The Best New (and New-ish) Books to Read This Black History Month
It’s Black History Month, folks. In honor of this annual remembrance and celebration, we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on all of the incredible contributions African-American writers have made to literature and our society as a whole. That’s why we’re picking up these 11 new (and new-ish) books by some of the most incredible Black authors writing today.
1. BLACK FUTURES EDITED BY KIMBERLY DREW AND JENNA WORTHAM
Edited by art curator and writer Drew (This Is What I Know About Art) and New York Times writer and Still Processing podcast co-host Wortham, this collection of images, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets and more tells the story of the radical, imaginative, provocative and beautiful world that Black creators are bringing forth today, and what it means to be Black and alive right now. With contributions from Kiese Laymon, Solange Knowles and more, the book features content ranging from an ode to Sandra Bland to recipes for “fried pig ears, for snackin’” and coconut sweetbread.
2. PROFESSIONAL TROUBLEMAKER: THE FEAR-FIGHTER MANUAL BY LUVVIE AJAYI JONES
There’s a strong chance you know Ajayi Jones from her witty Instagram, her previous New York Times bestseller or her incredible TED talk. Add to the list: Her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, slated to be released next month. Like a self-help book minus the corniness, Professional Troublemaker covers what we have to get right within ourselves before we can do the things that scare us; how to use our voices for a greater good; and how to put movement to the voice we've been silencing.
3. THE PURPOSE OF POWER: HOW WE COME TOGETHER WHEN WE FALL APART BY ALICIA GARZA
In 2013, Garza wrote what she calls “a love letter to Black people” on Facebook, in the aftermath of the acquittal of the man who murdered 17-year old Trayvon Martin. One of the creators of Black Lives Matter, her first book is an essential guide to building the type of movements that can address the challenges of our time. She offers reflections on how making room amongst the woke for those who are still waking can inspire and activate more and more people to join the fight for the world we all deserve.
4. YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED TO LACEY: CRAZY STORIES ABOUT RACISM BY AMBER RUFFIN AND LACEY LAMAR
Written by Late Night with Seth Meyers’ Ruffin and her sister Lamar, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is about the sisters’ everyday experiences with racism—both subtly casual and overt. From strangers putting their whole hand in Lacey’s hair to being mistaken for a prostitute (or for Harriet Tubman), Ruffin and Lamar tackle modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.
5. TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM BY YAA GYASI
This knock-out novel follows a Ghanaian family in Alabama, narrated by its daughter, a PhD candidate at Stanford studying reward-depression and addiction (after her brother died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin). It's a deeply moving portrait of a family of immigrants—and faith, science, religion and love—whose experiences are far from the so-called American Dream. (It's also an important reflection of what it's like to be a Black woman in science.)
6. IDA B. THE QUEEN: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND LEGACY OF IDA B. WELLS BY MICHELLE DUSTER
Journalist, educator and activist Ida B. Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. In this biography, Duster tells the incredible story of Wells's life, from stories of her childhood in Mississippi, to her refusal to give up her seat on a ladies' train car in Memphis to her later work as a pioneering journalist and anti-lynching crusader. Called “a dangerous negro agitator” by the FBI, and a “brave woman” by Frederick Douglass, Wells changed the course of American history and continues to inspire millions.
7. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays by Kiese Laymon
Originally published in 2013, this new edition of award-winning author Laymon's (Heavy: An American Memoir) first work of nonfiction includes six new essays which draw heavily on his family's experiences in the South. From an interview with his mother to reflections on Ole Miss football, Laymon's essays are candid, whip-smart and unforgettable. As one of our other favorite writers, Roxane Gay, notes, "I first encountered Kiese Laymon's writing when I read How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. I was stunned into stillness."
8. FINNA: POEMS BY NATE MARSHALL
Here's how author Nate Marshall defines his latest collection of poems: “fin-na /ˈfinə/ contraction: (1) going to; intending to rooted in African American Vernacular English] (2) eye dialect spelling of "fixing to" (3) Black possibility; Black futurity; Blackness as tomorrow.” Finna examines Black vernacular’s influence on pop culture and its necessity for familial survival, while exploring the erasure of Black lives and other oppressed people in the American narrative and asking how gendered language can provoke violence.
9. BE ANTIRACIST BY IBRAM X. KENDI
The author of the New York Times bestselling book, How to Be An Antiracist, Kendi has long pointed us toward new ways of thinking about ourselves and our society. Antiracism, though, is not a destination, but a journey—one that takes deliberate, consistent work. Be Antiracist is an essential roadmap for this journey, with more that 150 original prompts, questions and quotes from the bestselling book that will help you consider your personal history with race and new ways of thinking about ourselves and our society.
10. HOOD FEMINISM BY MIKKI KENDALL
This powerful essay collection tackles the intersection of race and feminism, with Kendall arguing that the feminism many women know only benefits a specific type of female. Here, she asserts the feminist movement and its participants need to face issues like guns, incarceration and hunger—and how the fate of Black women is the fate of feminism itself.
11. LUSTER: A NOVEL BY RAVEN LEILANI
This absolutely unsettling (in a good way) first novels tracks three characters—Edie, a young, Black assistant in a publishing house, the older white man she’s having an affair with and that older, white man’s over-achieving white wife. Eventually, Edie moves in with the couple…and things only get weirder from there.