Blog – Posted on Tuesday, Sep 29
70 Must-Read Books by Black Authors in 2021
The re-energized efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 shone a light on many corners of Black culture. For lots of readers, this moment provided fresh inspiration to seek out new Black authors and to explore the rich variety of Black literature, whose stories span both borders and generations, illuminating a huge variety of experiences.
From 20th century classics that crystallized pivotal moments in the fight for civil rights, to hilarious novels, gripping fantasy, and 2020 bestsellers that continue to navigate complex social tensions — we’ve gathered together seventy of the best books by Black authors that belong on your ‘TBR’.
Our hand-picked list includes several famous black authors you might recognize — Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin — as well as some of the most promising up-and-coming names. Within our ‘Fiction’ section, you’ll find Black voices represented in a huge range of genres; and we’ve devoted additional sections to nonfiction, poetry, and Young Adult fiction (we know how important it is for young people to be represented in the books they read). So let’s dive in!
1. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
In The Sellout, Paul Beatty introduces us to a young, Black watermelon-and-weed grower, named Me. When Me’s father is gunned down by police, and his hometown Dickens is erased from the map, he decides to face one injustice by burying it beneath another. In one of the book’s many absurdist twists, Me hires a Black slave to serve as his footstool and lobbies in America’s highest court for the reinstatement of segregation. Powered by a wicked wit, this caustic but heartfelt satirical novel turns themes of racism and slavery inside out in service of a devastatingly clever message.
2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin’s unmissable, triple Hugo-Award-winning trilogy, The Broken Earth, takes place in the Stillness — a world in which society is structured around surviving nuclear winters. The Orogenes, who wield the power of the earth, are the reason for life’s survival; yet, they are shunned and exploited by society. In The Fifth Season, a red rift tears through the land, spewing enough ash to darken the sky for years. Without the resources necessary to get through the long, dark night, there will be war all across the Stillness — and Essun must pursue her missing daughter through this deadly, dying land.
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
The seminal work from a giant of modern literature, Beloved chronicles the experiences of Sethe, an ex-slave living with her daughter in a house haunted by secrets. Sethe is held captive by the memories of her plantation; and when a fellow slave’s arrival heralds the mysterious coming of a woman — who calls herself Beloved — Sethe’s hideous past explodes into the present. A landmark depiction of the legacy of slavery, an engrossing ghost-story, and a reflection on motherhood and family, Beloved is so much more than the sum of its parts.
4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Originally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God was out of print for nearly 30 years, due to its readers’ initial rejection of its strong, Black, female protagonist. Janie Crawford is sixteen when her grandmother catches her kissing a shiftless boy and marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. The quest for independence which ensues sees Janie through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots. Rigorous, dazzling, and emotionally satisfying, when Hurston’s classic was reissued in 1978, it became one of the most highly acclaimed and widely read novels within African American literature.
5. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
On December 3rd, 1976, seven gunmen stormed Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. Though the reggae star survived, the gunmen were never caught. A Brief History of Seven Killings is James’s fictional exploration of this event’s bloody aftermath, and of Jamaica, during one of its most unstable and violently defining moments. Spanning decades, leaping continents, and crowded with unforgettable voices, this ambitious and mesmerizing novel secures James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation — and more importantly on our list of must-reads by Black authors.
6. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Black Leopard, Red Wolf follows Tracker, renowned for (you guessed it) his ability to track people. Hired to find a missing boy, along with a motley crew of supernatural mercenaries, Tracker uncovers a conspiracy in the process. The first in a planned trilogy, this epic has been called the “African Game of Thrones”, because it honors African mythology with the same sense of adventure and mystery. Not to mention, it’s immensely violent. However, the fantasy plotline is transformed by James’ hallucinatory and confounding prose. Warning: it’s already optioned for film rights, so read it before it hits the silver screen!
7. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah follows two Nigerian characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, teenagers in love who drift apart when Ifemelu moves to America. This novel wears its politics on its sleeve, acutely describing how it feels to try and navigate multiple cultures — a feeling that is endemic to being an immigrant — and openly debating the lived experiences of Black people, American or not. This discussion is at its most overt in Ifemelu’s blog posts, scattered throughout the novel. The overt nature of the politics does not come at the cost of plot of characterization, however, and Adichie writes with sagacious humor.
