One of my favorite authors of all time is James Baldwin. Reading The Price of the Ticket in college completely changed my outlook on life and the world around me. Baldwin’s Black and queer identities are central to his incredible nonfiction work, and he was able to take his own experiences and interpret them within broader social contexts with unprecedented skill. Whether you consider yourself a scholar of literature by Black authors and your bookshelf is full of Baldwin, or you’re looking to intentionally and thoughtfully diversify your TBR list, there are tons of books by Black authors released each year that can blow your mind just as much as reading Baldwin did for me a few years ago.
With the help of our friends at Goodreads, our favorite platform for tracking and rating the books we read, we’ve rounded up 20 books by Black authors that you can (and should) add to your bookshelf. From award-winning historical fiction like James McBride’s The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store to Ziwe’s highly-anticipated collection of personal essays, Black Friend, these books will make you laugh, cry, and think.
Vern is seven months pregnant, and she is desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised. When she flees into the woods, she gives birth to twins and plans to raise her two babies away from the influences of the outside world. However, even in the woods, Vern is not completely free from the trappings of the compound, as her former keepers attempt to hunt her down and bring her back to the life she left behind. As she goes on the run, her body is wracked with inexplicable changes and metamorphosis, and she can inflict brutality that she once believed impossible. As Vern fights to protect herself and her small family, she must reckon with the violent American past that produced the compound she fled.
Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer. Shane Hall is a mysterious and serious award-winning literary author who unexpectedly shows up in New York. When Shane and Eva meet at a literary event, sparks fly, raising the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What the literary community doesn’t know, though, is that years ago, Shane and Eva spent one week wildly in love—and they’ve been secretly writing to each other through their books ever since. Over the next week, in the middle of a Brooklyn summer, Shane and Eva are forced to face their past traumas as they reconnect and decide whether or not to trust each other once again. Seven Days in June is an exploration of Black life, the condition of modern motherhood, the consequences of motherless-ness, and love.
The dominant narrative of American history is made up of errors and oversights, as it was written by white men with their perspectives at the forefront. The Black experience has been devalued and erased from the history books, which is why in Black AF History, Michael Harriot presents a more accurate portrayal of American history. He combines unapologetically provocative storytelling with meticulous research, as well as the groundbreaking work of Black historians, scholars, and journalists. He subverts conventional historical narratives with little-known stories about the true experiences of Black Americans in this long-overdue corrective.
In a blend of fantasy and science fiction, N.E. Davenport’s debut novel follows a young Black woman who must overcome deadly trials to become an elite warrior. Ikenna is the granddaughter of a legendary warrior who once saved the Republic of Mareen and went on to train her in martial skills in secret. After he is assassinated, Ikenna pledges herself to the Praetorian Trials, which include a brutal initiation that only the strongest survive. In the Trials, Ikenna is subjected to brutal racism against her heritage and misogyny in a society that cherishes progeny over talent, all in the hopes of discovering who murdered her grandfather. At the same time, she must hide a secret skill that she hopes will bring her justice in the hunt for her grandfather’s killer.
When a plantation owner in Barbados announces the Emancipation Act of 1834, cries of joy fall silent as he announces to his slaves that they are now his apprentices and they cannot leave until they work for him for another six years under the same conditions. At this news, Rachel runs away from the plantation in a desperate search to find her missing children. On a grueling, dangerous journey, she travels deep into the forest of British Guiana and across the sea to Trinidad. Unable to know for sure whether her five children are even still alive, Rachel searches relentlessly, knowing that she cannot rest until she knows the truth.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
In this dystopian science fiction novel, Loretta Thurwar and Hamara Stacker are the stars of the Chain-Gang All-Stars, the highly controversial cornerstone of Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a profit-raising program in the American private prison system. In this program, prisoners-turned-gladiators fight to the death in packed arenas with protestors outside the gates. Thurwar and Stacker are both teammates and lovers and are fan favorites. If all goes well, Thurwar will be free in a few matches, causing her to consider how she can best preserve the humanity of her fellow prisoners and defy the cruelty of the games once she escapes. Chain-Gang All-Stars takes an excoriating look at the American prison industrial complex and the true meaning of freedom in this country.
