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8 Contemporary Black Novelists to Read Right Now

Fill your summer reading list with a few of these leading Black voices in fiction

by Jared Alexander
June 22, 2020 | Living
Book covers against a purple background. Rewire PBS Living Novelists Novels

I have a confession to make. For weeks, my Instagram and Twitter addictions have gotten out of control ... but for good reason! If you haven't heard, there's a revolution happening outside your window. 

Unlike revolutions past, it's also happening in our hands — in those Apple-crafted portals we hold like clutches, constantly pulling us into the psychological wrestling match of social media. 

In times of stress I have always turned to reading, but recently that's gotten harder. When I sit on my porch and crack open a book, immediate guilt washes over me. This leads me to reach for my phone, quickly refreshing apps to keep myself informed and posting to spread all of that valuable information across all platforms. 

Still, to become the best versions of ourselves, we all need to pause and take a break from scrolling. The best way to do that is to turn that phone on airplane mode and dive into a good book. 

But what should you be reading now? According to Instagram stories and Amazon's top 10 list, you should be reading books on race in America.  

The rise of the anti-racism reading list

Immediately following the worldwide protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing, there was an outpouring of wonderfully curated "anti-racism book lists" that feature mostly non-fiction works on race in America. I quickly noticed that often missing between those important works (and I implore my white friends to read as many as they can get their hands on) were Black novels.

Now, more than ever, I believe in the importance of contemporary Black voices in fiction. There are so many Black authors killing it right now, giving us complex and layered stories with unforgettable Black characters. These works are just as powerful as those (important) books on racism for white folks. Here are some novels by Black authors to add to your ever-growing summer reading pile.

The lucious world of Jasmine Guillory

Looking for something lighthearted to counterbalance this stark reality? Turn to Jasmine Guillory, a romance author who has produced five delicious novels in two years, with each one better than the last. They all feature Black female protagonists and are incredibly addicting. 

This spring I snuggled up to her fourth novel, Royal Holiday. Inspired by our very own princess Meghan Markle's mother, the story follows Vivian Forrest, a social worker in her mid-fifties who follows her designer daughter to England and finds herself swept off her feet by the Queen's right hand, Malcolm. Guillory's latest, Party of Two, will be published on June 23.

A one-way ticket departing Earth

After lifting my spirit with romance, I turned to some good old-fashioned fantasy escapism. I raced through Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone and have already ordered the sequel. This series is filled with the kind of magic and mystery that I would have killed to have in my preteen years.

Children of Blood and Bone follows Zélie Adebola as she travels across the kingdom of Orïsha to restore magic and fight against the savage rule of King Saran, and it tackles themes of destiny, colorism and prejudice. 

Surrendering to this story before I went to bed every night helped me reconnect with hope and reminded me that even now there is magic to be found if we are willing to look hard enough. Next up for me is N.K. Jemisin's new sci-fi adventure The City We Became.

Looking back (through history)

Colorful books sitting on shelves. Rewire PBS Living Novelists Novels
Fiction illuminates what lies deep within ourselves, forcing us to reckon with our own humanity.

If you are not familiar with Brit Bennett, click out of this right now and order her latest novel, The Vanishing Half. After her wonderful coming-of-age debut, The Mothers, Bennett returns with a gorgeous story spanning five decades in the lives of twin sisters, one who secretly passes for white, and the other who does not. 

After devouring Bennett's book, I was eager for more historical fiction and turned to James McBride's latest Deacon King Kong to fill that void. The latest pick of Oprah's Book Club, it's sure to be one of the biggest books of the summer. 

Finishing this list is another author I love, Yaa Gyasi. Her breathtaking debut, Homegoing, traces the legacies of two sisters in 18th century Ghana. One sister is sold into the Gold Coast's slave trade, and the other marries an Englishman. Her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, is out this fall.

Coming of (a queer) age

All Black lives matter, and so do all Black stories. What better way to celebrate Pride month than by lifting up our Black LGBTQ writers?

Brandon Taylor's Real Life is yet another debut novel bringing me comfort right now. The story follows Wallace, a Black queer man from Alabama, as he navigates his Midwestern university town. I could not wait to get my hands on this book and wish I could read it for the first time all over again. The next LGBTQ book on my radar is The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, debuting in August.

Why fiction?

Reading is simply a must for me. It provides balance and keeps me sane. Fiction illuminates what lies deep within ourselves, forcing us to reckon with our own humanity at the turn of every page, to dig deep into what connects us and, more importantly, what keeps us apart. 

So, instead of bypassing your app time limits (what's an extra fifteen minutes really going to do for you?), I implore you to put down that phone, cozy up and read some Black fiction. It will do ya good. 

Jared Alexander
Jared Alexander is a writer, actor and crossword addict living in New York City.
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