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Walker unapologetically writes Southern Black women into world literature in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple. It tells the tale of Celie, a young African-American woman growing up in poverty in segregated Georgia. Raped by the man she calls “father”, Celie is separated from her children and her beloved sister Nettie, and trapped into an ugly marriage. Then, she meets Shug, a singer and magic-maker who helps her discover the power of her own spirit. Walker’s novel doesn’t soften its blows, but is courageous enough to hold on to its faith in forgiveness and hope.
9. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
It’s 2025 and the world is descending into anarchy. In America, violence rules and only the rich are safe. But one woman has the power to change everything. Lauren’s life is altered beyond recognition when a fire destroys her home and kills her family. Along with a handful of refugees, she is forced to go on a dangerous journey North — and on the way, she comes up with a revolutionary idea that might just save mankind. There’s nothing scarier than a dystopian novel that’s already coming true, and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower’s exploration of climate change, inequality, and racism is alarmingly prescient.
10. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward’s freighted novel is a portrait of a broken Mississippi family: a young mother, (Leonie) hooked on drugs, and a husband completing a jail sentence. Hearing he’s about to be released, Leonie takes her two children and her friend Misty on a road trip to meet him. In this amusingly banal odyssey full of gas station lethargy and dodgy drug deals, Ward transplants the road novel into twenty-first century America, imbuing it with ancestral voices, mythical tropes, and hypnotic lyricism. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a harrowing and majestic work from an extraordinary author.
11. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Salvage the Bones tells the story of a desperately poor family in the Mississippi backwoods, as hurricane Katrina approaches. 14-year-old Esch, her three wayward brothers, and their alcoholic father scrabble against the clock to prepare their rotting junkyard of land and stockpile food. But with Esch pregnant, and her brother sneaking scraps for his pit-bull’s litter, these motherless children must protect and nurture one another to survive. Hopefully, if you pick this book up, you’ll forgive us for including two Jesmyn Ward novels among our must-reads by Black authors — it’s hard not to read it in a greedy frenzy.
12. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are half-sisters, born in 18th century Ghana. When one is sold into slavery and the other marries a slaver, their paths diverge. Homegoing follows their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the missionary schools of Ghana to Jazz Age Harlem. Gyasi shares Morrison’s ability to crystallize slavery’s fallout, yet she is unique in her ability to connect it to the present day, illustrating how racism has become institutionalized. Epic in its canvas, yet intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing historical fiction debut from a masterly new Black author.
13. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Published in 1952, Invisible Man was immediately hailed as a seminal work of American fiction. From the Deep South, to the streets of Harlem; expulsion from college, to lightning success as the leader of a communist organization — Ellison's nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh relief. Journeying across the racial divide, he realizes that he’s an “invisible man”: people see only a reflection of their preconceived ideas, deny his individuality, and ultimately do not see him at all. Ellison’s theme reveals unparalleled truths about the nature and effects of bigotry.
14. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s bravura novel is based on the true story of a reform school, which operated for 111 years, committed devastating atrocities against boys of color, and warped the lives of thousands of children. This is where Elwood Curtis — a Black boy growing up in Jim Crow-era Florida — finds himself in The Nickel Boys. Elwood’s only salvation at the perilous Academy is Turner, a fellow ‘delinquent’ who challenges his ideals of how the world should work. Rising tension between the two friends leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo through the ages.
15. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a plantation in Georgia. An outcast among her fellow Africans and quickly approaching womanhood, she’s desperate for freedom. So, when Caesar tells her about an underground railroad, they decide to escape North, only to be pursued by a relentless slave-master. Whitehead’s novel is a pulsating story about a woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage. But, it’s also a powerful meditation on history, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, The Underground Railroad is a tour de force.
16. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
As one of the greatest Black authors, Baldwin published a slew of novels, biographies, and essays in his lifetime. But there’s no better place to start than his first book, Go Tell It on the Mountain. Drawing on his boyhood, Baldwin tells the story of Johnny Grimes growing up in 1930s Harlem, grappling with his religion, his sexuality, and his abusive minister father. Though this novel has a lot to say about race, religion, class, and sexuality, it does so in a way that acknowledges the nuance of the human experience. This is a blazing, enduring, hymn of a novel.
17. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
A “best friend bildungsroman” in the Elena Ferrante mould, Swing Time tells the story of two brown girls from neighbouring housing estates in London, who both dream of being dancers. It's a close but complicated friendship that ends abruptly in their twenties, never to be rekindled, but never quite forgotten. Beneath the virtuosic plot lies a keen social commentary on betterment: Smith asks us to consider whether the ability to change is really a form of power. With shifting identities, our narrator seeks, above all, a place where she belongs. Could that place be a best friend?
18. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
A morbidly funny mixture of family saga and slashfest set in Lagos, Nigeria, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a satirical thriller about how blood is thicker (and harder to get out of the carpet) than water. Korede's life is constantly upended as she's forced to clean up after her sister Ayoola, who has a tendency to kill her boyfriends. But things get complicated when Ayoola starts dating Korede’s colleague, with whom she’s long been in love. This debut novel from Black author Oyinkan Braithwaite is as smart and addictive as Killing Eve.
19. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vignes sisters will always be identical. But when they run away from the southern Black community where they were raised, they choose to live in very different worlds. One returns to her hometown with her Black daughter, while the other decides to live her life passing as a white woman. Though they're separated, their lives are still very much intertwined. Weaving together multiple generations and their stories, The Vanishing Half looks well beyond issues of race, to consider the lasting influence of our pasts, and to explore why people are compelled to live as someone other than themselves.
20. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Born on a Virginia plantation named “Lockless”, Hiram is the son of a slave master and a slave. When his mother is sold “down river” and he is left orphaned, he is robbed of his memories of her, but gifted with a mystical power. When this mysterious ability saves him from drowning, Hiram and fellow slave Sophia run away to freedom in the North. Though Coates illuminates the violent degradations heaped upon generations of runaways who waged war to make lives with the people they loved, he does so while ensuring they retain their dignity.
21. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
First published in 1958, Chinua Achebe's stark, coolly ironic masterpiece has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. It tells the story of Okonkwo: the greatest fighter alive, his fame is spreading like wildfire throughout West-Africa. But when he accidentally kills a clansman his life begins to fall apart. Often compared to the great Greek tragedies, Things Fall Apart is an arresting parable about a proud but helpless man witnessing the collapse of his village, as old ways come into contact with new. An eye-opening and compelling read, Achebe’s first novel is a must-read.
22. Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Drawn from Taylor’s own experiences, the queer, Black protagonist of this campus novel, Wallace, struggles to navigate the prejudgments and biases of the white cohorts in his PhD program. As a form of self-preservation, Wallace enforces a wary distance within his circle of friends, neglecting even to tell them of his father’s recent death. But over the course of a blustery end-of-summer weekend, a series of confrontations expose hidden currents of hostility and desire, forcing him to grapple with the long shadows of his childhood. This quiet, intimate and queer novel, from an electric new Black author, strives to make Black readers feel seen.
23. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Delving into relationships, identity politics, and one woman’s search for belonging, Queenie is a characterful, topical and bracingly real debut by Carty-Williams. Caught between a Jamaican-British family that doesn’t understand her, a job that isn’t all it was meant to be, and a messy break-up she can’t seem to get over, Queenie Jenkins seeks comfort in all the wrong places, including more-than-a-few problematic men. Her missteps and misadventures are snort-your-tea-out funny one moment and utterly heart-breaking the next.
24. Lot by Bryan Washington
Washington’s collection of short stories follows the son of a Black mother and a Latino father as he comes of age in an apartment block in Houston. As he explores his sexuality and tries to find a place among his family, the community swells around him, their stories woven into his: a young woman caught in an affair, a rag-tag baseball team, a drug-dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, and a camera-shy mythical beast. Washington’s viscerally drawn Houston leaps off the page with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home.
25. Erasure by Percival Everett
Everett’s Erasure is a watertight satire of the publishing industry and the issue of being “Black enough” in America. Monk Ellison is a novelist whose career has bottomed out. While his manuscript is rejected by publishers who say it “has nothing to do with the African-American experience”, We’s Lives in Da Ghetto — a novel by a Black author who "once visited some relatives in Harlem" — enjoys meteoric success. Enraged, and despairing at his personal life, Monk dashes off a novel he insists is “offensive, poorly written, racist and mindless”. But of course, it’s the Next Big Thing...
26. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Odd-mannered and obsessive, Aster lives a lonely life in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a generational starship ferrying the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. Its leaders — a white supremacy cult called the Sovereignty — run the ship on the labor and intimidation of dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. But, when the autopsy of Matilda's sovereign reveals a link between his death and her mother's suicide, Aster discovers that there might be a way out — if she’s willing to take on her brutal overseer and sow the seeds of civil war.
27. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
From the National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming comes a striking new exploration of identity, class, race, and status. Taking sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming-of-age party as the jumping off point, Red at the Bone unfurls with verve and urgency the story of three generations, revealing their dreams, ambitions, and the tolls they’ve paid to escape the pull of history. Woodson deftly considers the ways in which young people are so often pushed into making life-changing decisions before they even know who they are.
28. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Adunni’s mother told her that the only way to get a “louding voice” is to have an education. But at fourteen, Adunni’s father sells her to a local man desperate for an heir. Then, when tragedy strikes, she is sold again, trapped in subservience, this time to a wealthy household in Lagos, where no one speaks about the disappearance of her predecessor, Rebecca. Through it all, Adunni will not be silenced. In a whisper, in song, in broken English — she finds a way to speak for herself, for Rebecca, and for all those who struggle to be heard.
29. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
A page-turning debut about the messy dynamics of privilege, Such a Fun Age introduces us to cash-strapped babysitter Emira Tucker and her employer Alix Chamberlain. When Emira is racially profiled by a security guard and accused of kidnapping Alix’s daughter, Alix, with the best of intentions (and a ‘personal brand’ to protect), resolves to make things right. The two women could not be more different — one trying to figure out her next life move, the other a successful feminist blogger — but Alix’s efforts to right the situation reveal a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
30. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Rooted in Igbo cosmology, Freshwater charts the extraordinary journey of a broken, young Nigerian woman called Ada with and towards her many different, even divergent, selves. Told from a shape-shifting perspective — the mythic and assured ‘We’, the intimate and distinctively Nigerian Ashagura, and Ada’s own tortured, tentative voice — this surreal novel is innovative and daring, disorienting yet stunning. Gripping from the very first sentence, Amazi’s debut novel will forge a path to your very core.
31. It's Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan
At 68, Loretha Curry is far from thinking that her best days are behind her. She may be carrying a few more pounds than she’d like, but she has a booming business, ride-or-die friends, and a husband whose moves in the bedroom still surprise. But when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down, Loretha’s optimism begins to falter. With the help of her friends, she’ll have to gather all her strength to push through heartbreak and chart new paths. Bestselling author Terry McMillan brings her signature wit and wisdom to It’s Not All Downhill From Here.
32. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Weaving through time and space with crackling energy, Girl, Woman, Other tracks the lives of a dozen Black, British women, and the people they have loved and unloved, through generations and across social classes. However, with prose rhythms that feel like the wilful impulses of inner thought, Evaristo manages to make readers feel intimately connected to twelve different characters, each with a distinctive and vibrant voice. This 2019 Man Booker Prize-winner is a vibrantly contemporary kind of history — a love song to modern Britain and Black womanhood.
33. Closure: Contemporary Black British Short Stories
From a wide range of British Black authors — award-winning to previously unpublished — the stories in this stand-out anthology offer contemporary conversations around different experiences of being British. The breadth of this experience is evident in the rich variety of styles, forms and themes. Raw realism gives way to pure lyricism; tender unrequited yearnings rub shoulders with humorous moments of epiphany. The title Closure is a subversive one, for, much like life, the stories in this anthology rarely end the way we imagine they will.
34. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This is a love story. But one that centres on an appalling miscarriage of justice. Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of the American Dream, until Roy is wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to twelve years. Jones doesn’t elaborate; the reader simply understands that a Black man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, will find retribution meted out swiftly and unquestioningly. What follows is a tender, rousing account of three people who are at once bound together and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage probes important ideas with emotional intelligence and a colossal heart.
35. Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Everything Inside is a short story collection set in the Caribbean, Miami, and Port-au-Prince. Danticat’s prose shines a light on the intricacies of human relationships, as she knowingly observes the balance of a family at a christening, the clash between ambition and survival, and the blossoming and withering of romantic relationships, among other things. Reading this collection, you’ll feel that you’ve laid yourself in the hands of a discerning, careful, and quiet force — and that’s exactly where you’ll want to stay.
36. Deacon King Kong by James McBride
James McBride’s novel Deacon King Kong begins with a shooting. This is 1969 Brooklyn, and a very drunk deacon ‘Sportcoat’ shoots a drug dealer. The rest of the novel examines the effects of this singular event on a number of characters: the church members, the neighbors, the mafia, the witnesses, and the police officers called to the scene. In an ambitious novel bursting with energy, McBride makes the case for the humanizing power of trust, love, and hope, all against the vibrant backdrop of 1960s New York.
37. Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
Irenosen Okojie’s Nudibranch is a collection of short stories that delves into the realm of the surreal. Though the stories are set in real places, includingLondon and Berlin, they chart a movement into the fantastic and peculiar. In these vividly imagined, somewhat abstract stories, bizarre, unexplained, and downright weird things begin to happen, as reality slowly metamorphoses into something new... This striking, original, and ever-unpredictable collection stands out for its poetic evocation of all things odd and beautiful. So take a dive into Okojie’s world — it’s nothing short of memorable.
38. Hold by Michael Donkor
Michael Donkor’s Hold is about three young girls: Belinda, Amma, and Mary. Belinda is a housegirl in Ghana, and is growing closer to 11-year-old Mary when she is suddenly summoned to live in London with Amma. Amma’s parents are hoping Belinda will be a positive influence on their rebellious daughter. The two teenagers are vastly different, but together, they grapple with shared questions about their identities, their sexualities, and the pressure of growing up. This refreshing coming-of-age novel is a touching tribute to the tentative reach for freedom of queer adolescence, rich with sensitive observations about the two girls.
39. Bone Readers by Jacob Ross
This breathtaking, Jhalak-prize-winning crime thriller, set in the Caribbean island of Camaho, follows Michael ‘Digger’ Digson as he enters the police force. Digger uses his skill for bone-reading (passed down by his grandmother), and for recognizing voices, to contribute to the missing person cases in Camaho. Face-to-face with the corrupt underbelly of the island, Digger and his intelligent colleague Kathleen Stanislaus pursue a cold case into the dark corners of the criminal world. This tightly-plotted and suspenseful literary novel is a masterclass in crime writing, and features powerful characters who will really get under your skin.
40. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
Long-listed for the 2019 Women’s Prize in Fiction, Remembered ventures into 1910 Philadelphia, amid flaring racial tensions. With her son on the brink of death, the narrator begins to tell a story about the past, travelling back in time to 1843. Charting the life of Ella from slavery to emancipation, narrator Spring also recalls the complicated narrative of her own life. In this parallel examination of slavery and its many ongoing and refracted legacies, freedom and motherhood lie quietly at the heart of the story.
41. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This is New York during the 2008 financial crisis. Behold the Dreamers bears witness to the lives of two families: a Cameroonian family of immigrants and a wealthy family of Americans. Their distant worlds collide when Jende Jonga, of the former family, is employed as chauffeur by Edward Clark, of the latter. The book juggles sadness with hope, held in ambivalent balance as Mbue expertly breathes new life into the American Dream. Behold the Dreamers draws its characters with warmth and sensitivity, astutely capturing the friction between privilege and need.
42. Small Island by Andrea Levy
Andrea Levy’s classic is a polyphonic novel of compassion and tenderness. It reaches readers in the voices of four characters: Hortense Joseph, and her husband Gilbert, their white landlady, Queenie, and her husband Bernard. Hortense and Gilbert are part of the Windrush Generation, Caribbean immigrants who reached London aboard the ship HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. In their struggle to belong in London, the novel finds a rich trove of emotion, taking a sensitive and careful look at the implications of race, ethnicity, and social class. Levy’s masterpiece is an undisputed must-read.
