February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate Black voices. What better way than through books?
This list of books by Black authors includes several anthologies featuring dozens of voices, as well as a cookbook, children’s book, prayer book, and a classic novel that was recently reimagined for the big screen. Whether you prefer to read poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, there is something for everyone in this list of new and new-ish releases.
This Is the Honey: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets, ed. Kwame Alexander (poetry)
I love a good poetry anthology because it exposes me to a wide variety of styles and voices I might not otherwise encounter if I’m only buying or borrowing single-author collections. Edited by Kwame Alexander, an award-winning poet, educator, podcaster, and #1 New York Times bestelling author of 39 books, this collection of “hope, heart, and heritage” includes work by a lot of recognizable names, from Rita Dove to Nikki Giovanni. Even if you aren't an avid poetry reader, there is such variety here that you'll surely find something that resonates and inspires.
You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience, eds. Brené Brown and Tarana Burke (nonfiction)
This collaborative effort by famed shame researcher Brené Brown and activist Tarana Burke (who founded the Me Too movement) came out in 2022, but it’s so full of vital reading that I had to include it here. The anthology was named a best book of the year by several publications for its contributions to the conversation around shame resilience in the Black community. The writers included here—Kiese Laymon, Jason Reynolds, Imani Perry, and more—seek to address the question the editors themselves grappled with in deciding to do this project: “How do you take the armor off in a country where you’re not physically or emotionally safe?”
Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human, by Cole Arthur Riley (multi-genre)
As Brown and Burke took on the question of personal safety in an unsafe world, so does Cole Arthur Riley address the conundrum of practicing faith and spirituality outside of the sometimes violent and discriminatory spaces of traditional Christianity. Riley’s book collects “prayers…letters, poems, meditation questions, breath practices, scriptures, and the writings of Black literary ancestors” that offer welcome respite, new rituals, and “a vision for what might be” for the Black community. What Riley has accomplished with this unique book is making accessible what cultural worker Dr. Yaba Blay calls “sacred Blackness.”
Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts: Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks, by Crystal Wilkinson (cookbook/memoir)
The only thing that tells a story as well as an award-winning writer is an heirloom recipe. Fortunately, in this incredible book, we get plenty of both. Crystal Wilkinson takes us into her kitchen, where she and her “kitchen ghosts, five generations of Black women who settled in Appalachia and made a life, a legacy, and a cuisine,” share family recipes and the stories behind them. The gorgeous photos work with Wilkinson’s reverent memory and culinary skills to create not just a cookbook, not just a memoir, but also a history of a very specific place and passion. And personally, I can’t wait to try her jam cake recipe, and to devour the rest of this book.
Big, by Vashti Harrison (children)
Last spring, New York Times bestselling children’s author and illustrator Vashti Harrison released Big, a beautiful picture book about a child who is learning about “a world that prizes small.” Young people are under such enormous pressure to “fit in,” which often requires them to be less like their true selves and more like the most visibly “normal” (and privileged) among us, so I applaud books that make space for developing self-awareness and self-love at such tender and formative ages. And I’m not the only one, since this tiny but mighty book deservedly won the Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Award Author and Illustrator Honor Award and was a National Book Award finalist. Read and discuss this book with the special small ones in your life.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (classic fiction, new film out in 2023)
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel celebrated its 40th anniversary a few years ago, and continues to inspire. The story of Celie, her sister Nettie, and the violent world they persevere in had already been adapted as a Stephen Spielberg/Quincy Jones film in 1985 and starred the legendary Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Laurence Fishburne. The late 2023 film adaptation incorporated elements of the stage musical and is powered by strong female leads Fantasia Barrino, Halle Bailey, and Danielle Brooks, with Taraji P. Henson supporting. As great as those films are, we’re book people, and the renewed interest in this classic makes me want to revisit the beloved story of Black female strength and resilience in its paperback form.
Are any of these books on your list or bedside table? What books would you add? Share with us in the comments.
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