Black women authors dominated 2015. Emerging and renowned Black women writers penned relatable fictional and non-fiction stories about everything from dysfunctional families to the myriad ways class privilege shapes Black childhood. Many of these writers were bestowed with worthy accolades, from a National Book Award nomination to a writing role on Empire. Snag these 12 best books before 2016.
The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
On Thanksgiving 2013, television showrunner and writer, Shonda Rhimes was inadvertently challenged to change her life. Rhimes’ sister told her “You never say yes to anything.” Instead of bristling at the comment, Rhimes became proactive. She began accepting invitations that she would’ve ordinarily declined. The result was significant weight loss, happiness, and the humorous memoir, The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. In this inspirational book, Rhimes reveals how she channeled the confidence she infuses her television characters with to embark on a year that completely revolutionized her life. At heart, Rhimes is a writer, and it shows in this book. The Year of Yes is comedic and engaging and full of gems that all Black women can take with them into 2016 and beyond.
Pleasantville by Attica Locke
Pleasantville is the second book in Attica Locke’s Jay Porter series. Locke, a writer and producer for FOX’s Empire, spins a masterful tale about her environmental lawyer protagonist, who is broke and struggling after winning a major case against Cole Oil 15 years ago. In this sequel, Porter is representing the town of Pleasantville after a chemical fire devastates the upwardly-mobile Black community. Soon, the court case elevates into a murder case after a female campaign volunteer disappears from Pleasantville on the night of the mayoral election. Pleasantville evokes multiple twists and turns that paces the plot well and keeps readers engaged.
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
Acclaimed theater critic, Margo Jefferson, is a master wordsmith. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Jefferson decided to turn her lens away from cultural analysis to focus on her own childhood. In Negroland: A Memoir, Jefferson explores how class privilege shaped her upbringing in an elite Black community in Chicago. With sharp wit and a masterful use of language, Jefferson explores the upper crust of Negroland, which she describes as “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Offering a unique perspective on the classic coming-of-age tale, Jefferson’s Negroland explores upper middle class Black life during the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of second-wave feminism. This book is a New York Times bestseller for a reason.
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Ivoe Williams is the brave, fierce, and uncompromising protagonist in LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam on the Vine. Williams’ lifelong passion for speaking truth to power through journalism is ignited in central-east Texas as she witnesses multiple atrocities committed against her neighbors in the name of white supremacy. After settling in Kansas City after graduating from college, Williams and her partner and former professor, Ona, launch Jam! On the Vine, an African-American newspaper that documents race riots, lynchings, and jailhouse conditions. Lovers of Ida B. Wells will cherish this book.
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
Losing a spouse is unimaginable. For Elizabeth Alexander, a distinguished poet and professor at Yale University, it was Earth shattering. After the death of her husband, Alexander penned a memoir as a way of archiving her marriage. The Light of the World: A Memoir is Alexander’s tribute to her husband. She uses words to keep from forgetting the minute details that make relationships grand. Alexander’s deceased husband, Ficre, escaped the civil war in Eritrea, migrated to America, and established himself as a chef. In this book, Alexander remembers him lovingly and paints a portrait of a man whose spirit will live forever. The Light of the World is a New York Times bestseller described by First Lady Michelle Obama as a book that “simply took my breath away.”
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
In 2015, television visionary, Issa Rae, added author to her impressive resume. In The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which shares a name with her popular web series, Rae offers 18 humorous essays about how Blackness and awkwardness shaped her identity. She covers topics ranging from self-acceptance to weight gain in a relatable voice that many young Black girls and women will identify with and embrace.
Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Dolen Perkins-Valdez creates compelling stories from historical periods that are often thought of integral to the shaping of America. In Balm, Perkins-Valdez explores Reconstruction, the time period after the Civil War, when free Black American men and women were attempting to find their footing after decades of enslavement. Madge, Sadie, and Hemp are Perkins-Valdez’s muses in Balm. These characters – all from diverse backgrounds – arrive in Chicago, hoping to start anew. Their histories as well as their desires are at the center of this novel as the background of Reconstruction provides a fascinating structure. Perkins-Valdez wins again with Balm.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
The Turner House is Angela Flournoy’s debut novel. Yet, her voice feels like it’s been here forever. In The Turner House, Flournoy explores the complicated Turner family, a clan of siblings who are attempting to navigate life crises as their ailing mother, Viola, nears death. As the eldest of the brood battles demons, literally, he is also attempting to save his parent’s home on Yarrow Street while also keeping his brothers and sisters in line. Big families full of drama will appreciate The Turner House for what it offers and also what it doesn’t – a clean and understandable resolution.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Bibliophiles rejoiced when Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison, released her latest novel. God Help the Child explores the impact of childhood trauma, a theme that Morrison often returns to in her works. At the center of this narrative is Blue, a young, confident, and abrasive Black woman who crosses paths with multiple characters who shape her into a classic Morrison protagonist. In particular, the relationship between Blue and her mother, Sweetness, is compelling as they both tiptoe around the childhood abuse that effectively wrecked Blue’s sense of safety. With Morrison’s prose, abuse against children is brought to life in a way that evokes immense emotion. God Help the Child is a welcomed and important addition to Morrison’s canon of iconic work.
The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey-Harris
Clutch Magazine alumna, Tamara Winfrey-Harris, spent 2015 telling the world that Black women are alright. In her debut book, The Sisters are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, Winfrey-Harris uses her distinctive voice to explore how Black women are thriving despite the odds stacked against us. She explores everything from marriage to sexuality in a way that will definitely cause affirmative head nods as reading.
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
Phaedra and Dionne are two polar opposite sisters finding themselves after being moved to Bird Hill in Barbados from Brooklyn. When their father comes to retrieve them, Phaedra and Dionne are forced to choose between the two homes that have molded them. Traversing cultural differences as well as sisterhood, love, and gender roles, The Star Side of Bird Hill exposes a world that’s familiar for first-generation Americans. It also challenges all readers to remain authentic to themselves, regardless of who disapproves.
Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul by Tanisha Ford
Hair and clothes are political, especially when put in conversation with Black women. In her debut book, Tanisha Ford, assistant professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, explores how Black women have used their clothing as tools of resistance. Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul is a refreshing look at fashion, social movements, and liberation.