50 Amazing Books By Black Authors From The Past 5 Years

From Roxane Gay to Michelle Obama to Ta-Nehisi Coates, these writers are making an impact.

The contributions of black writers to American literature span genres and generations.

Black History Month is a great time to highlight the work of black authors in the U.S. (and beyond), but of course, these literary works are worth honoring year round. This February, we’re taking a look at recent history and celebrating contemporary icons and rising stars in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and more.

Here are 50 commendable books by black authors published in the past five years.

'Sing, Unburied, Sing' by Jesmyn Ward
"While the magical element is new in Ward’s fiction, her allusiveness, anchored in her interest in the politics of race, has been pointing in this direction all along. It takes a touch of the spiritual to speak across chasms of age, class, and color. ... The signal characteristic of Ward’s prose is its lyricism. 'I’m a failed poet,' she has said. The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition. ... The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic." -- The New Yorker
'Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?' by Kathleen Collins
"In defying convention with their interracial love, Collins’s headstrong black protagonists are far more vulnerable when love fails: they can’t go on, and yet there’s no going back. Exposed and humiliated, they find solace in the anonymity of the uncaring metropolis." -- The Guardian
'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi
"It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of 'Homegoing,' and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight." -- The New York Times
'I Can't Date Jesus' by Michael Arceneaux
"Arceneaux's essays penetrate to the heart of intersectionality to reveal personal and religious trials of faith. Together, they make a powerful statement of self-acceptance in a world much in need of lessons about diversity, tolerance, and openness. A funny, fierce, and bold memoir in essays." -- Kirkus Reviews
'Becoming' by Michelle Obama
Crown Publishing Group
"Obama writes with a refreshing candor, as though her keen awareness of her celebrity is matched only by her eagerness to shed the exhausting veneer that helped enable her husband’s political rise. 'My husband is making his own adjustments to life after the White House, catching his own breath,' she writes at the end of the preface. 'And here I am, in this new place, with a lot I want to say.'" -- The Atlantic
'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray
“Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted -- and completely undervalued -- by society at large.” -- Publishers Weekly
'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith
Penguin Press
"For its plot alone, Swing Time makes for truly marvellous reading. The narrator’s journey, from gritty estate to glittering globe and back again, is the juicy stuff of which film adaptations are made. ... Cinematic as it is, the novel does what only literature can and what only great literature will: forces us to assess the very vocabulary with which we speak of human experience. Change is a central theme, for on one level Swing Time functions as a classic story of betterment, in which the ability to move, to change, is rendered as a form of power." -- The Guardian
'Don't Call Us Dead' by Danez Smith
Graywolf Press
"The level of craft at work in each of the poems in Don’t Call Us Dead is exceptional. These are poems about black men and their imperiled, impassioned bodies, what it means to live with HIV, and so much more. There is pain here but there is so much joy, so much fierce resistance to anything that dares to temper the stories being told here." -- Vulture
'How Not to Get Shot' by D.L. Hughley and Doug Moe
William Morrow
"Comedian Hughley pulls no punches in this caustic, maddening, and hilarious examination of the current state of race relations in the United States. Hughley observes how often black people are killed by police in the U.S. and pairs the often sanctimonious advice from clueless white people on ways to avoid such a fate (e.g., don’t break the law, don’t dress like a thug) with equally ridiculous advice from African-Americans (e.g., always drive with a white male friend, only wear khakis and a polo shirt)." -- Publishers Weekly
'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones
Algonquin Books
"While Jones keeps her gaze on the personal, this intimate story of a relationship cannot be divorced from its racial context. The black body in America can’t escape the scrutiny of the political lens, not entirely. The characters feel lucky that Roy is still alive — as Celestial says, there is 'no appealing a cop’s bullet.' While not a polemic, the novel gives us a quiet, revolutionary statement about black innocence, which Celestial defines as 'having no way to predict the pain of the future.'" -- The New York Times
'Freshwater' by Akwaeke Emezi
Grove Press
"A stunning and disorienting story about a broken woman trying to overcome the pain of her human life while straddling 'the other side.' It interweaves Igbo religious myth with a story of overcoming mental illness — floating between the corporeal and metaphysical. ... Freshwater is unlike any novel I have ever read. Its shape-shifting perspective is radical and innovative, twisting the narrative voices like the bones of a python." -- The Toronto Star
'Hunger' by Roxane Gay
"At a time when there is no shortage of recommendations for women on how to discipline or make peace with their bodies, Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, stands out precisely because she begins it by declaring that she hasn’t overcome her 'unruly body and unruly appetites.'" -- The Atlantic
'Behold the Dreamers' by Imbolo Mbue
Random House
"Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. ... There are a lot of spinning plates and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion ... Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel." -- The New York Times
'Citizen' by Claudia Rankine
Graywolf Press
"Rankine subtitles this book An American Lyric, which serves as an attempt to categorize the unclassifiable. Some of this might look like poetry, but more often there are short anecdotes or observations, pieces of visual art and longer selections credited as 'Script for Situation video created in collaboration with John Lucas.' Yet the focus throughout is on how it feels and what it means to be black in America." -- Kirkus Reviews
'Heavy' by Kiese Laymon
"Heavy is a dark book, and the trauma that Laymon orbits is almost like a black hole; its shape is circular. Even when he finally tries to have an honest conversation with his mother (at a casino, of all places) about the things he’s experienced, the harms that befell him, it’s still impossible for either one to understand the other without blame." -- The Nation
'Children of Blood and Bone' by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt and Co.