The House of Eve follows two women in the 1950s as their lives collide in the most unexpected ways: Ruby Pearsall and Eleanor Quarles. In Philadelphia, Ruby is on track to becoming the first in her family to attend college until a taboo love affair threatens to send her back into poverty and desperation. Eleanor has just arrived in Washington, D.C., loaded with ambition and secrets. At Howard University, she falls in love with the handsome William Pride, who comes from one of D.C.’s elite wealthy Black families. Eleanor hopes that having a baby will make her feel at home in a family that doesn’t let just anyone into their inner circle. As their paths intertwine, Ruby and Eleanor must both make life-changing decisions.
Crystal Smith Paul
When white television star Kitty Karr Tate dies and leaves her massive estate to three wealthy, young Black sisters, it prompts lots of questions from the media and Tate’s family. Elise St. John, a celebrity in her own right, would rather deal with sorting out Kitty’s affairs than handle the press questions for herself and her sisters. But a discovery she makes in one of Kitty’s journals turns her world upside down as she unveils the truth about a cheating fiancé and a scandalous social media post—she finds herself surprised at every turn. The truth of Kitty’s stardom could expose a web of family secrets and debts owed that could unravel the fabric that keeps the St. John sisters afloat.
Safiya Sinclair’s groundbreaking memoir details her childhood in Jamaica, where her volatile father was a militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, obsessed with her purity. He worried that womanhood and Western influences would make Safiya and her sisters impure, drawing them closer to what Rastas refer to as Babylon. Forbidden from wearing pants, using makeup, and having friends, Safiya clung to the books and poetry that her mother gifted her and her sisters. Eventually, she used her education as a sharp tool that allowed her to break free from her father’s strict system. In How to Say Babylon, Sinclair reckons with the culture that raised her but ultimately sought to silence her, the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica, and patriarchal tradition.
In 1972, construction workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, found a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who was the skeleton, and how did it get there? As the characters attempted to find the answer to these questions, they slowly started to uncover the long-held secrets of the residents of Chicken Hill. In this neighborhood, Jews and African Americans historically lived side-by-side and shared their ambitions and sorrows. With each step of the story, The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store highlights how people on the margins struggle to live and what they must do to survive. When the mystery is finally solved, and the role of the town’s white establishment in the death is revealed, James McBride emphasizes that it is love and community that push us forward.
Cam is living alone in Los Angeles, literally haunted by the ghost of the love of his life, Kai, who can’t seem to leave Cam alone. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he finds himself in the orbit of his childhood best friend, TJ. TJ is unsure of how to navigate the profound changes he sees in Cam, who has become incredibly self-destructive yet impenetrably cool in the aftermath of his loss. Family Meal spans Los Angeles, Houston, and Osaka as Cam’s wounds become so insurmountable that they threaten to devour him from within, and hope, sustenance, and friendship must come to his rescue.
R. Eric Thomas
R. Eric Thomas went viral for reading the chaotic political news and coming to terms with his intersecting identities, and now he’s ready to live his best life—or at least his best-ish life. In this collection of insightful and hilarious essays, Thomas recounts his move back to his forever-changed hometown of Baltimore. He shares stories of attending his 20-year high school reunion, being terrorized by a plague of gay frogs who have taken over his backyard, and accidentally splattering an Urgent Care room with blood. Congratulations, the Best is Over! serves as a reminder that even when we might not want to, we can always find our way back home.
Titus Crown is the first Black sheriff in the history of Charon County, Virginia, where there have been only two murders in the past several decades. However, a year to the day after Titus’ election, a school teacher is killed by a former student, and that student is fatally shot by Titus’ deputies. As the town reels from the tragedy, the secrets that were once hidden are now out in the open for all to see. Titus suddenly finds himself unearthing the terrible crimes of a serial killer who has been hiding in plain sight in Charon County, contending with a far-right group who wants to hold a parade celebrating the town’s confederate past and dealing with his own painful secrets.