43. Loving Day by Mat Johnson
TItled after the US Supreme Court ruling that legalized interracial marriage, Loving Day is a celebration of mixed-race identity. Warren Duffy finds himself in Philadelphia, where he meets his long-lost daughter Tal at a comic convention. Despite being mixed-race, Tal has been raised white. In this semi-autobiographical novel, which the author calls his own “coming out as a mulatto”, Tal’s struggle to reconcile herself to her identity becomes the focus of the narrative. This is a heartwarming, often funny, and always thought-provoking book to add to your list.
44. We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s dystopian novel We Cast a Shadow is a biting satire of the enduring racism in contemporary America. To help his biracial son access a new medical procedure that will save his life by turning him white, the novel’s unnamed narrator must pass a series of truly crazy tests and qualify as a partner at the law firm where he works. This darkly comic and thoroughly unsettling book will stay with you — surreal, clever, and tinged with horror throughout, We Cast a Shadow is a must-read.
45. That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu
Derek Owusu’s debut novel That Reminds Me is told in poetic fragments following a young British-Ghanaian man, elusively named K., as he journeys from birth to tentative adulthood. This lyrical, sensitive book explores the protagonist’s consciousness one memory at a time, taking readers from personal questions of belonging and family to wider social issues, like addiction and violence. Raw, honest, and original, this is a brilliant literary debut, from a voice to watch out for in the future. With its delicate descriptions of mental health, That Reminds Me is a truly remarkable feat.
46. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird is an ambitious and loose retelling of the famous Snow White fairytale that boldly introduces a racial dimension. This is the 1950s and the protagonist, Boy Novak, moves to a small Massachusetts town, where she grows attached to a local named Arturo, and is introduced to his daughter, Snow. Unlike Arturo and the rest of his light-skinned African-American family, Snow cannot ‘pass’ for white, prompting a radical reevaluation of them all. Unique and compellingly told, Oyeyemi’s book shimmers with literary magic.
47. The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
The Black Flamingo tells the story of Michael, a mixed-race, half-Jamaican, half Greek-Cypriot boy living in the UK. Michael’s already working to come to terms with the fact that he’s gay, when he takes flight as a drag artist while attending university. He becomes the Black Flamingo, in a brilliant story about self-emancipation and self-acceptance, all told in verse. This fabulous, glamorous, and absolutely celebratory novel about finding and championing your real self at the intersection of multiple identities deserves a space on your shelf.
48. Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
Set on an estate in Hackney, London, Patrice Lawrence’s Orangeboy follows Marlon, a 16-year-old who’s determined to resist his brother’s bad influence and make his widowed mum proud. But when Marlon goes on a date with Sonya, his life reaches a turning point: suddenly it’s impossible to stay away from his brother’s world of street gangs and drugs. In this action-packed, fast novel, you’ll watch Marlon adapt, changing completely while, in many ways, remaining the same. Don’t miss out on this grippingly modern novel!
49. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Tomi Adeyemi’s debut fantasy novel features a set of richly drawn characters, and blends Nigerian Yoruba mythology with established tropes and elements of fantasy. The protagonist, Zélie Adebola, is fighting to restore magic to the land of Orïsha, after the king ordered all the magicians killed. Epic high fantasy worldbuilding (complete with snow leopards), meets intelligent analysis of social power, racial tensions, and prejudice, in a debut that grips readers from page one. The good news? This is the first in a fantasy series, so there’s plenty more to read...
50. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’s wildly successful The Hate U Give (now adapted by Netflix!) begins with a shooting. Starr Carter’s best friend, Khalil, is killed by police. As Khalil’s death makes national news, and the public question who’s to blame, Starr must provide answers. In this poignant, thoughtful, and inspirational novel, Angie Thomas tells a tale of the Black Lives Matter age, but make no mistake: this is no temporary trend, but a literary masterpiece.
51. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This breathtaking novel is told in 60 fragments of verse, each representing the passage of one second in the single minute teenage Will has to decide whether he’s going to shoot his brother’s killer. This sparse, quick-paced book will have you on the edge of your seat, as it cleverly exposes the complexities of teenage violence. Long Way Down is YA genius — originally told and utterly heartbreaking, this narrative will stay with you despite the speed with which you’ll read it.
52. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses imagines a world where Noughts, who are white, are enslaved by the Crosses, who are Black. In a deliberate reversal of our own society’s history and social dynamics, Blackman tells the story of Sephy, a Nought, and Callum, a Cross. The two have been friends for a long time, but their blossoming romance is absolutely forbidden. This beautiful, intelligent, and devastating book has earned its place as a Young Adult fiction classic, and it has never been more timely.
