Feature image credit: @booksnbikram
February, Black History Month, is a perfect time to commit to a year of reading Diversely. What better way to kick it off than with a list of books and authors that I have recommended more times than I can count. In fact, it is nearly impossible to truly narrow this list down to ten. There are literally hundreds of Black authors that should not be missed! There is sometimes a misperception that Black authors only write certain stories and genres, so I have included a variety of genres, contemporary and classic books. Do know that this list is not exhaustive. I share with you some of my most treasured and recommend books.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This magical story begins as Hiram nearly drowns and against all odds is saved by the “blue light.” The blue light, the water dance, and Hiram’s deep loss of family are a thread throughout the story. Hiram’s journey takes the reader from the plantations of Virginia to the underground network of the North. It is a story of Slavery but unlike any I have read. There is so much hope and resilience as Hiram is determined to escape bondage and bring his family to freedom.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Gyasi’s writing has been described as haunting and hypnotic. A story that travels from the 18th century to the present day, this is one of the most in-depth generational stories I have ever read. Homegoing follows a family over continents and hundreds of years. It reveals the long-term effects of slavery and how it leads to self-enslavement long after the physical chains are removed. Be prepared for an inspirational and captivating read.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
If you have not read Walter Mosley and you are a crime fiction fan, Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series is a must read. The reader is quickly transported into the culture and ambiance of Los Angeles in the 1940s. Easy Rawlins is contemplating how he will pay his mortgage when a white man offers him a job. The job is to track down the beautiful blonde, Miss Daphne Monet, known to hang out at black jazz clubs. That’s when the action and mystery begin!
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
This is a literary masterpiece not to be missed, with incredible research that includes over 1,000 interviews. Wilkerson takes the reader on the journey of a decades-long migration of Blacks fleeing the south to northern cities with the promise of a better life. In addition to the historical detail, the reader feels a personal connection to the characters: Ida Mae Gladney, who traveled from Mississippi to Chicago, Robert Foster who traveled from Louisiana to become a medical doctor, and George Starling, a civil rights fighter who fled Florida for Harlem. The reader will experience their travel journey, the struggles of new life, and how they changed and added to the cultures they became a part of. A life-changing read.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is one of Toni Morrison’s most powerful and unforgettable stories. It is amazing how Morrison can beautifully write characters that are filled with ugliness. This novel addresses many issues, including racism and colorism through the eyes of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. She prays for blue eyes so that she can be as beautiful and loved as blue-eyed blond kids. This becomes the story of the tragic result of dreams being fulfilled. Morrison’s writing is pure poetry and brings any story to life.
Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson
You cannot lose with any book you choose to read by Jaqueline Woodson. Another Brooklyn, beautifully written in prose, is a story that stayed with me long after I turned the last page. I could not stop thinking about August, Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia, and how their friendship was not so much a choice as a necessity to navigate the dangerous waters of becoming a woman. A world where innocent young girls had to be afraid of men, and come of age often without the love and guidance of a mother. Although this story took place in the streets of Brooklyn, unfortunately, most women will relate to many of their thoughts and experiences no matter when and where they grew up.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Maya Angelo’s biography. Maya and her brother are sent to live with their grandmother in a rural southern town. The reader will feel the pain of their abandonment and the racism they are subjected to. When she finally is reunited with her mother, she experiences greater violations, being attacked by a man and having lifelong consequences as a result. Maya was able to find self-love and strength to free her soul and body. It is impossible to read her powerful story without having your heart broken and put back together again.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This story has it all. It is a slave memoir told through fantasy and historical fiction. After celebrating her 26th birthday, Dana, a Black woman, time travels to antebellum Maryland. There she saves a drowning white boy and then is returned to her present-day life. The story is a series of time travel trips that emerge Dana deeper into the life of a slave in the south. The boy she initially saved becomes a central point of the story and she realizes they are connected. She must keep Rufus alive to assure her family’s future. This is an intriguing yet haunting story.
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Whether it is this recent work of hers or one of her previous award-winning books, each book I read by Danticat makes me a bigger fan. Her stories are beautifully written and expose the souls of those she writes about. This book is a collection of eight unique stories that cannot be described but must be experienced. Danticat’s writing so accurately describes the cities that the stories visit that the reader will picture the people and landscape from Miami to Port-au-Prince. Each story is unique; however, love, friendship and family are at the core. The struggle of “straddling” between your homeland and a new life is deeply explored.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
A small book with a heavy story! An African American man is accused and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Baldwin masterfully draws the reader into the pain of the family and the extremes they must go to save his life. Within the injustice and sorrow is a beautiful love story between Fonnie and Tish that both warmed and broke my heart at the same time.