"While Tomi Adeyemi's Africa-inspired fantasy was written for young adults, readers of all ages will be captivated by this engrossing tale that leaves you as eager to see the resurrection of the Orishan gods and their celestial gifts as the novel's protagonists." -- USA Today
'The Mothers' by Brit Bennett
Random House
"Bennett paints a picture of familiarity tinged with jealousy, and the conflicted emotions felt when everyone you have left behind has gone on with their lives without you. Her extended return makes for some of the best scenes in the book, as the characters grapple with things left unsaid. The Mothers is a beautifully written, sad and lingering book — an impressive debut for such a young writer." -- The Guardian
'You Can't Touch My Hair' by Phoebe Robinson
"The book reads more like a conversation than a set of essays — one that she and many other people of color are sick of having ... In the essay collection, Robinson wades through the fascination white people have with how people of color, and specifically black women, present their bodies. She confronts critical subjects like the historical representations of black hair in media, problematic casting calls for people of color, and which member of U2 she’d like to sleep with in descending order of hotness. In other words, this is not a definitive tome on race and hair politics, nor is it trying to be. It is clear that Robinson’s comedy background is at the forefront of the collection. If she is going to have to have this conversation, she is going to do it on her own terms." -- LA Review of Books
'We Love You, Charlie Freeman' by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Algonquin Books
"Greenidge proves herself a master of dialogue, which helps her craft engaging, well-drawn characters. ... With humor, irony, and wit, Greenidge tackles this sensitive subject and crafts a light but deeply respectful take on this heavy aspect of America's treatment of black people. This is a timely work, full of disturbing but necessary observations. A vivid and poignant coming-of-age story that is also an important exploration of family, race, and history." -- Kirkus Reviews
'The Turner House' by Angela Flournoy
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
"Angela Flournoy’s debut novel ... explores the impacts of addiction on a large Detroit family without being heavy-handed or even overtly cautionary. It’s a rare feat, and she achieves it through the unlikeliest of means: the early appearance of a haint." -- Washington Post
'Brown Girl Dreaming' by Jacqueline Woodson
Puffin Books
"This is a book full of poems that cry out to be learned by heart. These are poems that will, for years to come, be stored in our bloodstream." -- The New York Times
'Fire Shut Up in My Bones' by Charles M. Blow
Mariner Books
"In Charles M. Blow's honest and artful, 'Fire Shut Up in My Bones' we get his African-American life, the bulk of the memoir covering the years from his early childhood to his early 20s, spent mostly in Louisiana. By the end of the book, the cumulative effect of reading Blow's story is a clear understanding of what has formed his sensibility — professional, sexual, and otherwise — and shaped how he's come to view himself and his place in the world." -- Chicago Tribune
'Hum' by Jamaal May
Alice James Books
"The melancholic hum of May’s tone lends gravity and heart to this debut collection, which might have otherwise been consumed by its conceits. May’s work is skillful and nuanced in its surprising approach to the nature (and nurture) of identity." -- LA Review of Books
'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Spiegel & Grau
"An eloquent blend of history, reportage, and memoir written in the tradition of James Baldwin with echoes of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man ... It is less a typical memoir of a particular time and place than an autobiography of the black body in America." -- The Boston Globe
'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl' by Issa Rae
"Sharp and able to laugh at herself, the author writes as if she's unabashedly telling friends a stream of cringeworthy stories about her life. Having grown up with the understanding that laughing at and talking about people was a form of entertainment and bonding, Rae continues the tradition by inviting readers into her inner circle and making her own foibles her primary focus." -- Kirkus Reviews
'An Unkindness Of Ghosts' by Rivers Solomon
Akashic Books
"Solomon debuts with a raw distillation of slavery, feudalism, prison, and religion that kicks like rotgut moonshine. On the generational starship Matilda, which will take hundreds of years to reach its destination despite traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light, a tech-ignorant white supremacy cult called the Sovereignty runs on the labor and intimidation of a black enslaved class." -- Publishers Weekly
'The Woman Next Door' by Yewande Omotoso
"Omotoso captures the changing racial relations since the 1950s, as well as the immigrant experience through personal detail and small psychological insights into mixed emotions, the artist’s eye, and widow’s remorse. Hers is a fresh voice as adept at evoking the peace of walking up a kopje as the cruelty of South Africa’s past." -- Publishers Weekly
'Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History' by Vashti Harrison
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
"Harrison's book focuses on great black women, and it's lovely to see Lorna Simpson and Gwen Ifill ascend to the ranks of Marian Anderson and Bessie Coleman. Harrison wants readers to imagine themselves in such august company; her adorable illustrations depict all of these figures as a little black girl, an everygirl, in a variety of costumes and backdrops." -- The New York Times
'No Ashes in the Fire' by Darnell L. Moore
Bold Type Books
"In a word, Darnell L. Moore's compelling memoir No Ashes in the Fire is vulnerable. An activist and journalist, Moore takes readers through the glorious and traumatic experiences of his self-discovery as a young queer man growing up in Camden and Philadelphia." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer
'Loving Day' by Mat Johnson
Spiegel & Grau
"Johnson is able to interrogate black history. In Loving Day, the one-drop rule is being undermined, shown to be anachronistic; nevertheless he makes it clear that all black people ought to abide in the ship, as black anti-colonialist societies in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century opposed to emigration to Africa urged." -- The New York Review Of Books
'The Star Side of Bird Hill' by Naomi Jackson
Penguin Books
"What is worth holding on to when you’ve inherited a legacy of loss? It is a hot, strange summer in Jackson’s vibrant debut, which finds three members of a newly minted family in varying degrees of distress, trying to answer that question. When 16-year-old Dionne and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent to live temporarily in Barbados with their grandmother, Hyacinth, they understand they’ve landed in 'as much a place to be banished to as a place to call home.'" -- The New York Times
'The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell' by W. Kamau Bell
Penguin Random House
"In this book, 'awkward' is a filter, a way to view the author’s thoughts on the remaking of this country. Bell deconstructs the country’s contradictions through the prism of his own life, via meditations on the Democratic Party, Denzel Washington, Doc McStuffins, the 'Rocky' films, intersectionality and a host of other pop-cultural and political subjects." -- The New York Times
'Blend' by Mashonda Tifrere
"Blend chronicles how Tifrere, after splitting from Swizz Beatz, worked with her ex-husband and his new wife (Alicia Keys) to create a loving family unit for her son, Kasseem. Written with the blessing of both Swizz Beatz and Keys -- he wrote a chapter and she provided a foreword -- the book offers advice on how to effectively coparent, which, the publisher noted, 'is a challenge now faced by nearly half of all American adults.'" -- Publishers Weekly
'The Sellout' by Paul Beatty
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
"This acceptance of stillness in such a loud, spectacular book, which may also be read as Beatty's brand of narrative whispering, is where this novel is at its most dazzling and ironically its least absurd. 'The Sellout,' while riding beneath terrifying waves of American racial terror and heteropatriarchy, is among the most important and difficult American novels written in the 21st century." -- LA Times
'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo
"Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, written in verse, continuously draws in its reader with sensory-igniting imagery. ... The reader walks with Xio from submission to rebellion to liberation, and as her perspective changes, so does the stanza structure to encourage appropriate pacing in the absence of performance; the pacing of words conveys the protagonist’s mood, forcing the reader to feel as she feels and board her train of thought." -- Entertainment Weekly
'Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace' by Alana Raybon and Patricia Raybon
Thomas Nelson
"Can a Christian and a Muslim work through their differences to find peace? Patricia Raybon and daughter Alana Raybon try to do just that by sharing their thoughts in alternating passages. Alana’s conversion to Islam causes estrangement for a decade before the two agree to start talking. The process proves difficult, and the authors seem to find it easier to share thoughts with the reader than with each other." -- Publishers Weekly
'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead
"Nothing, not one thing or activity, can replace the experience of a good read — being transported to a different land, a different realm, through words and language. I just finished an advance copy of Colson Whitehead's new novel, The Underground Railroad. Every now and then a book comes along that reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in, and stays forever. This is one. It's a tour de force, and I don't say that lightly." -- O Magazine
'Mannish Tongues' by jayy dodd
Platypus Press
"The poems in this book are an honest and lyrical exploration of gender, sexuality, and Blackness that will resonate with any queer person." -- Pride
