Fall has arrived (along with school for the kiddies) and it’s only right that we hit you with a list of books to get you going this fine Autumn. I’m an avid reader and I love to big up Black authors, so that’s what you have going on here. This list includes everything from juicy memoirs to historical fiction to cookbooks to spicy novels to edifying non-fiction about contemporary headlines. Get into it!
Speaking of Summer, Kalisa Buckhanon (Counterpoint Press)
First of all, look at this gorgeous cover for Speaking of Summer! It’s Black, beautiful, colorful and feminine. The story in this New York–based literary thriller from Kalisha Buckhanon mirrors the cover with its perfectly paced action and emotional depth. The readers are taken inside the head of Autumn Spencer as she desperately tries to figure out how her twin sister Summer disappeared from a Harlem rooftop without a trace. What happened to Summer? Dive in and find out the answer.
Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead Books)
Red at the Bone, the latest offering from National Book Award winning author Jacqueline Woodson is a slim (under 200 pages) lyrical, time-hopping gem that deftly digs into three generations of family life. Ambition, gentrification, and identity are just a few of the topics Woodson explores in this novel in which a young woman’s unexpected pregnancy serves as the center of the tale. Woodson’s pen is swoon-worthy.
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying, Bassey Ikpi (Harper Perennial)
As the aunties say, Bassey Ikpi put her foot in this one. I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying is a touching memoir from a Black woman artist. Ikpi does not shy away from delving into the emotional beauty and bruising she has endured in her unique life’s journey from a childhood in Nigeria to calling Oklahoma home to traveling with HBO’s Def Poetry, brilliantly wielding her spoken word prowess and coming to terms with her bipolar II diagnosis. Due in no small part to her poetic soul, Ikpi’s memoir has a humming rhythm that is impossible to ignore.
A Death in Harlem, Karla FC Holloway (Northwestern University Press)
Ready for a vivid, Harlem Renaissance era murder mystery? Duke University Professor Karla FC Holloway brings all of that and more with her debut novel A Death in Harlem. The book starts where Nella Larson’s best-selling novel Passing left off and it’s quite a ride. Professor Holloway is the author of eight non-fiction books and that attention to detail is reflected in the richly painted scenes of glamourous architecture, glamorous fashion and oh yeah, a mysterious death that sends Uptown’s elite into a tizzy.
Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Isha Sesay
Remember the #BringBackOurGirls story? In 2014, a terrorist organization called Boko Haram abducted 276 Nigerian girls right from their school in Chibok. The shocking crime made international headlines and a campaign ensued to find the girls and hold the kidnappers accountable. In Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Peabody Award-winning journalist Isha Sesay utilizes her unmatched access to the Chibok girls and their families to tell a riveting side of the story that has never been revealed until now.
Sweat the Technique, Rakim (Amistad)
Rakim is consistently in just about every hip hop head’s top five rappers list. Everyone knows his rhymes, but up until now, he’s kept most of the details of his personal life to himself. In his new memoir, fans not only get childhood stories, but also insight into Rakim’s approach to rhyming and creativity in general. This is worth a read just for the clever title alone.
Son of a Southern Chef, Lazarus Lynch (Penguin Random House)
Lazarus Lynch is #BlackBoyJoy personified. Look at that face! As the title suggests, Lynch’s cookbook Son of a Southern Chef, includes not just Lynch’s unique take on soul food classics, but also family stories that help shed light on how this two-time Chopped winner got to where he is today. The photography, the fashion, the storytelling, and of course the food make this a delicious must-read.
New Daughters of Africa Anthology, Margaret Busby (Harper Collins)
Featuring the work of more than 200 women from the African diaspora, you’re bound to find something you love in this anthology. There are beloved names like Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and less known, but equally talented writers as well. Twenty five years ago, Daughters of Africa was a blast of #BlackGirlMagic for the publishing industry before the term even existed. New Daughters of Africa is a worthy successor.
Let Love Have the Last Word, Common (Atria)
Common has followed up on his very engaging 2012 memoir with a new one called Let Love Have the Last Word. The Chi-town rapper gets even more vulnerable in this book. He opens up about being sexually abused as a child and speaks candidly about how therapy has changed his life for the better. Common also talks about evolving as a father and world citizen.
With Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen)
Technically, With Fire on High is a “young adult” book, but YA books of today are a whole other animal, folks. YA books aren’t books for kiddies, they are stories that feature young people as the protagonists and there are so many really good ones out there now.. Elizabeth Acevedo’s latest work about a teen mom who is a culinary whiz is one of them.
More Than Enough, Elaine Welteroth (Penguin Random House)
Elaine Welteroth deserves a slow clap for her memoir More than Enough. Welteroth, who barely in her 30s is already a publishing industry dynamo, keeps it real about her personal and professional highs and lows. Like a lot of young women writers, she landed in New York wanting a Sex and the City life. What she got, ended up being far more interesting than the pumpkin spice adventures Carrie and ‘nem had. Salary negotiations, light skin privilege, extremely toxic romance, complicated family dynamics and a whole lot more are all packed into this well-written memoir.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James (Riverhead Books)
Listen. Do not buy this book if you scare easily. Marlon James goes super dark in this masterfully written fantasy novel that taps into African folklore and myths, but also includes James’ literary craftsmanship. There are types of torture in here that I could never have imagained. Put it this way, I had to stop reading this before bed. All that said, this is book one of a trilogy and I can’t wait for the other two.
We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America, D. Watkins (Atria Books)
D. Watkins is a Baltimore dude who knows his way around street corners as well as he does the hallowed halls of academia and the New York Times bestsellers’ list. Check out the Cook Up if you haven’t already. Oh and definitely look at theGrio’s video interview with Watkins where he keeps it a buck about all the things.
Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem, Dapper Dan (Random House)
Some of your favorite rappers and Black celebrities from the 80s and 90s owe a good bit of their fly fashion to Dapper Dan. LL Cool J, Rakim, Salt N’ Pepa, Mike Tyson and so many others were “dapped up” in the Harlem native’s innovative fashions that pulled in “inspiration” from the big luxury fashion houses. This memoir is like a friggin’ movie. Dapper Dan has lived life, honey and I am not kidding about this needing to be a movie. (Apparently, Sony Pictures already has the rights.) We’re talking race relations, hip hop, heroin addiction, fathering eight children, and spirituality. It’s a ride well worth taking.
The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World)
We’ve known Ta-Naheisi Coates for years as a culture-shifting, award-winning writer about politics, race, and social justice in his non-fiction books and his work with The Atlantic. WIth his debut novel The Water Dancer, Coates unleashes that exquisite pen of his to tackle an evocative novel about the life of an enslaved young man. It has a touch of magical realism and a heap of great writing.
Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality, Celeste Watkins-Hayes (University of California Press)
Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes is a professor of sociology and African American studies at Northwestern University and in her new book, she delves into exactly what the title states. Back in the 1990s, Magic Johnson and Eazy-E were the first big celebrity introductions to HIV/AIDS and before that, the media pushed a narrative focused on white, gay men. What is it like for women right now in the 21st century when medical advancements have extended the time and quality of life exponentially for people with HIV/AIDS, but there are still very real hinderances in terms of gender, racial, cultural, and socio-economic barriers?