Black History Month Reading List

Here’s to honoring Black History Month the most bookish way we know how—by highlighting some recent and upcoming books we’ve been reading and patiently awaiting. I'm including my list of essential books, both classics as well as titles and authors you may have missed, from classic novels to contemporary fiction to memoir. I hope you'll take a moment to peruse through this list of beautiful, unforgettable stories and add one or two to your own to-be-read pile. Watch this space, too, for staff picks throughout the month.

Each book listed will be linked for purchase to Matter Design, a local, Black-owned bookstore here in Denver, or Bookshop. In addition, please consider shopping and supporting Black bookstore owners.

I'll begin by revisiting the classic books by Black authors that have shaped America starting with Toni Morrison’s novels: The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved; the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, first produced in 1959; Passing by Nella Larsen, exploring the fluidity of racial identity informed by her mixed racial heritage; James Baldwin’s novels The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Giovanni’s Room; Langston Hughes’ books The Weary Blues, Montage of a Dream Deferred, and Not Without Laughter; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; Maya Angelou’s first autobiography about growing up as a Black woman in 1930s America, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Octavia E. Butler’s novels Kindred, Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents; and Black Boy by Richard Wright.

Incredible nonfiction books to be considered include: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. I also highly recommend Well-Read Black Girl, a collection of essays by Black American women writers discussing the importance of representation in literature, and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto, which explores his life as a Black gay man in America and examines what queer identity means through topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, and Black joy. For a more complete list of recently published nonfiction books by African American authors, check out this list curated by Goodreads.

Debut novels are another delight to read. Among the ones I’ve read most recently, two of the best were Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid and Luster by Raven Leilani. Other debut novels I'm excited to read include The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.; Real Life by Brandon Taylor; the YA novel, The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed; The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré; Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump; Lakewood by Megan Giddings; and YA novel This Is My America by Kim Johnson.

Other contemporary favorites (not debut novels) that have been published within the last year include The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (I also recommend her debut novel, Freshwater, published in 2018); Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Brown; It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan; Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, the follow-up to her debut bestseller Homegoing; and Memorial by Bryan Washington, a Lit Fest 2021 Visiting Author.

I'm eagerly awaiting some highly anticipated books (available for pre-order), including the most recent Book of the Month choice, The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson. Additionally, I'm looking forward to The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour; the anthology Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour, edited by Sareeta Domingo, celebrating love in all its forms; Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard; What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster; Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead; and Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins.

If you’re looking for an even wider selection, check out the following lists of forthcoming books to be released by Black Authors, including Goodreads 2021 Books by Black Authors, Electric Lit’s 43 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2021, Penguin Random House’s list of 33 Books by Contemporary Black Authors, and The New York Society Library’s list of Recent Books on African American History, Literature, & More.

Black literature is American literature. We hope that in reading this list, not only will you take the time to read at least one of the books listed above, but you will also continue to celebrate, uplift, and amplify Black voices all year, not just for twenty-nine days of this month. The canon of Black literature is nuanced, challenging, joyful, and heartbreaking all the same and worthy of continual engagement, not just during periods of social unrest.