'Long Way Down' by Jason Reynolds
"Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share. This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion." -- Kirkus Reviews
'Black Man in a White Coat' by Damon Tweedy
"Black Man in a White Coat offers a clear, informative and uncommonly balanced assessment. Tweedy unflinchingly examines historical patterns of racial inequity in health care. But he also brings attention to often-overlooked indicators of progress ... Attentive to the frustrating inequalities rooted in our history, Tweedy’s 'Black Man in a White Coat' is also usefully attuned to the promising prospects ahead." -- The Washington Post
'God Help the Child' by Toni Morrison
"The best stories coerce us to live inside terror and instability, in the messiness of human experience. They force us to care deeply for everyone, even the villains. Morrison’s obvious joy in language (especially evident in the passage above) entraps and implicates the reader, and we read ourselves into spaces that would make our better angels shudder." -- The New York Times
'Dear Martin' by Nic Stone
Crown Books
"Dear Martin belongs to a growing body of young-adult literature exploring racial injustice and police brutality from a teen perspective ... The question of when and how to speak up for yourself or let things go recurs throughout Dear Martin." -- The Atlantic
'The Abduction of Smith and Smith' by Rashad Harrison
Atria Books
"[This] historical fiction explores family and freedom, rage and revenge in the melting pot of post–Civil War San Francisco ... Harrison’s clever with descriptions, capable of sketching a character with a quick sentence — 'Large ears and head, beady eyes and too many teeth, he looked like the product of royal incest' — and his deftly plotted historical novel quickly becomes an around-the-world adventure." -- Kirkus Reviews
'The Changeling' by Victor Lavalle
Spiegel & Grau
"By turns enchanting, infuriating, horrifying, and heartbreaking, The Changeling is never less than completely engaging. It plays with memory, fairy tale, and the stories we tell each other about ourselves; it walks around the walls we build of our stories — whether out of family memorabilia or photos on Facebook — and probes them for holes. It's a book that makes me want to seek people out to talk about it, to share together our own stories of reading it." -- NPR
'Stay With Me' by Ayobami Adebayo
"Rarely do novelists convey the mixed emotions of early motherhood -- the tedium, confusion, terror, guilt, ecstasy and delight -- as accurately as this book does. Yejide’s perspective as a betrayed wife struggling with fertility and later as a mother struggling with her children’s sickle cell anemia is conveyed with an operatic intensity that almost approaches the pitch of Elena Ferrante’s 'The Days of Abandonment.' Adebayo’s prose is so direct you mainline the drama, rooting for Yejide and Akin to make it in spite of many narrative twists and turns that require a reconsideration of their relationship." -- San Francisco Chronicle
'A Brief History of Seven Killings' by Marlon James
Riverhead Books
"A Brief History of Seven Killings tells the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, who is referred to throughout as “the singer”, and its aftermath. But perhaps more importantly, it tells the story of Jamaica in the 1970s and early 80s, when the guns flooded in, CIA agents took up residence, and the island went through one of its most violently defining moments." -- The Guardian
'Under the Udala Trees' by Chinelo Okparanta
Mariner Books
"Okparanta's excellent debut novel is a heartbreaker ... [Her] characters are just as compelling as teenagers as they are as adults and readers will be swept up in this tale of the power of love." -- Publishers Weekly
'Eloquent Rage' by Brittney Cooper
St. Martin's Press
"Ultimately, Eloquent Rage is an intimate glimpse into the mind of one of the pre-eminent black feminists of her generation. The subtitle of the book is 'A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.' But while Cooper claims she didn’t intend to write such a personal book, she allows us to discover it with her." -- The Root
'We Cast a Shadow' by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
One World
"In the opening scene of “We Cast a Shadow,” New Orleans author Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s satirical debut novel, a black junior associate at a law firm is competing against two other black junior associates in a costume contest that will determine which of them is chosen for a permanent position at the firm. ... Ruffin’s name is the talk of the literary world." -- The Times-Picayune
'American Street' by Ibi Zoboi
Balzer + Bray
"Through her first-person narrative, Fabiola makes plain to readers the range of emotions found in the immigrant experience, particularly the heartache of separation from a loved one. Interspersed are the stories of Fabiola’s cousins, her aunt, and other characters, as they negotiate both their 'joyous moments' and their sadness. Zoboi’s young adult debut is equal parts gritty and transcendent." -- The Horn Book

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