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The Black Excellence Book List

by Autumn Thomas

Black History Month is a time when Black people are recognized for their struggle, celebrated for their achievements and honored for their hard work. This year’s Black History Month observance theme is “African Americans and the Arts,” and what better way to commemorate that theme than by taking the time to acknowledge Black authors and some of their spellbinding work.

Some of these books are new, some old, some critically acclaimed and some are so far backlisted that they completely flew under your radar. Either way, they all deserve the same amount of recognition simply due to the fact that their creative writing skills have served as a voice for the silent and representation for the under-represented.

1. “Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry” by Joya Goffney

This young adult novel begins with our lovely protagonist Quinn. Quinn likes to keep a list of everything under the sun – from things that fall under ‘to-do’ to all the times she has ugly cried. One day her journal that holds all her lists goes missing. I know, I know, very much like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” but I promise it is not copy and paste. An anonymous account begins to blackmail her into completing items on random lists she has written, forcing her to join forces with who she, at first, thinks might be her blackmailer. Personally, this was one of my favorite reads of last year, in part because of Goffney’s fully flushed out characters, but also due to how surprisingly emotional I became following along Quinn’s journey finding her journal and herself.

2. “All About Love” by Bell Hooks

Bell Hooks uses her genius to deep dive into the ambiguous question, ‘What is love?’ She explores the different types of love we receive and give back, how love can be a source of healing, how we can often wrongfully perceive love and interpret it, and how to establish self-love. If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question ‘what is love?,’ then this is the perfect read for you.

3. “Legendborn” Series by Tracy Deonn

Given a second chance to start anew after the death of her mother, Bree Matthews attends a summer program at UNC Chapel Hill for high school scholars. From the moment she sets foot on campus, her experience is unlike any other. She finds a demon feeding on a helpless human’s soul. And she seems to be one of the only ones who can see it. She finds herself among this secret society who calls themselves ‘Legendborn,’ and when a student tries – and fails – at wiping Bree’s memory, she finds herself unable to stay away. “Legendborn” is the first installment of The Legendborn Cycle, and by far the best fantasy I have ever read. Though this series is highly accredited, its Black author, Black protagonist and mention of race are probably some of the driving factors for it not seeing as much love as other fantasy series. Do not let that intimidate you. Read. This. Book.

4. “Open Water” by Caleb Azumah Nelson

A story many can relate to, “Open Water” follows a young Black British man and how he deals with love, grief, masculinity, and his Blackness. Through the beautiful writing style, we get to see how our narrator deals with the overwhelming feeling of wanting to love unconditionally and fearing that the violence once within a Black body can experience will make that impossible. In just 200 pages, Caleb Azumah Nelson creates a story so devastating the reader goes through a whirlwind of emotions, ones that only scratch the surface of what it is like to live and breathe in a Black body.

5. “Women, Race, and Class” by Angela Davis

Feminist civil rights activist Angela Davis writes an exposé on the problems of the women’s movement, and the group of women that are more often than not left out of the conversation. It talks about the roles that gender, race and class play in the liberation of women, and that not being a part of a certain gender, race or class makes your struggle invisible, or even generalized. An enlightening read to say the least, one that should have been required reading in school.

Some honorable mentions to this list are:

  • “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
  • “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride
  • “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
  • “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison
  • “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin
  • “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler
  • “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  • “Love Radio” by Ebony LaDelle

These are only a handful of the books by Black authors who have and will continue to inspire generations. I encourage any and everyone to not only read a book by a Black author this month, but every month of every year. Why only celebrate Black voices for 28 days a year when there are 365?

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