately disruptive cadence, Daye carries the voices of ancestors and blues poets, while stretching the established zones of the Black American vernacular. In tones at once laden and magically transforming, he self-consciously plots his own Great Migration: “if you see me dancing a two step / I’m sending a starless code / we’re escaping everywhere.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records. In early-1970s New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth. Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Inheritance by Taylor Johnson
Inheritance is a black sensorium, a chapel of color and sound that speaks to spaciousness, surveillance, identity, desire, and transcendence. Influenced by everyday moments of Washington, DC living, the poems live outside of the outside and beyond the language of categorical difference, inviting anyone listening to listen a bit closer. Inheritance is about the self’s struggle with definition and assumption.
Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu
Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo. With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together. Aftershocks is the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.
Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poems by Wanda Coleman, edited by Terrance Hayes
A self-made writer from Black Los Angeles, Wanda Coleman made art while living every day with racism, poverty, violence. Her triumph is in words that endure. It’s time for Coleman’s courageous, impassioned, inspiring, one-of-a-kind voice to reach readers everywhere.
Milk Blood Heat: Stories by Dantiel W. Moniz
Milk Blood Heat depicts the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all. Set among the cities and suburbs of Florida, each story delves into the ordinary worlds of young girls, women, and men who find themselves confronted by extraordinary moments of violent personal reckoning. These intimate portraits of people and relationships scour and soothe and blast a light on the nature of family, faith, forgiveness, consumption, and what we may, or may not, owe one another. A thirteen-year-old meditates on her sadness and the difference between herself and her white best friend when an unexpected tragedy occurs; a woman recovering from a miscarriage finds herself unable to let go of her daughter—whose body parts she sees throughout her daily life; a teenager resists her family’s church and is accused of courting the devil; servers at a supper club cater to the insatiable cravings of their wealthy clientele; and two estranged siblings take a road-trip with their father’s ashes and are forced to face the troubling reality of how he continues to shape them. Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive, Milk Blood Heat forms an ouroboros of stories that bewitch with their truth.
Be Holding: A Poem by Ross Gay
Be Holding is a love song to legendary basketball player Julius Erving—known as Dr. J—who dominated courts in the 1970s and ‘80s as a small forward for the Philadelphia ‘76ers. But this book-length poem is more than just an ode to a magnificent athlete. Through a kind of lyric research, or lyric meditation, Ross Gay connects Dr. J’s famously impossible move from the 1980 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to pick-up basketball and the flying Igbo and the Middle Passage, to photography and surveillance and state violence, to music and personal histories of flight and familial love. Be Holding wonders how the imagination, or how our looking, might make us, or bring us, closer to each other. How our looking might make us reach for each other. And might make us be reaching for each other. And how that reaching might be something like joy.
Walking on Cowrie Shells: Stories by Nana Nkweti
In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child. In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character. Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures.
Horsepower: Poems by Joy Priest
Priest’s debut collection, Horsepower, is a cinematic escape narrative that radically envisions a daughter’s waywardness as aspirational. Across the book’s three sequences, we find the Black-girl speaker in the midst of a self-imposed exile, going back in memory to explore her younger self—a mixed-race child being raised by her white supremacist grandfather in the shadow of Churchill Downs, Kentucky’s world-famous horseracing track—before arriving in a state of self-awareness to confront the personal and political landscape of a harshly segregated Louisville. Out of a space that is at once southern and urban, violent and beautiful, racially charged and working-class, she attempts to transcend her social and economic circumstances. Across the collection, Priest writes a horse that acts as a metaphysical engine of flight, showing us how to throw off the harness and sustain wildness. Unlike the traditional Bildungsroman, Priest presents a non-linear narrative in which the speaker lacks the freedom to come of age naively in the urban South, and must instead, from the beginning, possess the wisdom of “the horses & their restless minds.”
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
On a rainy October night in Kentucky, recently divorced therapist Tallie Clark is on her way home when she spots a man precariously standing on the edge of a bridge. Without a second thought, Tallie pulls over and jumps out of the car into the pouring rain. She convinces the man to join her for a cup of coffee, and he eventually agrees to come back to her house, where he finally, reluctantly, shares his first name: Emmett. Over the course of the emotionally charged weekend that follows, Tallie makes it her mission to provide a safe and comfortable space for Emmett, although she doesn’t confess that she works as a therapist. However, Emmett is not the only one who needs help—and he has secrets of his own. Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s perspectives as they inch closer to the truth of what brought Emmett to the bridge, This Close to Okay is an uplifting, powerful story of two strangers brought together by wild chance at the moment they need it the most.
