Depending on who you are, books may have been a refuge during these last two years. They can offer hope or context. They can send us into an imaginative world much better than the one we currently reside in if we’re lucky. Much like other industries, the publishing world tends to center white voices instead of writers of color.
As books get banned in classrooms, many of them by Black authors, it’s time to push Black writers to the forefront. It’s not very different for me. I mostly read books by Black writers. I help run an independent intersectional literature bookstore in Somerville, so much of the work I deal with is by Black writers. Whether it’s about abolition, spirituality, romance, comedy, music, climate change or fantasy, there’s not a lack of work out there for us to sink our teeth into. Here are my seven must-reads right now.
'Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from the African Diaspora'
Edited by Bryant Terry
A joyous celebration of Black foodways has made its way to us by way of James Beard award-winning chef Bryant Terry. “Black Food” is more than a cookbook. It’s an ingenious collection of recipes, poetry, essays, playlists and visuals thrown into a beautifully constructed, colorful book. Expansive in its content, this collection features some cool Black contributors from across industries, including Yewande Komolafe, Kia Damon, Michael W. Twitty, Zoe Adjonyoh and many more. Essays cover topics such as farming, queer liberation and spirituality.
'Already Knew You Were Coming'
By Sarah Nwafor
From queer Igbo American educator and poet Sarah Nwafor comes their debut chapbook about identity, loneliness and co-dependence. Published by Boston’s indie press Game Over Books, this collection of poetry transports through talks of magic and spirituality and personal evolution.
By Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
This isn’t exactly a new book, but I would be remiss not to mention it. And as of October of last year, this 500-plus page stunner now comes in a silver metallic paperback, a more compact version of itself. “Black Futures” is the exquisitely curated brainchild of Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. I describe it as an endless read, something you will come back to over time. That’s the only way to digest a body of work composed of photos, essays, memes, dialogues, poetry, tweets, illustrations, recipes, etc. The book asks, “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” Contributors — including Hanif Abdurraqib, Samantha Irby and Solange Knowles — provide context to what’s happening in Black culture right now and what could happen in the future.
'The Violin Conspiracy'
By Brendan Slocumb
We need something thrilling to start the year. Enter Ray McMillan. He’s in North Carolina waiting to get his next service job, but he has dreams of being a professional classical violinist. He finds his great-great-grandfather’s violin and quickly dives into success. On the eve of a huge competition, the key to his success, the violin, is stolen for ransom. Brendan Slocumb’s novel gives this list a thrilling push by offering a conspiracy mystery to dive into this early in the year. And be on the lookout for this tale on the big screen – the film rights have already been acquired by Sony.
'The Days of Afrekete'
By Asali Solomon
There’s something about parallel narrators that I really like. It rounds out perspectives in a novel nicely and adds depth in places you wouldn’t expect. Our two protagonists, Liselle Belmont and Selena Octave, met in college. We meet them in the future after marriages and careers and hardships. Belmont’s husband is running a corrupt state legislature campaign that all comes to a head at a dinner party. Octave’s day of pondering the terrible misfortunes of America is interrupted by the thought of Belmont after they run into each other at the store. Solomon writes of two women at different places in their life much like the writers who came before her, like Toni Morrison (“Sula”) or Audre Lorde (“Zami”).
'Nina: A Story of Nina Simone'
By Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Colorful and bold illustrations tell the story of Eunice Kathleen Waymon, aka Nina Simone, one of the world’s most inspiring music artists. Starting with her childhood in North Carolina, Todd and Robinson tell the story of how the singer began playing piano at a young age before growing up to be a powerful voice of protest later on in her life. This is a story of someone using their art to create change, and what makes a better children’s book than that?
By Akwaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi is one of our brightest contemporary writers and has a slew of projects on the way in 2022, including their first romance novel and debut poetry collection. First up is “Bitter,” the companion to their 2019 YA novel “Pet.” After a childhood in foster care, Bitter gets accepted into a special school where she and other teens can focus on their creative endeavors. While she’s expressing herself through paint on a canvas, there are protests in the streets her friends are participating in. With multiple books out this year, Emezi is staying busy and they're definitely one of the most exciting writers to watch of 2022.