Not all of these books are explicitly about being black, after all, white authors don’t only write about being white, so why should black authors have to? Instead, I’ve chosen books that are just really good reads from a variety of genres. I truly think there is something here for everyone.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
When shopping at a supermarket, Emira is accused of kidnapping the white child she is babysitting. Such a Fun Age is an astonishingly well-written debut which explores race, class and gender in 21st century America.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Set in Nigeria, Adunni is only fourteen when she is sold by her father to be the third wife to an old man. After tragedy hits her new home she is then sold as a servant to a family who refuse to discuss what happened to her predecessor.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of two half-sisters born in different villages and their descendants through eight generations. It illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
When Roy is arrested for a crime his wife, Celestial, knows he did not commit her world is turned upside down. Jones is such a talented author this book is quite literally unputdownable.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Chaurisse and Dana have a lot in common. They both grew up in Atlanta, they shop at the same stores, visit the same restaurants. But unlike Chaurisse, Dana knows the truth: that the girls share the same father. A father with two families, one of which he is determined to keep secret.
When the girls meet and become friends, the unsteady balance of both their lives is threatened. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes are cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. I previously read her novel Gingerbread which was excellently written so I have high hopes for this one.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Set in an alternate reality set in an alternative reality where crosses (black) people live a life of privilege and power and blanks (whites) are not given the same chances. This came out when I was ten and it was the first book I’d ever read that made me truly realise I had white privilege. Ten years later this book is still as relevant as it was then. Child or adult, this is an incredible powerful book to read.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Often hailed as one of the greatest books of all time, this classic novel deserves all its accolades. It is set in the deep American South between the wars and tells the story of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation as she takes control of her own destiny. I haven’t read this since studying it in literature class so it is definitely due a re-read.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Swing Time is a story about friendship, dance and how we are shaped by our roots. It was longlisted for the Man Booker prize which I’ll be honest didn’t endear me to read it at first (I’ve had some bad experiences with MB winners before) but this is supposed to be a marvellous read.
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This book is repeatedly described as “one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century” and it 100% deserves that. It follows Janie, an African-American woman, from her first kiss at sixteen through two unloving marriages as she grows into a woman who wants to take charge of her own destiny.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
This phenomenal debut is heartbreaking, funny and shocking all at once. Set in Britain, Queenie is not afraid to tackle difficult issues such as race, consent, toxic relationships and class in this 21st century coming-of-age story.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Dangarembga was the first Black woman in Zimbabwe to publish a novel in English. This novel about a woman in post-colonial Zimbabwe was voted in the Top Ten Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century and has definitely made it on to my reading list.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Rainbow Milk is about nineteen-year-old Jesse McCarthy, a young, gay black man struggling with his identity. He moves to London to find a fresh start, free from the repression of the religious community he grew up in and turns to sex work in an attempt to find who he truly is.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Winner of the Booker Prize 2019, this novel follows the lives of 12 characters who are mostly black, British women. They tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Washington Black is field slave who is chosen to be a personal servant to one of the owners of the plantation he works on. It follows the story of his attempts to escape slavery and find freedom. I haven’t read this yet but my partner says “it is one of those books that when you read it you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller” so if that doesn’t sell it for you I don’t know what will.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
This one isn’t out until August but I wanted to include it as it looks so good. The copy says “The Death of Vivek Oji is the story of a Nigerian childhood quite different from those we have been told before. Teeming with unforgettable characters, it is as compulsively readable as it is tender and potent. This novel of family and friendship challenges expectations – it is a story of the innocence of youth that will move every reader.”
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
I bought this for the utterly stunning cover and the insides were just as good. Spring’s son, Edward, is lying dying in a hospital, accused of driving a streetcar into a shop window. Spring must find out the truth, and to do so she must tell him the story of how he came to be.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet
The Vanishing Half only published last week and it has already had rave reviews. My copy only arrived today so here is the marketing copy: 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. Ten 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’ story lines intersect?
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
I was drawn to this as it is so unusual to find spy novels about women, in particular about Black women. Marie Mitchell is an FBI intelligence officer in the Cold War. Her career is uneventful (for a spy) until she is asked to seduce a mark and bring him down.