Hopefully you are already reading Ta-Nahesi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ibrahim X. Kendi. Obviously if you like SFF you should read Toni Morrison*, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, and Samuel Delany. But to round out your reading here are other Black voices you can embrace and support in your reading of YA and SFF.
*No one can tell me that Beloved isn’t a ghost story that belongs among the greatest in fantasy/horror, regardless of where you stand on genre/lit/mainstream arguments.
- Dread Nation (Justina Ireland) – This is an alternate history in which the Civil War started, but abruptly stopped when the dead began to rise and threaten North and South alike. Zombies roam the land, and the powerful conscript Black women to become protectors to their white daughters and wives. Jane has been forced into training as deadly protector, but when she’s betrayed, she and her rival Katherine must join forces to survive in a world in which the ravenous dead can’t hold a candle to the racist living.
2. The Black Flamingo (Dean Atta) – Michael has always been between his identities, trying in. When he finds the place he feels himself, he’ll have to reckon with that too: where he belongs is the drag society, and who he is is not just Michael, but the Black Flamingo.
3. Long Way Down (Jason Reynolds) – Six floors. Six ghosts. Sixty seconds to decide whether to take revenge or save a life—an enemy’s or maybe his own. Will’s brother was killed, but is Will going to kill someone now, too? Poignant verse stripped of all but the deepest and most piercing emotion, this book will have you wondering what 60 seconds in your own life can do.
4. Kingdom of Souls (Rena Barron) – Arrah should be heir to immense magic power through both her parents, but she’s unable to do the simplest summoning or charm. Tormented by her supposed failure, she turns to a dark and desperate bargain when children from her kingdom.
5. Raybearer (Jordan Ifueko) – Tarisai has trained her whole life to compete to become one of the crown prince’s council. But her distant mother—whom she calls The Lady—wants her to destroy the prince rather than join him.
6. David Mogo Godhunter (Suyi Davies Okungbowa) – To protect Lagos, David just needs to catch a god—or two. He’s no ordinary godhunter, but this is no ordinary job: a wizard wants him to catch two of the Orisha, great powers of the world. David knows he’s not being told everything, but he can’t turn down the life-changing money on offer. But you only get to change your life if you’re around to live it…
7. The Gilded Ones (Namina Forna) – Deka’s blood runs gold instead of red, marking her as impure—but also powerfully gifted. When she joins a small, elite band of young women just like her, she begins to learn exactly where her gifts lie.
8. Monday’s Not Coming (Tiffany D. Jackson) – This book broke my heart into a million pieces. You should let it break your heart too. Everything Jackson writes is amazing, and I know that her upcoming Grown will be incredible, too.
9. Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor) – The Akata Witch/Akata Warrior duology is my favorite of Okorafor’s many novels in the magical parallel world of the Leopard Society, who protect Nigeria from supernatural threats. Though she is better known for her Afrofuturist Who Fears Death and Binti, Sunny’s story is not to be missed, either.
10. Pet (Akwaeke Emezi) – “How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?” This is a powerfully important question we should all be asking, but it falls to two young girls, Jam and Redemption, and the magical creature Pet to answer it.
11. A Spectral Hue (Craig Laurance Gidney) – The saltmarsh orchid gives the town of Shimmer a unique pigment, one that African American artists of all kinds have worked with for many years. When grad student Xavier goes to study this artist collective and movement, he finds more than he bargained for in the marsh.
12. The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle)– This slender novella did more to defy, reject, and rewrite Lovecraft’s racist bullshit than ten tomes of criticism, and did so in a way that is pure Cosmic Horror. It’s a triumph.
13. Ring Shout (P. Djèlí Clark) – The KKK is full of literal demons in this honestly-not-that-alt-history, but fortunately the Harlem Hellriders are there to send them back where they belong. This promises to be as timely as it will be badass, but if you can’t wait, also check out Clark’s Black God’s Drums.
14. Queen of the Conquered (Kacen Callender) – Sigourney is in the impossible position created by those who colonized her land: she has some status and authority, enough for her own people to resent her, but not enough to make enough changes with the ruling authorities. When she begins to compete for the crown, she will have to balance even more if she wants to do right and keep her life in the process.
