It’s not just important to support Black Lives, but you also need to engage in and promote Black Art. Here are some books I absolutely love that are written by Black authors. I hope you find something here to pick up and read. These are not just books by Black writers but also some of the best books period I’ve ever read.
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
If you read only one book off this list, make it this short story collection. Ever since I read Civilwarland in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, both by George Saunders, I have been searching for that sort of literary voice, and I think I’ve found it in Adjei-Brenyah. The most obvious connection is the short “Zimmer Land,” a theme park where people come to act out their aggressive fantasies while mostly ethnic minority employees (wearing high tech protective gear) become human punching bags. “The Finkelstein Five” continues exploring contemporary race conflict as the narrator becomes caught up in the reaction to the acquittal of a child murderer who took the lives of four black children with a chainsaw. There’s a duo of stories about the Thunderdome like conditions of a future shopping mall, where customers kill each other over insulated parkas. My favorite was the closing story, “Through the Flash,” which brought me to tears while reading it. That tale features a teenage girl caught in a dystopian time loop where she and her neighbors have lived the same days for thousands of years. It was an oddly hopeful and heartbreaking story.
Blood Child by Octavia E. Spencer
You know how there are those lists of books you have to read, and you tell yourself I’ll get around to it eventually. Bloodchild was always coming up on science fiction must-read lists, and I told myself I would finally pick it up. Why didn’t I do this sooner? Damn, Octavia Butler is fantastic. From the title story, I knew I was going to love this collection. Butler seems very interested in disease and the spread of both sinister and beautiful things through viruses or parasites. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, but I was blown away by the storytelling and worldbuilding in “Amnesty.” The alien “invaders” were totally unique in their physiology, and the way humans reacted to their presence long-term was painfully true to life. I am very tempted to pick up some of her novels, but don’t dig book series too much. For Butler, I will likely make an exception!
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The narrator of the Sellout, a black man known by his nickname Bonbon, is being brought before the Supreme Court to open this raucous satire on “post-racial America.” Bonbon grew up in Dickens, California, an agrarian African-American community that gets removed from the maps. This causes the crime rate to soar as the Dickensians lose their sense of identity as a community. Bonbon’s solution is to stealthily introduce elements of segregation into the small town so that they will feel united against something. Throw in a former Little Rascal named Hominy Jenkins, the wealthy black intellectual Foy Cheshire, and the unrequited love of municipal bus driver Marpessa Dawson, and you have a comedic novel that makes Dave Chappelle look family-friendly.
How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
This is a beautiful melange of fantasy & science fiction told from a black perspective. Some stories feel like a red hot bullet right between the eyes in our current context. There’s a story about the spirit of a city becoming aware she not merely a human walking its street with the idea that these city spirits travel and awaken their kin across the world over time. We’re presented with a Jim Crow-era story of a black witch and her children encountering a demonic fey-like entity posing as a beautiful blonde white woman. There are stories of secret agents from an alternate universe Haiti sneaking through New Orleans to take out a white cabal. You get the transformational narrative of a young chef introduced to alien ingredients and becoming a sorceress who can create food that radically affects her customers. The most resonant for me was the opening story, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” where a beautiful utopia is described, a place where all prejudices are gone, and humanity lives in beautiful harmony and follows a path that parallels and reflect our own. You can read that story, and you most certainly should here.