7 Books By Black Authors That Might Not Be On Your Reading List, But Should Be

“I Don’t Want To Die Poor” author Michael Arceneaux discusses his upcoming book and his fight for representation.
Michael Arceneaux and his upcoming book "I Finally Bought Some Jordans" which releases in March.
Michael Arceneaux and his upcoming book "I Finally Bought Some Jordans" which releases in March.

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It’s an impactful thing to see yourself — and the struggles you deeply feel — reflected on television screens and in the pages of books. Michael Arceneaux, a Black gay man who grew up in the South in what he describes as a difficult childhood, said he couldn’t see himself the way so many others could, especially in media dominated by the straight, white and financially comfortable.

In Arceneaux’s collection of essays and other writings — a loosely connected series that will be complete with a third installment, “I Finally Bought Some Jordans,” in March — he describes wanting a kind of representation that goes beyond just Black or just queer, but rather a full-fledged and complex existence that everyone can and should find themselves in.

In his first book, “I Can’t Date Jesus,” Arceneaux discusses what it was like to reconcile what he was taught to believe about homosexuality in an overtly religious household, and who he knew himself to be. Using candid, moving and hilarious prose, he explores how to still have a close relationship with his mother while also not completely agreeing on some of those fundamental beliefs.

But it wasn’t easy to get to this point, according to the author. From very early on Arceneaux said there was some doubt about how commercially viable books written by someone Black and gay would be. As a result, he said he still experiences financial instability, amid inequities within the publishing industry and an on-going inability to shake some of the generational struggles that have and continue to impact Black men, like financial instability which he candidly explores in his second book, “I Don’t Want to Die Poor.”

Despite all of this, Arceneaux’s persistence and dedication to the craft of engaging storytelling has managed to heal and bring together some unlikely audiences. I had the opportunity to discuss all of this with Arceneaux ahead of this upcoming book release, “I Finally Bought Some Jordans,” which will be released on March 12.

Can you tell us a little bit about what readers can expect from “I Finally Bought Some Jordans” and how it relates to your other books?

It’s more of a broader collection of essays than my other two books. There are similar themes of family and identity, but it’s focusing on the chaos of the last couple of years. I write a lot about the pandemic and grief and being impacted by death. I talk about suicidal ideation [and] losing friends to suicide. I try to make sense of how life’s not exactly turning out how I thought it would, even with all of the hard work and certain accomplishments, [while] still trying to maintain a sense of hope. I think a lot of other people are kind of secretly carrying a lot of pain and frustration or grief and still trying to process that pandemic. I hope I can give people some kind of comfort like no, you’re not crazy or alone, these are valid feelings.

I think one of the things that you do so well is you write about these universal human experiences in a very relatable way that makes us all feel seen. Is this something that you intended for your writing to achieve?

My intent with my work in writing or in anything is to make people laugh, make people think, and to also create nuanced narratives about people like me. And when I say people like me, that’s working class, Southern Black, that’s anyone coming from religious backgrounds. And fundamentally, I just didn’t want people to feel as alone, as I often have.

In “I Don’t Want To Die Poor,” specifically, I write about private student loans and how they impacted every facet of my life. Private loans are disproportionately impacting a lot of Black college graduates and students, so I wanted to talk about what it’s like to have that financial insecurity.

Another goal that I had was … particularly in publishing, to make it easier for people to see the commercial viability in stories that they don’t necessarily usually value monetarily and not on equal footing as often their white counterparts.

Is that something then that you think would improve circumstances for minorities in the media and literary world? To make content like yours more mainstream and conventional?

I do, honestly. I think a lot of us would be a lot better off if we really truly engaged with works that are created by people who are not like them because you can learn a lot from different types of people. When I’ve spoken on platforms like NPR and PBS, yes, I got so many messages from young queer black men or boys like happy to see someone like me speaking the way I do to them, and being comfortable in my own skin. But it’s also been very nice to get emails from nice white women in Maine or Vermont, saying they related to my story or, they didn’t get my references, but they Google[d] them, which is what I do when I read something from a white author or something I don’t know. I think smart is smart, funny is funny and a good story is a good story, so to say that my books only appeal to just Black people or queer people is really limiting.

This country is truly segregated by design, in terms of class and race, so we don’t really get to interact as much as they make it seem on certain TV shows and films. So for me to be in these different types of spaces that you wouldn’t expect me to be in, and to speak the way that I do, and be very comfortable in my own skin [to] tell my story, is important because I write about things that are problems that we all share.


You can shop Arceneaux’s works for yourself and pre-order a copy of “I Finally Bought Some Jordans” or keep scrolling to see some of his favorite Black-authored books that have served as personal inspiration for the author and can be vital reading for you.

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