We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba
What if social transformation and liberation isn’t about waiting for someone else to come along and save us? What if ordinary people have the power to collectively free ourselves? In this timely collection of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on the deep work of abolition and transformative political struggle. With chapters on seeking justice beyond the punishment system, transforming how we deal with harm and accountability, and finding hope in collective struggle for abolition, Kaba’s work is deeply rooted in the relentless belief that we can fundamentally change the world. As Kaba writes, “Nothing that we do that is worthwhile is done alone.”
Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir by Brian Broome
Punch Me Up to the Gods introduces a powerful new talent in Brian Broome, whose early years growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned Black boy harboring crushes on other boys propel forward this gorgeous, aching, and unforgettable debut. Brian’s recounting of his experiences—in all their cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory—reveal a perpetual outsider awkwardly squirming to find his way in. Indiscriminate sex and escalating drug use help to soothe his hurt, young psyche, usually to uproarious and devastating effect. A no-nonsense mother and broken father play crucial roles in our misfit’s origin story. But it is Brian’s voice in the retelling that shows the true depth of vulnerability for young Black boys that is often quietly near to bursting at the seams.
Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White
A lyrical, genre-bending, coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.
Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi
In three critically acclaimed novels, Akwaeke Emezi has introduced readers to a landscape marked by familial tensions, Igbo belief systems, and a boundless search for what it means to be free. Now, in this extraordinary memoir, the bestselling author of The Death of Vivek Oji reveals the harrowing yet resolute truths of their own life. Through candid, intimate correspondence with friends, lovers, and family, Emezi traces the unfolding of a self and the unforgettable journey of a creative spirit stepping into power in the human world. Their story weaves through transformative decisions about their gender and body, their precipitous path to success as a writer, and the turmoil of relationships on an emotional, romantic, and spiritual plane, culminating in a book that is as tender as it is brutal.
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with Black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder. But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day. But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all Black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound and lasting reflection on how Black performance is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. Each moment in every performance he examines—whether it’s the twenty-seven seconds in “Gimme Shelter” in which Merry Clayton wails the words “rape, murder,” a schoolyard fistfight, a dance marathon, or the instant in a game of spades right after the cards are dealt—has layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Waterbaby by Nikki Wallschlaeger
In her astounding third collection, Nikki Wallschlaeger turns to water―the natural element of grief―to trace history’s interconnected movements through family, memory, and day-to-day survival. Waterbaby is a book about Blackness, language, and motherhood in America; about the ancestral joys and sharp pains that travel together through the nervous system’s crowded riverways; about the holy sanctuary of the bathtub for a spirit that’s pushed beyond exhaustion. Waterbaby sings the blues in every key, as Wallschlaeger uses her vibrant lexicon and varied rhythms to condense and expand emotion, hurry and slow meaning, communicating the profound simultaneity of righteous dissatisfaction with an unjust world, and radical love for what’s possible.
Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins
Pop culture is the Pandora’s Box of our lives. Racism, wealth, poverty, beauty, inclusion, exclusion, and hope—all of these intractable and unavoidable features course through the media we consume. Examining pop culture’s impact on her life, Nichole Perkins takes readers on a rollicking trip through the last twenty years of music, media and the internet from the perspective of one southern Black woman. She explores her experience with mental illness and how the TV series Frasier served as a crutch, how her role as mistress led her to certain internet message boards that prepared her for current day social media, and what it means to figure out desire and sexuality and Prince in a world where marriage is the only acceptable goal for women. Combining her sharp wit, stellar pop culture sensibility, and trademark spirited storytelling, Nichole boldly tackles the damage done to women, especially Black women, by society’s failure to confront the myths and misogyny at its heart, and her efforts to stop the various cycles that limit confidence within herself. By using her own life and loves as a unique vantage point, Nichole humorously and powerfully illuminates how to take the best pop culture has to offer and discard the harmful bits, offering a mirror into our own lives.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves. In a deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view-whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods—like downtown Manhattan—on which the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted. Informed by scholarship and brought alive by the story of people living today, Clint Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark work of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.
