Best books by African American authors
Black women authors dominated 2015. Emerging and renowned Black women writers penned relatable fictional and non-fiction stories about everything from dysfunctional families to the myriad ways class privilege shapes Black childhood. Many of these writers were bestowed with worthy accolades, from a National Book Award nomination to a writing role on Empire. Snag these 12 best books before 2016.
The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
On Thanksgiving 2013, television showrunner and writer, Shonda Rhimes was inadvertently challenged to change her life. Rhimes’ sister told her “You never say yes to anything.” Instead of bristling at the comment, Rhimes became proactive. She began accepting invitations that she would’ve ordinarily declined. The result was significant weight loss, happiness, and the humorous memoir, The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. In this inspirational book, Rhimes reveals how she channeled the confidence she infuses her television characters with to embark on a year that completely revolutionized her life. At heart, Rhimes is a writer, and it shows in this book. The Year of Yes is comedic and engaging and full of gems that all Black women can take with them into 2016 and beyond.
Pleasantville by Attica Locke
Pleasantville is the second book in Attica Locke’s Jay Porter series. Locke, a writer and producer for FOX’s Empire, spins a masterful tale about her environmental lawyer protagonist, who is broke and struggling after winning a major case against Cole Oil 15 years ago. In this sequel, Porter is representing the town of Pleasantville after a chemical fire devastates the upwardly-mobile Black community. Soon, the court case elevates into a murder case after a female campaign volunteer disappears from Pleasantville on the night of the mayoral election. Pleasantville evokes multiple twists and turns that paces the plot well and keeps readers engaged.
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Acclaimed theater critic, Margo Jefferson, is a master wordsmith. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Jefferson decided to turn her lens away from cultural analysis to focus on her own childhood. In Negroland: A Memoir, Jefferson explores how class privilege shaped her upbringing in an elite Black community in Chicago. With sharp wit and a masterful use of language, Jefferson explores the upper crust of Negroland, which she describes as “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Offering a unique perspective on the classic coming-of-age tale, Jefferson’s Negroland explores upper middle class Black life during the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of second-wave feminism. This book is a New York Times bestseller for a reason.
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Ivoe Williams is the brave, fierce, and uncompromising protagonist in LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam on the Vine. Williams’ lifelong passion for speaking truth to power through journalism is ignited in central-east Texas as she witnesses multiple atrocities committed against her neighbors in the name of white supremacy. After settling in Kansas City after graduating from college, Williams and her partner and former professor, Ona, launch Jam! On the Vine, an African-American newspaper that documents race riots, lynchings, and jailhouse conditions. Lovers of Ida B. Wells will cherish this book.
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
Losing a spouse is unimaginable. For Elizabeth Alexander, a distinguished poet and professor at Yale University, it was Earth shattering. After the death of her husband, Alexander penned a memoir as a way of archiving her marriage. The Light of the World: A Memoir is Alexander’s tribute to her husband. She uses words to keep from forgetting the minute details that make relationships grand. Alexander’s deceased husband, Ficre, escaped the civil war in Eritrea, migrated to America, and established himself as a chef. In this book, Alexander remembers him lovingly and paints a portrait of a man whose spirit will live forever. The Light of the World is a New York Times bestseller described by First Lady Michelle Obama as a book that “simply took my breath away.”
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
In 2015, television visionary, Issa Rae, added author to her impressive resume. In The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which shares a name with her popular web series, Rae offers 18 humorous essays about how Blackness and awkwardness shaped her identity. She covers topics ranging from self-acceptance to weight gain in a relatable voice that many young Black girls and women will identify with and embrace.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez creates compelling stories from historical periods that are often thought of integral to the shaping of America. In Balm, Perkins-Valdez explores Reconstruction, the time period after the Civil War, when free Black American men and women were attempting to find their footing after decades of enslavement. Madge, Sadie, and Hemp are Perkins-Valdez’s muses in Balm. These characters – all from diverse backgrounds – arrive in Chicago, hoping to start anew. Their histories as well as their desires are at the center of this novel as the background of Reconstruction provides a fascinating structure. Perkins-Valdez wins again with Balm.