Happy Black History Month! Some of these are new, some of these are old, all of them are undoubtedly going to be awesome when I finally read them. They range from magical realism and science fiction to middle grade and YA to romance and thriller. Let me know in the comments which queer Black books are on your to-read list that you’re excited about!
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
My latest interviewee in the Interview With A Queer Reader series recommended this book by a Black, queer, non-binary author as the one that most represented her own experiences. Obviously I immediately added it to my Goodreads. It’s a 2018 Stonewall Book Award Nominee for Literature. Check out the description:
Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cookfire.
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.
When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
I had somehow known about this book for a while but didn’t know it had queer content until Danika at the Lesbrary tipped me off. I’m looking forward to what sounds like amazing world-building and a Black interjection into the white-dominated and often imperialism erasing steampunk genre:
Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.
Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.
Two Moons: Stories by Krystal A. Smith
I originally heard about this book from Autostraddle’s 65 Queer and Feminist Books to Read in 2018. Jewelle Gomez says: “Krystal A. Smith writes of shape shifters, magical herbalists, and women ripe for love. Her collection of stories marries African American mysticism to speculative fiction announcing Smith’s solid place in the next generation of Afro Futurists. With its sensuous language, deftly drawn characters, and engaging narrative style, Two Moons shines bright.” It’s out March 20th. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
A splendid debut collection of speculative fiction that traverses the connections between earth and the heavens, the living and the spectral, human and animal.
In “Cosmic,” a former drug addict has a chance to redeem herself and restore honor to her family’s name. In “Harvest,” a woman tasked with providing for her community ponders her inability to bear live children. In the title story, “Two Moons,” a young woman falls in love with the moon, and is astonished by the moon’s response. In “What the Heart Wants,” a rejected lover discovers that her physical and emotional desires are incongruent with the organ pumping blood through her veins.
Sensitive, ethereal, humorous, and at times, heart-breaking, Smith’s collection of speculative fiction signals the arrival of an exceptionally talented writer with a promising career ahead of her.
Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon
I have been doing a new reading project in 2018 of trying a new-to-me-genre focusing on romance. Weatherspoon is one of those authors who has been recommended to me multiple times and I can’t believe I haven’t read any of her books yet. I think this one (which I featured on this Autostraddle list of books with masculine-of-centre characters and no sexual assault) sounds like an excellent one to start with, and it has two queer Black women leads!
Her sister’s bachelorette party is the highlight of a miserable year for Alexis Chambers, but once her bridesmaid’s dress is packed away, she’s back to coping with her life as a once popular athlete and violinist turned loner and the focus of her parents’ disappointment. She isn’t expecting much from her freshman year of college until she finds herself sharing a class with Treasure, the gorgeous stripper from her sister’s party.
Trisha Hamilton has finally gotten the credits and the money together to transfer to a four-year university. Between classes, studying, and her job as a stripper, she has little time for a social life, until she runs into the adorably shy baby butch from the club. Trisha can’t seem to hide her feelings for Alexis, even when Trisha discovers what she has been through, but will Alexis have the strength to be just as fearless about their new love?
Brew by Dane Figueroa Edidi
I bought a copy of this trans YA book off the author’s website last year (even though my resolution in 2017 was to not buy books…) when her books finally became available to ship to Canada, and I still haven’t read it! What is wrong with me? It sounds amazing:
Arjana Rambeau, a trans teenager from Baltimore, carries many secrets, one of which is she is a witch. Beginning to start a new school, she finds herself at the center of an unwarranted conspiracy. As she makes new friends, while attempting to maintain her old ones, she must learn how to distinguish who she can trust, because it seems everyone wants a piece of her and her growing powers.
Bembe Rambeau is a mystery, infamous amongst the magical community, she has very few friends but a collection of enemies; enemies, who seem to be attempting to remove not only her allies but her daughter as well; threatening both her small empire and family’s legacy. Bembe must now combat shifting loyalties while crafting an alliance with an enemy who she once wished dead.