53. The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu
For Nnenna, growing up means reaching for her Igbo-Nigerian heritage, inherited from her father. The only problem is, she’s never met him. Nnenna is nearly seventeen and living in Manchester, with her white mother, who is resistant to questioning. This is a novel that’s easy to read, but that doesn’t mean that its subject matter is ‘light’. Despite its funny outlook, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney is engaged in asking serious questions about race, growing up, sexuality, and personal heritage. This intelligent and moving book is sure to warm your heart!
54. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
12-year-old Sunny was born in New York, but when her parents move back to their native Nigeria, so does she. At school, her new classmates call her “akata”, a wild animal, because of her albino features and American childhood. But her friends also show her that she has greater powers than she realizes: the magical powers of the Leopard People. Alongside her friends, Sunny must find a way to stop Black Hat Otokoto, a child kidnapper and magician, before it’s too late. With brilliantly detailed worldbuilding that’s been compared to Harry Potter and a rich mythological background of West African mythology, Akata Witch is a truly spell-binding book.
55. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Citizen is a book you’ll sometimes encounter on lists of essays, but its subtitle, ‘An American Lyric’, firmly sets it into the world of poetry. Rankine’s brilliant 2014 book takes a deeply incisive look at modern society’s racism by directing the reader’s attention to singular moments that add up to a breathtaking totality. Powerful and devastating, Citizen shines a light on daily microaggressions and wider social phenomena alike. It leaves readers with a new and unsettling clarity — the mark of a masterpiece.
56. Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi
‘Kumukanda’ is the name the Zambian tribe of Luvale gives to their coming-of-age ceremony, and so Chingonyi, who is himself of Zambian heritage, sets the scene for a collection of nostalgia, loss, and transition. This Dylan Thomas Prize-winning collection touches on subjects like family, negotiating belonging between countries, racism, and music. Chingonyi’s expertly-crafted verse echoes the cadences and rhythms of grime and rap music, and assumes a youthful velocity of a distinctly modern British association. This deeply affecting collection will move and affect you.
57. A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson
‘And if I speak of Paradise, / then I’m speaking of my grandmother’: so begins Roger Robinson’s poem ‘A Portable Paradise’, the work that gives its name to his T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection. This moving and tender book looks at subjects as wide-ranging as family, the Windrush generation, slavery, racism, joy for life, heritage, and class. Robinson’s poems move carefully and powerfully, with the lyricism and emotional clarity of a talented writer. This is a book to hold close to your heart.
58. The Collected Poems by Langston Hughes
‘I’ve known rivers: / I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the / flow of human blood in human rivers’. From his most well-known poems, like ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’, to his lesser known poems for children, this comprehensive collection contains all of Langston Hughes’ brilliant published poetry, composed over fifty years. The Harlem Renaissance leader’s work has not aged one bit: it is just as fresh, modern, and arresting as it was when it was originally published. Reading Hughes’ poetry will leave you with a sense of awe and the knowledge that you’ve been blessed to know the work of a great mind.
59. Surge by Jay Bernard
Jay Bernard’s Surge asks crucial questions about personal memory and the way we choose to collectively remember historical events. For Bernard, these are issues integral to understanding their place in contemporary British society, as a queer Black person. Seeing a connection between Grenfell and the 1981 New Cross fire, Surge penetrates time to highlight the lack of progress made. Heartbreaking, poignant, and ambitiously conceived, this collection is an important addition to the British poetry scene.
60. The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus
Another brilliant poetry collection from modern Britain, Raymond Antrobus’s The Perseverance is an eye-opening book. The poet, who is deaf himself, writes elegantly and affectingly about the d/Deaf experience: “the raveled knot of tongues, / of blaring birds, consonant crumbs / of dull doorbells, sounds swamped / in my misty hearing aid tubes”. This incredible collection is a song to identity, to the poet’s own British-Jamaican heritage, to the world of noise that we all navigate in different ways. For a little while, let Antrobus guide you through it, and show you the world in a whole new way.
