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February is Black History Month, and also the perfect time of year to spend cozied up in a blanket with a cup of tea and a good book. Although Black literature has a history that is certainly too rich to cover in just one month, the First for Women editors have compiled a list of some of our favorite books written by Black authors for your reading pleasure.
From classics to contemporary, romance to fantasy — we’ve even got a cookbook in there — these books have entertained us, educated us, made us laugh, and made us feel seen. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do today, and for months to come.
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The Best Books by Black Authors
I’d bet money that Nicole Byer has already made you laugh on one of your favorite shows, like Nailed It!, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or The Good Place — and then I would use that cash to buy one of the adorable bikinis she shows off in this book.
Her tongue-in-cheek tips for being “very fat, very brave” all revolve around confidently wearing the two piece swimsuits. That said, the hilariously wise words can really be applied to owning and loving our bodies in whatever we feel like wearing. For example, here’s a bit of Byer’s advice I particularly loved for dealing with a friend who might try to shame you for wearing a bikini: “Keeping asking ‘What?’ until they give up.” —Jess Catcher, senior editor
The late author Toni Morrison was an impactful writer in the world of literature. Her novel Song of Solomon was always a standout piece in her collection of works for me because it’s a coming-of-age story and a view of what it’s like to be a Black person in America. What’s significant is that the story is set in Michigan, which many consider to be the hub of Black culture, and you’re seeing the main character in every stage of his life in this important city.
My favorite aspect of Toni Morrison’s writing is she allows the reader to connect with the characters and narratives on a deep level. In Song of Solomon I could relate to “Milkman” (the main character) or many of the other characters that make this story rich and dynamic. —Alexandria Brooks, assistant editor
Poems, songs, and books are time capsules in the Black community. For me, how generations of family and loved ones have evolved through poems (in particular) leaves a strong connection to my heritage. This collection of poems perfectly embodies that. Reading a variety of works by lesser known poets was really eye-opening and allowed me to get a different look into what triumphs and struggles Black people were going through during key moments in history, whether it be the Harlem Renaissance or the post-modern era.
This book was really well-thought out and put together by both of the editors so I can’t recommend it enough if you’re looking to diversify your poetry palate! —Alexandria Brooks, assistant editor
An American Marriage is a brutally honest love story and a look at how our judicial system so often fails Black men, told through the eyes of three different characters. This juxtaposition of viewpoint made me feel like I truly got to see all sides of the complicated scenario. Celestial and Roy have just fallen madly in love and married when Roy is wrongly accused of a crime and sent to jail. This may make you think the book is going to be about the law or a courtroom drama, but its focus is relationships and family. Part of the story is told through the letters Celestial and Roy write each other while he is incarcerated — which makes the emotions feel so raw — but when he gets released early, things don’t just fall back into place. I love how this novel really digs into the questions and struggles many married couples have to face, even without such a tragic event tearing them apart. It may sound like a tough read, but it’s so beautifully written I breezed through it. —Megan Cahn, executive editor
As the book explains in its introduction, this is more than a simple collection of plantain recipes. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of those — and even as a huge fan of plantains, I was delightfully surprised by how versatile the fruit can really be.
But interspersed between sweet and savory dishes like French toast, tacos, and cupcakes are quotes from people found across the African diaspora sharing why they love and feel such a strong connection to plantains. Compiled by Rachel Laryea, founder of the catering service and cultural lifestyle brand Kelewele (named after the popular Ghanian street food also included among the recipes), you’ll definitely be inspired to add plantains to your next grocery list and fall even more in love this fruit, too. —Jess Catcher, senior editor
Lately, I tend to shy away from books that are billed as “epic sagas,” thinking they’ll require a level of focus and commitment that I’ve had in short supply since the pandemic started. But Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, which follows the fate of one family over the course of 250 years is so engaging and easy to follow that it breaks my “no ambitious books” rule. It’s written in chapters that each tell one story that could stand alone — which is great if you also struggle to concentrate these days.