Brew follows the lives of a mother and daughter, one who thinks she knows everything and another discovering what she knew isn’t true at all.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Another book I can’t believe I haven’t read yet! I mean, it’s about a Black bisexual Jewish teen girl! It won the Stonewall Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2018 and it deals with themes of mental illness and complicated family relationships:
When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.
But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
There are so few middle grade books with LGBTQ2IA+ characters and even fewer with queer characters of colour that this book has literally been on my radar for YEARS. It’s out March 27th.
Prepare to be swept up by this exquisite novel that reminds us that grief and love can open the world in mystical ways.
Twelve-year-old Caroline is a Hurricane Child, born on Water Island during a storm. Coming into this world during a hurricane is unlucky, and Caroline has had her share of bad luck already. She’s hated by everyone in her small school, she can see things that no one else can see, and — worst of all — her mother left home one day and never came back. With no friends and days filled with heartache, Caroline is determined to find her mother. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, seems to see the things Caroline sees, too. Joined by their common gift, Kalinda agrees to help Caroline look for her mother, starting with a mysterious lady dressed in black. Soon, they discover the healing power of a close friendship between girls. Debut author Kheryn Callender presents a cadenced work of magical realism.
Skin Deep Magic by Craig Laurance Gidney
I listened to the audiobook of Gidney’s other collection of speculative short stories and absolutely fell in love with his imagination and language. (So much so that I included it on my Book Riot list of 8 Amazing Audiobooks by Black Authors). His stories sit in a really cool space of in between: not exactly horror, not exactly realism, not exactly fantasy. Plus: look at the beautiful cover. So obviously I am very excited to read his other book of short stories, which was a 2015 finalist for the Lambda Award for LGBT SF/F/Horror:
Magic is more than skin-deep. It hides in the folds of a haunted quilt and illuminates the secret histories of Negro memorabilia. Magic reveals the destiny of a great storyteller and emanates from a sculpture by an obscure Harlem Renaissance artist. Magic lurks in the basement of an inner-city apartment building and flourishes in a city park. Magic is more than skin-deep; it shimmers in the ten stories in this collection.
Alice Walker: A Life by Evelyn C. White
Another awesome queer Black book I own and have not read (shame on me), this one is a little intimidating because it is such a thick biography! But this is clearly because there is so much to tell about Alice Walker’s incredible life. Now that I’ve finally read The Color Purple (another book it took me way too long to read) I feel like I’m ready to dive into this non-fiction book about the author:
Alice Walker’s life is remarkable not only because she was the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction (the book that won her that award, The Color Purple, has been translated into nearly thirty languages and made into an Academy Award–nominated film), but also because these accomplishments are merely highlights of a luminous and varied career made from inauspicious beginnings in rural Georgia. Drawing on extensive interviews and exhaustive research, Evelyn C. White brings this life to light.
The Girl with the Treasure Chest by V.A. Fearon
It’s not for lack of trying that I haven’t read this book yet, it’s that it’s been hard to get a hold of so far, at least as far as access through my local libraries is concerned. Maybe it’s time to get an inter-library loan going or bite the bullet and buy it, because there’s something about the description that just sounds so good (plus, the black panther on the cover):
Dani Fenton thought her life was sorted. But when her private and professional lives collide, she is forced to walk a dangerous line and risk everything for love. At home Dani has a loving partner with a young child who adores her. At work she is a powerful broker in London’s vicious gangland, where she uses her influence to negotiate deals between rival gangs at underground “meets”. Her intuition has never failed her and her charisma has attracted a loyal band of “soldiers” who would go to any lengths to please her. Life is good until Susanna returns. Enigmatic, sexual, hot-tempered and fragile, Susanna is irresistible to Dani, who soon finds herself in a spiral of obsession and violence that threatens to devastate every aspect of her life. Dani must choose between the love she has and the love she wants, and she knows the wrong decision could prove fatal.
Ooh, I’m so glad I found this list. I’m trying to be a bit more adventurous with my book choices this year so am making an effort to seek out books I haven’t heard too much about. An Unkindness of Ghosts and Everfair sound amazing!! I’m definitely adding them both to my TBR!
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