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33 Unputdownable Books by Black Authors to Read This Year

There's also no better time to celebrate and honor Black voices.
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As Nicole Cardoza wrote in her newsletter, Anti-Racism Daily, earlier his month, "Moving through Black History Month 2021 like it’s merely a learning opportunity misses the mark." She writes that we should all be taking targeted actions, like continuing to demonstrate (see resources here and here), keeping your company accountable to DEI, and demanding reparations. Beyond these important actions, there's no better time to celebrate and honor Black voices—and not only within the (important but limiting) focus of antiracism, as Michelle Saahene reminded us. Below are 33 books by Black authors we've read and loved, across genres, from our team's most avid bookworms: 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: This novel, about a first-generation Jamaican woman in London, floats between hilarious and heart-breaking moments as she navigates a painful breakup. - Leslie

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Literary fiction written with unbelievably beautiful prose–a story about a biracial family and the ghosts from their past. - Kelly 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: What's already a problematic, if externally functioning, relationship gets split open after a young Black woman is accused at a grocery store of kidnapping the white child she babysits. - Leslie

Adele and The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani: Slimani's short novels stare unflinchingly at the darkest moments: The Perfect Nanny begins with the murder of three children in a Parisian apartment, and the protagonist of Adele repeatedly inserts herself into reckless, and often dangerous, sexual experiences. - Leslie

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi: A compelling, heart-wrenching literary fiction/murder mystery that celebrates and mourns the life of a biracial young man who grapples with his gender identity throughout his adolescence and early 20s, written by a non-binary author. - Kelly

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This book painfully illustrates the damages inflicted by mass incarceration of Black men on a personal level, when Celestial and Roy's brand-new marriage is split open by his arrest. - Leslie

Red at the Bone: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson: An intergenerational story about families tied together by an unexpected pregnancy. - Leslie

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans: Without a doubt the most compelling and unputdownable collection of short stories I've ever read, each tied together with a theme of correcting mistakes and the grief experienced by Black women in America. - Kelly

Swing Time by Zadie Smith: Two young girls dream of being dancers—but only one "makes it," as the women's lives take them in entirely different directions. Like Smith's other novels (White Teeth is also excellent), the novel is about so much more than its high-level synopsis. - Leslie

On our TBR lists: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (Leslie), Memorial by Bryan Washington (Kelly), Luster by Raven Leilani (Kelly + Leslie), Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Jess), Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Jess)

Homegoing by Yaa GyasiThis novel shares the stories of a Ghanian family fractured by slavery, and the effects it has for all the generations that follow. - Jess

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: A young man's bright future is halted when he's sentenced to time at a reform school in the 1960s. - Emily

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: The story of identical twin sisters, starting in the 1950s, who are both white-passing, but whose lives go in dramatically different directions. - Leslie

Kindred by Octavia Butler: A 26 year-old Black woman from the 1970s is repeatedly transported back in time to the antebellum South to save a white child with whom she shares a mysterious connection. - Kelly

Beloved by Toni Morrison: Like Kindred, Beloved toes the line between "historical fiction" and fantasy; the supernatural elements that haunt the characters feel so devastatingly real. In Beloved, Sethe has escaped slavery, but is haunted by the ghost of her baby, Beloved (a description that barely gives Toni Morrison's writing justice—just read it!). 

On our TBR lists: The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. (Kelly, currently reading), The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Kelly), The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Kelly)

The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin: An epic fantasy series that explores the end of the world and themes of racism, oppression, and climate change, led by one of the most memorable female protagonists I've ever read. - Kelly

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson: A thrilling multiverse novel that explores hundreds of alternate versions of our lives on other Earths, but there's a catch: The only people who can travel through these other worlds are the most oppressed and neglected members of "Earth Zero," those whose dopplegangers are already dead on most of the other versions of our world due to disease, warfare, neglect, and violence. - Kelly

Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerThis classic sci-fi novel is about a dystopian future Los Angeles (written in the early '90s, but takes place a few years from now) that hits a little too close to home. - Kelly

On our TBR Lists: Children of the Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Leslie), The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Kelly), The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull (Kelly), Everfair by Nisi Shawl (Kelly)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: One of the books that changed my life (and crosses genres), Whitehead's account of what, in his book, is a literal underground railroad so vividly embodies the very real terrors so many hundreds of thousands of people endured for freedom. - Leslie

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin: This dark, thrilling satire about a future United States and a Black father who will do anything to protect his biracial son is haunting in a way that will quietly affect your thoughts and emotions for weeks after reading. - Kelly

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: A book of essays that is so funny and spot-on (Irby and I are roughly the same age, which only makes it more enjoyable) that I avoid reading it in the middle of the night so as to not wake Geoffrey with my laughter. - Emily

The Sellout by Paul Beatty:
This is possibly the most difficult book for me to describe on this list, because of how much it contains: But, put simply, a young man reinstates slavery and segregates a school in the invented L.A. suburb, Dickens.- Leslie