Caul Baby: A Novel by Morgan Jerkins
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power. When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: she’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity. Growing up, Hallow feels that something in her life is not right. Did Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really bring her into the world? Why does her cousin Helena get to go to school and roam the streets of New York freely while she’s confined to the family’s decrepit brownstone? As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When mother and daughter cross paths, Hallow will be forced to decide where she truly belongs.
The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore
When Wayétu Moore turns five years old, her father and grandmother throw her a big birthday party at their home in Monrovia, Liberia, but all she can think about is how much she misses her mother, who is working and studying in faraway New York. Before she gets the reunion her father promised her, war breaks out in Liberia. The family is forced to flee their home on foot, walking and hiding for three weeks until they arrive in the village of Lai. Finally, a rebel soldier smuggles them across the border to Sierra Leone, reuniting the family and setting them off on yet another journey, this time to the United States. Spanning this harrowing journey in Moore’s early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a Black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women is a deeply moving story of the search for home in the midst of upheaval. In capturing both the hazy magic and the stark realities of what is becoming an increasingly pervasive experience, Moore shines a light on the great political and personal forces that continue to affect many migrants around the world, and calls us all to acknowledge the tenacious power of love and family.
Playlist for the Apocalypse by Rita Dove
In her first volume of new poems in twelve years, Rita Dove investigates the vacillating moral compass guiding America’s, and the world’s, experiments in democracy. Whether depicting the first Jewish ghetto in sixteenth-century Venice or Black Lives Matter, this extraordinary poet never fails to connect history’s grand exploits to the triumphs and tragedies of individual lives―the simmering resentment of an elevator operator, an octogenarian’s exuberant mambo, the mordant humor of a philosophizing cricket. Audaciously playful yet grave, alternating poignant meditations on mortality and acerbic observations of injustice, Playlist for the Apocalypse takes us from the smallest moments of redemption to apocalyptic failures of the human soul.
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor
In the series of linked stories at the heart of Filthy Animals, set among young creatives in the American Midwest, a young man treads delicate emotional waters as he navigates a series of sexually fraught encounters with two dancers in an open relationship, forcing him to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness. In other stories, a young woman battles with the cancers draining her body and her family; menacing undercurrents among a group of teenagers explode in violence on a winter night; a little girl tears through a house like a tornado, driving her babysitter to the brink; and couples feel out the jagged edges of connection, comfort, and cruelty. With Filthy Animals, Taylor renews and expands on the promise made in Real Life, training his precise and unsentimental gaze on the tensions among friends and family, lovers and others. Psychologically taut and quietly devastating, Filthy Animals is a tender portrait of the fierce longing for intimacy, the lingering presence of pain, and the desire for love in a world that seems, more often than not, to withhold it.
The Collection Plate by Kendra Allen
Looping exultantly through the overlapping experiences of girlhood, Blackness, sex, and personhood in America, award-winning essayist and poet Kendra Allen braids together personal narrative and cultural commentary, wrestling with the beauty and brutality to be found between mothers and daughters, young women and the world, Black bodies and white space, virginity and intrusion, prison and freedom, birth and death. Most of all, The Collection Plate explores both how we collect and erase the voices, lives, and innocence of underrepresented bodies—and behold their pleasure, pain, and possibility.
Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Undrowned is a book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals. Our aquatic cousins are queer, fierce, protective of each other, complex, shaped by conflict, and struggling to survive the extractive and militarized conditions our species has imposed on the ocean. Gumbs employs a brilliant mix of poetic sensibility and naturalist observation to show what they might teach us, producing not a specific agenda but an unfolding space for wondering and questioning. From the relationship between the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and Gumbs’s Shinnecock and enslaved ancestors to the ways echolocation changes our understandings of “vision” and visionary action, this is a masterful use of metaphor and natural models in the service of social justice.
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford
For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he’s the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him, too. He’s sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She’s certain that one day they’ll be reunited again, and she’ll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.
Homie by Danez Smith
Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family―blood and chosen―arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours.
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card
Stanford Solomon has a shocking, thirty-year-old secret. And it’s about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley, a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead. These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present day Harlem. Card explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is an engrossing portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.