Good artists transport you into the worlds they create. Great artists teach you something while you are there. Writers are word artists. A good book not only transports you into a new world, but also gives you the luxury of time to explore and appreciate the complexity and nuances of the people that live in that world in a way that the pace of real life sometimes can’t. Books can remind us of our shared humanity, yes, but they are equally important for capturing and amplifying the vastness of different experiences this shared humanity holds.
In honor of Black History month, here is a roundup of some of my favorite reads by amazing Black female word artists who create worlds that you should linger in.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
I could not stop telling anyone who would listen to read this book when it came out in 2017, and I haven’t stopped since. This beautifully lyrical novel takes place, like many of Ward’s stories, in the Deep South, and while its shifts back and forth from the stark realism of the prison system to the magical realism of visiting ghosts can take a minute to settle into, the payoff is rich once you do.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
This novel feels like a poem to me, and one I devoured quickly only to have its rhythms stick with me. In some ways it’s a classic coming of age story, but the newly minted MacArthur genius’s deep explorations of friendship and the nature of memory make it stand out all on its own. Woodson also writes for children and young adult audiences, and recently received the Hans Christian Anderson award.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book unfolds through the relationship between two young Nigerians navigating their new homes—for one, America and the world of academia, for the other, London as an undocumented immigrant. By looking simultaneously back at their pasts and toward their futures, Adichie tackles race, class, and immigration in this powerful novel about identity and the quest to find belonging.
These are Bennett’s only two novels to date, and both bestsellers feature exquisite explorations of family—the ties that keep them together and the traumas that can keep them apart. The Mothers dives into the many ways in which one’s community can become a kind of family, bearing witness to the identity and secrets and choices of your youth even when you try to leave them behind. The Vanishing Half looks at how we present ourselves to the world—who we share our whole selves with, and who we conceal our full identity from. Through a slow reveal of tangled family connections, Bennett’s characters grapple with race and gender and questions of what it means to really know someone. I couldn’t put it down.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
In this piece of nonfiction, Wilkerson’s use of tightly focused personal stories as a vehicle for examining a massive historical event is captivating, and this epic examination of The Great Migration taught me more about this era and its social impact than any American history class I ever took in school. It’s a must read, and her latest book, Caste, is also at the top of my “to read” list.
Of course, no list of Black women authors would be complete without Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, so if you have not yet gotten lost in the worlds created by these extraordinary word artists, my suggestion would be to start with Song of Solomon (Morrison) and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou) and go from there.