Opening in 18th century Ghana, we meet half-sisters Esi and Effia, who don’t know each other and who live very different lives. Homegoing continues right through to the present day, as we find out what happened to each sister’s descendants. Gyasi, who was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, doesn’t shy away from describing the horrific realities of the slave trade and the experiences of Black people in America. This book is certainly not light reading, but it should probably be required reading. It broke my heart, taught me more about Black history than I ever learned in school, and had one of the most satisfying, beautiful endings of any book I’ve ever read. —Elizabeth Nelson, commerce editor
A few months ago my mother (a former English teacher and inveterate bookworm) excitedly told me about a book she’d just read and loved. Turns out, it was the same book my teenage daughter has torn through numerous times and recommended to me as well. What’s the secret to this book’s multi-generational appeal? Maybe it’s that besides being a nuanced examination of race and identity, Americanah also tells as compelling a love story as any romance novel.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young lovers in war-torn Nigeria, who are separated when Ifemelu has the chance to move to America. Ifemelu’s experiences in the West become the basis of her controversial blog, which echoes some of the author’s own experiences as a Nigerian woman who came to the United States to study writing, history, and political science. Adichie’s deep connection to the story may be what gives it such a strong voice; she is a remarkably gifted writer who creates complex characters that will stick with you long after you finish the book. (Also, my mother says you need to watch Adichie’s TED talk on YouTube — “If I were still an English teacher, I would show it to my students, it’s that good!”) —Elizabeth Nelson, commerce editor
Jasmine Guillory has published a total of five romance novels in the past three years (she’s been busy!), but her debut, The Wedding Date, remains a perennial crowd favorite amongst romance readers. After a meet-cute in an elevator, mayoral chief of staff Alexa and pediatrician Drew spontaneously decide to go to a wedding together — and sparks fly. The two soon have to figure out long-distance dating and setting aside their differences in this adorable rom-com that’ll have you swooning. (And yes, things get a tad steamy!)
I was in the midst of a reading slump when I picked up The Wedding Date, and I went from not getting through any of the books I started to finishing this one in one sitting. I loved its perfect mix of cheesiness and sincerity. —Lily Herman, web editor
There’s a reason why Brit Bennett’s sophomore novel was the book of the summer: it’s absolutely brilliant. Beginning in the 1950s and spanning several decades, The Vanishing Half follows the story of light-skinned identical Black twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, whose paths diverge and spin off in entirely different directions over the course of their lives. After running away together at the age of 16, Stella ends up leaving her sister to go through life alone passing as a white woman, while Desiree makes her way back to the small town where the pair grew up to raise her daughter.
It’s a moving story of what it means to belong and the family you’re born into versus the family you choose. I think I suggested this one to practically everyone who asked for a book recommendation in 2020. It’s endlessly thought-provoking, and I loved the characters (especially Desiree’s daughter Jude and her partner Reese!). —Lily Herman, web editor
If you’ve ever stumbled upon Youtube clips of Phoebe Robinson putting late night hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien in stitches, or caught her famed podcast-turned HBO special 2 Dope Queens with BFF Jessica Williams, you understand what treat it is that she gifted us with this memoir.
Phoebe walks us through growing up in a predominantly white Cleveland neighborhood as a U2-obsessed “only black girl in her grade” to navigating behind-the-scenes of a predominantly white (and male-dominated) comedy industry in New York and Hollywood. Phoebe’s witty, self-deprecating storytelling turns even her even cringiest anecdotes — like being told by judges on a live reality show that she comes off as “too smart,” is “unlikable,” and looks “horrible” in her headshot — into a hilarious, no-BS account of the perils of being a funny black woman in an often racist, sexist, unfunny world. If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate her ability to bluntly address prejudice, not to mention her perfectly appropriate usage of ‘90s movie references sprinkled amongst the many life lessons she’s learned from Oprah. —Kara Illig, commerce editor
With themes of fate, love, and family, Nicola Yoon weaves a story that shows the struggles undocumented immigrants face in America. Natasha and her family originally come from Jamaica, but for years have lived as undocumented immigrants in New York City. After a mistake exposes her family, she has 12 hours to prevent them from being deported, and along the way she meets a boy and they begin to fall in love. Yoon really connects you with her characters, while seamlessly describing the harsh realities of America’s justice system. By the end of the book, it had me questioning and reflecting on what my own definition of home means to me. —Rylee Johnston, editorial assistant
If you’re into fantasy, fiction and you haven’t picked up Children of Blood and Bone yet, what are you doing? Tomi Adeyemi creates one of the most beautiful fictional worlds influenced by West African Heritage I’ve ever read.
Children of Blood and Bone follows Zélie and Tzain, siblings who have been at the mercy of their tyrant, merciless, and deadly king. The siblings find themselves on a journey to bring back the lost magic to their kingdom with new companions they never thought they would cross paths with. Full of betrayal, heartbreak, magic, injustice, and discrimination, this book will have you turning the pages until you get to the end. It truly has changed the way we look at fantasy, with some of the most diverse characters I’ve ever seen in a book. Both for adults and children, if you love fantasy then this book is for you. And don’t forget to pick up the second book Children of Virtue and Vengeance. —Portia Lightfoot, digital operations associate