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole: An unsettling thriller about the gentrification of a neighborhood and whether the original occupants chose to leave or if something a lot more sinister is at play. - Emily

On our TBR Lists: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Kelly), My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Kelly + Leslie)

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo: A compassionate and cut-to-the-chase guide on talking about race in order to combat racism at the systemic level. - Leslie

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad: An invaluable resource (whose journal prompts were equally illuminating) for identifying white privilege and the impact it has in systems of oppression. - Emily

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Gay acknowledges and unpacks that her feminism is riddled with imperfections, and will help you understand that "feminist" isn't a single archetype–and, to quote her, "I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all." - Jess 

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson: If you live in America—or think you would have spoken out for persecuted people during WWII—this book is a must-read, and provides even more examples of racism's poisonous, systemic roots. - Leslie

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: A heartbreaking, enraging, and detailed outline of the caste-like system the US has created due to mass incarceration, specifically of Black and Brown communities. - Jess

On our TBR Lists: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (Kelly), Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall (Kelly)

Becoming by Michelle Obama: I listened to Becoming on audiobook so I could hear Michelle's story in her own voice, and her unbelievable career and achievements which stand entirely alone from her husband's. - Leslie

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom: A hundred years of family history, through the lens of the yellow house Sarah grew up in, in East New Orleans and the racist undercurrent that runs just out of view of Bourbon Street. - Leslie

On our TBR Lists: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson (Leslie), Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Leslie), Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy (Leslie), A Promised Land by Barack Obama (Jess)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: A powerful story about police brutality and racism that is tailored for a high school audience, but is still incredibly moving and eye-opening for readers of any age. - Kelly

Don't Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller: A story about a young girl's self-love and journey of learning how to set boundaries. - Emily

I Am Enough by Grace Byers: A book about loving yourself, celebrating what makes you unique, and always leading with kindness. - Emily

Firebird by Misty Copeland: A beautiful, poetic story about a young girl who questions whether she can become a ballerina (and learning how, through hard work and perseverance, there are no limits to what you can become). - Emily

Need more recommendations? Follow and engage with some of our favorite Black creators who give us a ton of recommendations on what to read all year long:

Sarah of @bookishandblack: Sarah reads a lot of contemporary/literary fiction (as you can tell above, a favorite genre of ours) and is a longtime member of the cupcakes and cashmere community. She also has a Patreon, and paying subscribers can join her monthly Zoom book club and read her newsletter. In January, Sarah picked The Invisible Life of Addie Larue (Kelly finally got to join for the book club meeting and it was a BLAST!), and next up is Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall.

Traci of @thestackspod: Traci is the host of an incredible podcast called The Stacks, which focuses mostly on author interviews of books that are newer releases (recent episodes not to miss are Ep. 147 with Danielle Evans, Ep. 141 with Ijeoma Oluo, and Ep. 137 with Yaa Gyasi!) and she has a book club for members of "The Stacks Pack" via Patreon as well (February's pick is The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, which Leslie is currently reading). Lovers of nonfiction will especially love Traci's recommendations, which skew heavily toward nonfiction by authors of color.

Jesse of @bowtiesandbooks: Fans of YouTube will absolutely love Jesse's "Booktube" account where they post videos of book review and TBR roundups, favorites lists by category, PositiviTEA, and unpopular opinions / "Books That Wasted My Time" (Kelly's favorite series). Jesse is an excellent person to go to for sci-fi / fantasy and general fiction recommendations, as well as books that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and authors. Jesse has been hosting Blackathon–a month long February readathon focused on Black literature–since 2018, which you can catch up with in their YouTube announcement video from late January.

@novelallure: If you're looking for an extremely well-curated and aesthetically pleasing literary account to follow, Novel Allure is for you. Curated by a self-described "Blackademic and Literary Sommelier" from Manchester, you truly might get lost in her account because of how engaging the content is. Be sure to check out the "guides" Instagram feature, which has so many incredible collections to explore like "La Creme De La Lit", "Literary Elegance, "The Literary House of BIPOC", and more.

Kayla of @honeybuttergal: A Texan currently based in Canada, Kayla has been reading and reviewing books on Instagram for just over a year, but it seems like a lot longer based on how many books she's reviewed thus far! Fans of literary and contemporary fiction, mystery/thriller, and the occasional nonfiction pick will absolutely love Kayla's recommendations. She also has a blog and just started a Patreon newsletter and book club a few weeks ago, so please show her some love if you are able.

P.S. Why stories with Black protagonists are key to children's antiracist education and books for young readers that feature protagonists of color.  

We are no longer accepting public comments on cupcakes and cashmere (read more about that decision here), but if you have feedback that pertains to this post, please submit it here. Thank you!

Update 2/24/2021: The original version of this post included Leïla Slimani as one of the recommended authors, but removed her after a reader pointed us toward this Gothamist piece, in which she denounces "race" as an American-centered social construct and instead prefers to acknowledge her ethnicity, which is of North African/Arab descent. Thank you to the reader who shared this with us! 

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