Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month! Today, we want to feature ten recent or forthcoming books authored by award-winning black women authors that really must go on your 2018 reading lists! This list of novels, memoirs, and other works are characterized by their honest narratives and fearlessness in the face of controversy. We hope you’ll be able to pick up one or more of these books, not just this month, but throughout this year, so you can see why these books have been lauded by many prestigious national awards.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Recognition: A New York Times Best Seller, February 2018 Indie Next List, and listed as a “Most Anticipated Book of 2018” by Esquire, Vogue, Elle, Nylon, and many others.
I decided to start this list with Morgan Jerkins’s This Will Be My Undoing because of how raw her narrative is. Jerkins is not scared of not only dissecting the treatment of blackness in our society, but also dissecting how this treatment affected her as a girl. Jerkins walks the reader through her life, from when she brutally admits why she once attempted to conceal her blackness during cheerleading tryouts, to when she began to accept her blackness and take on the weight of what that means for her after she found out she was rejected from the team and called a racial slur for even attempting to try out.
Publisher description: “Morgan Jerkins is only in her late twenties but that has not stopped her from tackling controversial topics such as: what does it mean to live, be, and exist as a black woman today? Jerkins welcomes a conversation for not only black women, but also for all Americans. Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality.”
We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
Recognition: A New York Times Best Seller, two 2017 NAACP Outstanding Literary Work nominations, November 2017 Indie Next List, and praise by Mindy Kaling.
If you’ve binge watched 10 Things I Hate About You or Bring It On (like I have), you may recognize Gabrielle Union from her roles in those movies. In We’re Going to Need More Wine, Union discusses how she has had to navigate her life in the public eye as a black woman. Most importantly though, Union also opens herself up when talking about her own experience as a sexual violence victim and survivor. According to the New York Times, Union did not hold back when discussing her experiences during her book tour talks. As a result, many men and women felt comfortable to open up to her about their own personal experiences during Union’s tour.
Publisher description: “One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union…instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting….Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards, and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents.”
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Recognition: Winner of the National Book Award for fiction , New York Times Top 2017 Books, Time Magazine’s Novel of 2017, Publisher’s Weekly Top 10 of 2017, and many others.
Jesmyn Ward is the first woman to have won two National Book Awards in the fiction category: first for Salvage the Bones in 2011, and then in 2017 for her newest, Sing, Unburied, Sing. The National Book Award, in my opinion, is one of the most prestigious awards (if not the most) in the U.S. This being said, I believe that one of the many reasons this novel has done so well is because of its unique magical realist narrative.
Publisher description: “This singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power–and limitations–of family bonds.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
Recognition: National Book Foundation Honoree (2017), NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize Finalist (2017), and named Best Book of the Year 2017 by Vogue, NPR, Elle, Esquire, Buzzfeed, and so many more.
Zinzi Clemmons, a 2017 Texas Book Festival author, presents a stunning novel about a young African American woman’s coming of age. Clemmons gives her novel such a distinct voice that makes it feel almost like a memoir. I think most importantly though, Clemmons creates a space where one can explore the concepts of being multi-racial and/or multi-cultural. Whether one identifies as such or not, Clemmons walks the reader through her protagonist’s struggle with finding that perfect balance between her identities–something many first generation and second generation immigrants in America can understand.
Publisher description: “Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor–someone, or something, to love. The reader watches Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss.”
Young Adult Picks:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Recognition: William C. Morris 2018 Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Book Award, National Book Award Longlist, #1 New York Times Bestseller, just to name a few.
I am really excited to talk about this novel. I first heard of it a couple weeks ago when my professor, Dr. Domino Perez, lauded the impact of the novel and its relevancy to current events. I have Dr. Perez for a Young Adult Fiction and Film class, and the reason this novel came up was because of our discussion on the importance of diversity in literature–specifically in YA. This diversity goes beyond one’s racial identity but also the experiences that come with that racial identity. In Starr Carter’s case, and many others, this is police brutality. In addition to all its accolades, this novel has been adapted into a film by Fox 2000 and stars Amandla Stenberg, and is set to be released in late 2018.
Publisher description: “Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban high school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Recognition: Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List
Although this novel will not be released until March 6th, 2018, I am already excited to read this just based off the summary. Especially if you enjoyed Marvel Studios’s Black Panther with its colorful cultural elements and storytelling, this will definitely be a treat post-movie watching. Like any good YA, Children of Blood and Bone teases the readers with a romance but also hinging on the result of a political outcome. The novel also incorporates magic, a monarchy, and fantasy while grounding itself in West African culture and folklore.
Publisher description: “Zelie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zelie has a chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zelie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orisha, yet the greatest danger may be Zelie herself as she struggles to control her powers–and her growing feelings for an enemy.”
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Recognition: Coretta Scott King Author Award, NPR’s Best Books of 2017, and a 2018 Newbery Honor
As soon as I had read the summary of this novel, the first thing I though of was Sherman Alexie’s the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Renée Watson was also a featured author at the 2017 Texas Teen Book Festival! Piecing Me Together speaks volumes on how the education system treats children differently according to their zip code and their racial identity, and most importantly, what one has to sacrifice and leave behind in order to be successful.
Publisher description: “Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn’t really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn’t mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.”
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Recognition: National Book Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Book of the Year, A New York Times Notable Book, and many other accolades.
I believe that a community of people that often get overlooked are immigrants and inhabitants of the Caribbean. Due to the historical conditions of imperialism, these people sometimes identify as Afro-Latinx, Latinx, or other identities pertaining to their nation. American Street discusses these concepts, as well as how immigration affects immigrants as they attempt to assimilate into the U.S., and the meaning of racial and cultural identities when merged with other identities.
Publisher description: “In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture. On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie–a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?”
Middle Grade Book Pick:
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Recognition: National Book Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Books of 2017, Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017, Chicago Public Library Best Books, and many others.
I think that one of the most important themes in this novel is how music links generations, as a New York Times Review called it. Newbery Honor Winner Rita Williams-Garcia provides a powerful narrative to show how music is cultural and generational for many peoples, and also how it affects the coming of age of a young boy as he deals with family, love, and the loss of a family member.
Publisher description: “Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen–he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live. Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.”
I Am Enough by Grace Byers
Although this book will also not be released until March 6th, 2018, many have already given their positive feedback on how well it will do, especially as a Children’s Book. Watch the book trailer below for more information!
Publisher Description: “This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.”