Black Authors Share The Best New Books Celebrating Black Love And Joy

"The very happiest I can be is writing about Black love, Black joy, Black excellence. That’s what I want to see all day every day."
"Wahala" by Nikki May, "Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell" by Taj McCoy, "What the Fireflies Knew" by Kai Harris and "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn.

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Taj McCoy writes beachy romance novels because it’s what she enjoys. The Oakland native and law grad could talk political theory and social commentary all day. And does, only in a way that’s engaging, exciting, uplifting and sexy.

“This is what I want to write,” McCoy told HuffPost. “And I shouldn’t have to give that explanation. But the very happiest I can be is writing about Black love, Black joy, Black excellence. That’s what I want to see all day every day. Being at the center of that... that’s the best place to be.”

With a debut novel out next month called “Savvy Sheldon Feels Good As Hell,” McCoy knows firsthand how Black authors and Black literature can be pigeonholed into more academic or sociological themes.

“The industry so often is often looking for those ‘issue books’ to talk about and to teach in the classrooms. And that’s absolutely fair — to an extent,” she said. “But it then feels like the industry is really just looking to capitalize on our pain and our trauma, when we are complex people just like everyone else, and we experience love and joy. We can be affluent. We have the ability to do a lot of things.”

Although “beach reads” and more romance/young adult-type novels may be dismissed in hoity-toity literature circles, Kai Harris, a professor of creative writing and author of the debut novel “What the Fireflies Knew,” said that writing and highlighting these books by Black authors increases the representation of Black joy and love in the media and disrupts the racist narrative that being Black is innately filled with tragedy or despair.

“It’s super important for us as Black people to see ourselves as we actually are, not as the world sees us, or imagines that we are,” Harris told HuffPost. “Sometimes, the way that Blackness is presented in media would have you believe that it is all tragedy and despair. But truthfully, being Black is super dope. It’s so rich and layered and complex. And there are so many beautiful things about Blackness that are not being highlighted in books, television, film, etc.”

Harris and McCoy both shared that wanting to write about the positive parts of Blackness, and create relatable Black characters, inspired their debut novels.

“Growing up, I felt like I didn’t see myself in books,” Harris said. “When I did read books with Black characters, usually they were in slavery, or some kind of situation that didn’t look like my life. I didn’t read books where there was a young Black girl as the main character. And she was just an ordinary Black girl. And she just had an ordinary life. And the book was about her just like playing with friends, and catching fireflies and learning stuff.”

McCoy added that creating relatable and borderline aspirational Black characters — like the characters you’d see in, say, a predominantly white Kate Hudson rom-com — is especially important in a world taken over by police brutality.

“It’s important to see Black men be lovable. It’s important to see Black men be happy and professional, and excellent and joyful,” she said. “We need to change the narrative by showing Black love, Black joy, Black excellence.”

In addition to engaging and connecting with Black readers, McCoy and Harris noted that writing and highlighting books across genres by Black authors can inspire readers to confront their own internalized racism.

“In [‘What The Fireflies Knew’], I tried to spend time showing some of the most beautiful moments of Blackness as slowly and quietly and ordinarily as I could,” Harris said, adding, “It’s important for Black people to read and see that, but also for other people to be able to look into this experience and see more than the tragedy and despair lives, to know that Black authors are able to write more than just political or tragic books. To see into Blackness, in all of its unique dopeness.”

McCoy said that her work is meant to be relatable for some, but eye-opening for others. “Either way, the hope is that it draws people in and makes them want to continue reading,” she said. “You want them to open it up, you want them to keep reading, and hopefully put other people on so that they read it, too.”

In addition to their own debut works, McCoy and Harris shared some new and upcoming 2022 debut novels by Black authors about Black love, joy, excellence, girlhood, friendship, fashion and otherwise ordinary life.

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"Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell" by Taj McCoy
Coming out in March, "Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell" is about home renovations, demanding more from your romantic relationships and learning to feel good in your skin. Following Savvy Sheldon, a plus-size babe that's just had her heart broken, the book is about learning to love yourself and build the life you deserve.
"What the Fireflies Knew" by Kai Harris
Published in February, "What the Fireflies Knew" is a coming-of-age novel about Black girlhood, centering Kenyatta Bernice, an almost-11-year-old who's been uprooted from her home in Detroit after dealing with a family tragedy. Tying the complexities of race, family and growing up with themes of Black love and joy, it's a gripping book about accepting people for who they are.
"Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
Released in January 2022, and recommended by Harris, "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" is a relatable story about prying family members, societal pressures to get married and trying to find a last-minute date to a wedding after meeting your ex's new boo. The novel follows Yinka Oladeji, a 31-year-old Nigerian-British Oxford grad who works in investment banking, volunteers on weekends and is active in the Pentecostal church. Weaving in larger themes of colorism, mental health stigma and living between different cultures, it's an uplifting and entertaining story you won't want to put down.
"The Accidental Pinup" by Danielle Jackson
"'The Accidental Pinup' holds body positivity at its core, and I am so ready to root for another plus-sized heroine," McCoy said. Coming out in July, "The Accidental Pinup" follows protagonist Cassie Harris, a boudoir photographer in Chicago and proud plus-size Black woman, through a series of mishaps that ultimately result in her becoming a model and working with her long-time creative competitor. There's pretty lingerie, love scenes and tons of body positivity — what else do you need to know?
"Wahala" by Nikki May
Released in January and recommended by Harris, "Wahala" is a beautiful story of friendship, comparison, motherhood, imposter syndrome, nostalgia, microaggressions in the workplace and learning to embrace change and new things. It follows Ronke, Boo and Simi, a trio of Anglo-Nigerian besties in London, as the ever-glamorous Isobel enters their group and shakes everything up. It's the modern, more representative take on "Sex And The City" you've been waiting for.
"Love Times Infinity" by Lane Clarke
Per McCoy, "Love Times Infinity" "touches on sensitive subjects in a beautiful and thoughtful way." Coming out this July, the book tells the story of Michie, a junior in high school, who's hoping to get into Brown as a first-generation college student. After meeting Derek de la Rosa, the new kid in town and a basketball hotshot, and hearing from her estranged mom, Michie navigates identity, family, first love and adolescence.

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