15. Opposite of Always (Justin A. Reynolds) – This sweet romance between Jack and Kate gets an infusion of weird when Jack learns he can time travel—and can affect whether Kate lives or dies. But every change he makes has spiraling consequences, and he might not be able to fix everything.
16. The Deep (Rivers Solomon with clipping) – Mermaids born of pregnant woman thrown from slave ships have created a society below the waves, but their past is so painful that one person is chosen as the repository of their history. Yetu can no longer bear this burden, however. History vs. future and self vs. community are at stake in this potent narrative by the author of the equally-great The Unkindness of Ghosts.
17. Conjure Women (Afia Atakora) – Three women, a cursed child, and the tenuous hope of freedom before, during, and after the Civil War. Do not miss this one.
18. A Phoenix First Must Burn (ed. Patrice Caldwell) – The tagline is “fifteen stories of Black Girl Magic” and it’s more than apt. Witches and starfarers and brave young women, from the past to the future, these women and NB folks are here to be heroes, each and all.
19. A Blade So Black (L. L. McKinney) – Fighting Nightmares from Wonderland by, well, night, and trying to survive her mother and BFF and high school by day is no easy task. But things get even more complicated for Alice when her magical mentor is poisoned, and Alice has to really go all-in to Wonderland and risk the balance she’s so carefully built.
20. Stars and the Blackness Between Them (Junauda Petrus) – Audre and Mabel are girls from two very different worlds—Trinidad and Minnesota, to be exact. Audre wants to be back in Port of Spain with her no-longer-so-secret girlfriend. Mabel wants to figure out what her feelings toward girls and boys are. Both of them will find more than they ever realized was possible when they start getting to know each other.
21. Black from the Future (ed. Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle) – Black speculative fiction expressed in prose and poetry, spanning minds and galaxies. You will find something to adore here.
22. Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi) – Zélie is a maji without magic in a land drained of power by an oppressive prince. But she won’t stop fighting, turning to physical defense and a secret rebellion to keep her hope alive. Fortunately, magic isn’t as gone as she has been led to believe.
23. American Street (Ibi Zoboi) – From Port-au-Prince to Detroit, Fabiola has been looking for a good life. But when her mother is detained in the immigration process and she must live with cousins she barely knows in a country she doesn’t understand, Fabiola isn’t sure what magic she can trust and what will lead her astray.
24. Prey of Gods (Nicky Drayden) – South Africa of the near future is a paradise of tech—and a nightmare of blood magic. With a neglected goddess out for death and power, it falls to magical misfits to defend their world.
25. With the Fire on High (Elizabeth Acevedo) – Emoni dreams of being a chef, and she works magic in the kitchen. But with high school to finish, and daughter and a grandmother who rely on her in different ways, does she get to have dreams of her own?
26. Master of Poisons (Andrea Hairston) – A devastated world seeping with poison in the land and the air is also in peril from the machinations of humans, and it’s up to Djola, a spy, and Awa, a powerful griot, to find a way to save what they love in a deadly empire.
27. A Song Below Water (Bethany C. Morrow) – BFFs Effie and Tavia already don’t have it easy, with one fighting literal demons and the other struggling to hide her siren powers. Then, a murder. Then, a shocking reveal. Soon the girls can only rely on each other if they want to survive their town, their school, and their junior year.
28. Beasts Made of Night (Tochi Onyebuchi) – Circumstance and ability force Taj to act as a Sin Eater, one who absorbs the guilt of another in exchange for payment, and wears the shame as a tattoo on his skin. But when he eats the sin of a royal, he gains the knowledge of a conspiracy that could destroy him and everything he loves.
29. Rage of Dragons (Evan Winter) – A book inspired by Xhosa history and myth, this epic fantasy is the first in a series. Tired of yet another generic “medieval” setting that forgets that People of Color existed in Europe at all times during its history? Then skip that nonsense entirely and try this instead.
30. The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas) – Obviously Angie Thomas gave us this new classic, but don’t forget the equally compelling On the Come Up and the upcoming Concrete Rose. Her voice is a whisper, a shout, and ultimately a song.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, so please tell us which other books we should be reading!