I have seen some people on social media saying, “I don’t think about the author’s race when I choose books,” and that is great in some ways. But the thing is, there are biases within the publishing industry that means if you’re not thinking about an author’s race, then you’re mostly reading white authors. This is obviously something the publishing industry needs to work hard to fix, but you can help by making your reading more diverse.
When the injustices Black people face were highlighted to the world once again on May 25th, I started looking at ways I could help in my everyday life. I don’t buy designer clothes or much skincare, but I do read a lot. So, I have been reading more books by Black authors and adding lots to my TBR list on Goodreads. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them and thought I would give you some suggestions on where to start when making your reading more diverse and hopefully introduce you to some new authors.
Due to my disability, it is much easier for me to read on my Kindle, so I cannot support Black-owned bookshops as much as I would like. But if you would like to, here is a list of Black-owned bookshops in the USA and here is a list of ones in the UK.
Anthologies of short stories are a great way to be introduced to many authors. You can then decide which authors you like best and look for their novels. All the stories in Black Enough and A Phoenix First Must Burn are written by Black authors.
Read: Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi – these contemporary stories each show a different aspect of being young and Black in America. My favourite story is The Trouble With Drowning by Dhonielle Clayton because it has an element of mystery that sets it apart from the other stories and kept me gripped.
Buy Black Enough here
TBR: A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell – “Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly.” If that description doesn’t make you want to read A Phoenix First Must Burn, then I don’t know what will. (Also that cover is drop-dead gorgeous).
Buy A Phoenix First Must Burn here
Read: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown – this is Brown’s debut novel and it is incredible. I devoured it in just three days. Brown creates a fantasy world based on West African folklore that is immersive and intriguing. The story is told from two points of view: Malik, the Eshran refugee, and Karina, the crown princess of Ziran. Malik and Karina are on a collision course to murder each other, even though they’re also falling for each other. Brown peels away the layers of every character with great care to develop beautiful characters with so much depth. The story also looks at mental health in detail: Malik suffers from crippling anxiety and Karina struggles to deal with her grief.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is my favourite book of 2020 so far. I am so excited for the sequel, A Psalm of Storms and Silence, which is set to be released in 2021.
Buy A Song of Wraiths and Ruin here
TBR: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton – in this book, Clayton examines the meaning of beauty within the opulent world of Orléans. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful. Camellia Beauregard is not content with just being a Belle, she wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace. I am very much looking forward to reading this in the summer. (Clayton uses her Instagram page to promote other Black authors, her handle is @brownbookworm)
Buy The Belles here
Read: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – in the UK, this book is everywhere as it currently tops the Sunday Times Bestseller list. Evaristo became the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize. Girl, Woman, Other deserves every single bit of the attention it’s getting because it truly is remarkable. “Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives of twelve very different people in Britain, predominantly female and black. Aged 19 to 93, they span a variety of cultural backgrounds, sexualities, classes and occupations as they tell the stories of themselves, their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.”
Normally, I don’t like character-driven books, but this is different partly due to the large number of characters and partly due to the diversity of the characters. Evaristo covers a range of difficult topics including domestic violence, rape, post-partum depression and gender idendity. Although she discusses all of these with compassion and empathy, I would still give Girl, Woman, Other an age rating of 15+.
Buy Girl, Woman, Other here
TBR: Slay by Brittney Morris – this book just sounds amazing: “By day, Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer. But when a teen is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for ‘anti-white discrimination.’
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?”
Buy Slay here
Novels in verse
Don’t let the name ‘novel in verse’ scare you, it just means the writing is separated into two or three line stanzas, it doesn’t mean it’s a poetry book.
Read: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo – the newest novel from Elizabeth Acevedo, the National Book Award winning author of The Poet X. Camino lives in the Dominican Republic while Yahaira lives in New York. Both of them are devestated when their Papi dies in a plane crash, but neither of them fully know his secret. I couldn’t put this book down. Acevedo’s writing is exquisite. Despite the narrative being largely about dealing with grief, Clap When You Land is a heartwarming story of sisterhood and finding something new after a loss.
Buy Clap When You Land here
TBR: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – this novel takes place in the 60 second elevator ride in which 15-year-old Will grapples with whether to take revenge on his brother’s killer. I think that’s all you need to know before reading this.
Buy Long Way Down here
I hope you like the sound of a few of the books on this list but if not, please don’t be disheartened, there are many more books by Black authors out there. Five years ago, it would have been unheard of to see so many Black faces on book covers; it is great that publishers now feel that Black faces don’t diminish sales. We need to continue reading and supporting Black authors in the years to come, so that this progress continues.
Featured image made with Collage Maker, images sourced from Goodreads