Ziwe is known for the devastating bluntness and incredible warmth that she uses on her talk show to get her guests to confront the truth about race and racism in American culture. In Black Friend, Ziwe turns this same incisiveness and humor on the cultural landscape as a whole. She drops bite-sized moments of insight into long-form essays that come in a variety of formats, from “A Conversation With A Cancelled White Person” to a choose-your-own-adventure style piece about navigating race in everyday life. Through personal stories and hilarious but thoughtful prose, Ziwe tackles questions about race and racism head-on with a realistic approach that shows how moments of discomfort are often the greatest opportunities for unlearning biases.
Yasmen and Josiah Wade’s love was supposed to last forever. But as life dealt them devastating blow after blow, they realized that love alone could not keep their marriage or their lives together. Now, Yasmen is finally starting to find joy again after her divorce, as she and Josiah co-parent their two kids and run a thriving business together. However, it’s only a matter of time before the two are drawn back to each other like magnets, beginning to wonder if they’re truly ready to let go of everything they once had. Their affair is steamy and exciting until old wounds reopen. Is it too late for Yasmen and Josiah to find their way back to each other?
Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling trail of mysteries for her two previously estranged children, Byron and Benny. In a lengthy voice memo, Elizabeth shares the tumultuous story of a young swimmer who escaped to her island home under suspicion of murder. The tale that unfolds reveals secrets that Elizabeth long held from her family, including a long-lost child. Determined to connect the pieces of the mystery their mother left for them—which includes a family recipe for a black cake that is only to be shared at a particular time—Byron and Benny must repair their relationship and dive deep into the family history they never knew they had.
On the night of her husband’s 40th birthday, Rachel receives a steamy text from Matt that she quickly realizes was meant for another woman. Though she wants to divorce, Matt is a rising star mayor with his eye on the White House, so he implores her to continue to play the role of the perfect trophy wife in their lavish house in the D.C. suburbs until his reelection campaign comes to a close. However, their plan to keep the scandal under wraps is tested when Rachel meets Nathan Vasquez, a 26-year-old artist who is searching for a muse. As the two begin a passionate love affair, they must decide whether they are willing to risk everything for love.
Erin E. Adams
Liz Rocher is reluctant to return to her predominantly white hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Her best friend is getting married, so Liz braces herself for awkward reunions and passive-aggressive pleasantries. However, on the day of the wedding, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing. The only thing that is left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood. Suddenly, Liz is reminded of disturbing parallels between Caroline’s disappearance and the death of Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in her high school who disappeared into the woods with a mysterious man and was found days later with a hole ripped in her chest. With the evil forces in the forest creeping threateningly closer, Liz must find Caroline before history repeats itself.
In an East Oakland apartment complex, Kiana and her brother, Marcus, are barely scraping by. Marcus is clinging to a dream of rap stardom; Kiana is desperately searching for work that will help keep them both afloat and simultaneously keep the little boy next door, who has been abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, a drunken misunderstanding leads Kiana to the job she never wanted but now needs in order to pay her and Marcus’ rent, which has nearly doubled: nightcrawling. When Kiana’s name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness to a scandal within the Oakland Police Department, her world increasingly breaks open.
Terah Shelton Harris
Eight years ago, Sara Lancaster left her home in Savannah, Georgia, devastated by a sexual assault that left deep emotional wounds and brought her daughter, Alana, into the world. Now, Sara’s father has fallen ill, forcing her to return home and face the ghosts of her (and her daughter’s) past. Desperate to protect Alana from the Wylers, the family of the man who assaulted her, Sara finds solace in the fact that her attacker is in prison and the Wyler family is dispersed. But when she learns that Jacob, the twin brother of the man who assaulted her, is back in town, Sara is forced to reckon with her past in a way that she never anticipated.