61. The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay
A masterclass in writing from different perspectives, The Adoption Papers is about a Black girl adopted by a white Scottish couple. Juggling the points of view of the child, mother, and biological mother, this sensitive collection is able to capture the emotional intricacies and complexities of adoption in heartbreaking verse. This brave, witty, and honest book is an adoption literature classic, and a must-read literary achievement.
62. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Many saw the election of Barack Obama as reason to immediately proclaim America a ‘post-racial’ society. But the justice system has always had a different story to tell. In this searing account of structural racism in the justice system, legal scholar Michelle Alexander shows that preventing the mass incarceration of people of colour (especially Black men) should be an utmost priority. This is a book that calls the nation to come to terms with its own past of slavery, and to take action to recognize and battle its surviving legacies. Without a doubt, one of the most important nonfictional works of recent decades.
63. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is a historical account of a large part of the 20th century. For decades, Black Americans left the south, searching for better prospects in the western and northern states. This epic tale of the Great Migration, exhaustively researched by its Pulitzer-winning author, is told through the life stories of three African Americans: Robert Foster, Ida Mae Gladney, and George Starling, who left Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida respectively, to pursue new lives. This major historical book is a beautifully-told, enlightening portrait of American history.
64. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama’s memoir became a literary sensation when it was published in 2018, and for good reason. The former First Lady’s incredible optimism, pragmatism, and tireless energy pour right out of the book and into the reader, with one central message: you matter, and you can accomplish anything. In sharing her own life story, Michelle Obama becomes both role model and champion — a force of inspiration for every woman and young people worldwide. Without a doubt, she’s the kind of person who comes along once in a generation.
65. Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Renowned historian and broadcaster David Olusoga’s book delves deep into the historical connections between Britain and Africa. Black and British remembers the UK’s slave-trading past, as well as the forgotten Black Britons who fought alongside the British army in several wars. Beyond the past, Olusoga’s comprehensive work gives an insightful analysis of the enduring legacies of slavery in the present day. Above all, this book is a well-researched reminder that ‘Black’ and ‘British’ are not two contradictory terms.
66. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
The opposite of “racist”, Ibram X Kendi explains, isn’t “not racist”, but “antiracist”. And the difference between the two is crucial. It isn’t enough to passively refrain from being racist — anyone who wishes to be an ally to Black people (though this book is particularly focused on African Americans within American society) must actively seek to right the injustices of racism. How to Be an Antiracist argues this point with conviction and energy, and provides strategies of action for anyone wanting to progress from being ‘aware’ of racism, to being its active enemy.
67. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This poetic classic of the autobiography genre is a testament to human strength and resilience. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou tells the story of her earlier years, tracing her life from the age of three to sixteen, in a manner that some critics call “autobiographical fiction”, for the way it organizes personal experience through the narrative techniques of fiction. This deeply affecting coming-of-age book discusses subjects such as race, trauma, and sexual abuse with honesty and wisdom.
68. Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
Glory Edim, founder of the book club ‘Well-Read Black Girl’ in Brooklyn, has gathered essays written by leading Black female authors into a collection that functions as a space of reflection and inspiration. Writers like Jesmyn Ward, N. K. Jemisin, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tayari Jones all weigh in on the subject of seeing yourself represented in literature. The result is a book that is a joy to read, and an inspiring and exciting ode to Black sisterhood.
69. Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
This stunning memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith begins with her Californian upbringing, but quickly moves into her family’s past and her mother’s fight with cancer. Forced to reckon with her own conflicted sense of identity and shaken faith, Smith finds a whole new approach to selfhood and belonging. Delicately and honestly written, this memoir is filled with light that is anything but ordinary.
70. Hunger by Roxane Gay
Not just a writer but a spokesperson, Roxane Gay writes with sensitivity and intimacy about food and the body. In her deeply personal memoir Hunger, she uses her own struggles — her rape, her overeating, and the reality of living as a sizable woman — to explore our shared anxieties surrounding pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. Gay discusses with candor what it means to take care of yourself when you crave delicious and satisfying food, but live in a world where the open hatred of fat people is tolerated, even encouraged, and you yourself want a smaller, safer body.
Looking to diversify your bookshelf even more? Or simply want to read authors on the forefront of literary development? Check out our list of 20 Latinx authors with books that belong on your TBR list.