“What are you reading?”
With countless book choices and the endless scroll of the internet to entertain you, it’s a common question. But the better question is who are you reading? And if you’re not reading new drops from Black women authors, are you even reading at all?
#BlackGirlsAreMagic, that once trending hashtag, still rings true in the literary world today. Pick any genre and you’ll surely find a Black woman who wrote a dope book. To that end, allow me to introduce you to debut books and genre debuts from Black women authors from the past couple of years. We’re talking memoir, fiction, self-help…you’re bound to find something that suits your fancy.
1. Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Big Girl (2022)
Big Girlis Mecca Jamiliah Sullivan’s first foray into long-form fiction, marking her debut as a novelist, but I would argue that Sullivan is also a time-traveling scientist. She’s our very own Doc Brown. (Brown Doc?) There is no other way to explain how she transports the reader to 1990s Harlem with such convincing specificity and attention to detail. In the ‘90s, I was a little girl in Detroit who had never even been to the state of New York, but after reading just the first few pages of Big Girl, I felt like I could smell the hot, salty deliciousness wafting from soul food restaurants on 145th Street, hear the squeak of metal chairs in church basements, see the impossibly-angled hairdos fresh from the beauty salon. Sullivan, a Georgetown professor, made her name in the short story world, and in this coming-of-age tale about a young girl maturing into a young woman, you can see the crisp, buttery edges in her writing style. Definitely worth taking a bite of this book.
2. Bevy Smith, Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie (2021)
While we’re hanging with the Harlem girlies, let’s pay a visit to everyone’s best friend in their head, Bevy Smith. You’ve probably seen and heard from Ms. Bevy quite a bit over the years. She has a SiriusXM radio show called Bevelations, she’s the former co-host of Bravo’s Fashion Queens, as well as Page Six TV, and she’s been a talking head in numerous cultural documentaries. On top of all of that, Smith has a robust social media presence where she shares glimpses of her beloved family and a slice of her fabulous, country-hopping life. One thing that has always been a constant for Smith though is Harlem. Harlem is home, and in her book, she opens up about her personal journey with finding and loving her true self and defining what home really means. Smith is also downright hilarious. If you can catch her at an in-person event, do so posthaste!
3. Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, When We Were Birds (2022)
In need of a tropical getaway? Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s debut novel offers up a magical reading experience that transports you to Trinidad. There’s a story within a story, too, as the reader is immediately placed at the feet of a beloved elder telling ancestral tales. When We Were Birdszigs and zags through time, creating an ever-evolving portrait of complicated family dynamics and love so strong that it defies death and physics. Similar to what Bevy Smith did in real life, the characters in this book are figuring out what home is and how they will shape their lives around it. It’s a story that is both fresh and somehow familiar. Lloyd Banwo is currently working on her second novel and if this debut is any indication of her talent, I’ll be pre-ordering as soon as I can.
4. Shanita Hubbard, Ride or Die: A Feminist Manifesto for the Well-Being of Black Women (2022)
There’s a good chance you’ve seen Shanita Hubbard’s byline before. Her pen has graced the pages of many publications including EBONY, The New York Times, HuffPo, The Root…she’s a legit journo. These days, she’s also a professor at the University of Toronto. Hubbard gathered together her extensive writing skill to push out her debut book Ride or Die: A Feminist Manifesto for the Well-Being of Black Women. This memoir packs a surprisingly big punch for a short book. (It’s under 200 pages. I read it over a weekend.) Hubbard was born in 1979, so the hip hop musical references from her adolescent years are particularly poignant for those of us who came up in that same era. The lyrics to some of these songs hit differently in your 40s than as a wide-eyed teen brimming with hope, hormones, and a deep desire to be liked. Hubbard’s vulnerability, paired with her well-trained cultural criticism, come together quite nicely for her first book baby.
5. Laura Warrell, Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm (2022)
Reading Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm from Laura Warrell is like listening to a live jazz band riffing on stage late at night, well past closing hours. All of the rehearsed big numbers are done and now each musician gets a solo as they talk to each other with their instruments. In Warrell’s book, different women take turns as the center of third-person narratives in each chapter. Each was a muse, at one time or another, for a jazz trumpeter named Circus. (You already know some clownery was afoot.) This novel is sensual, engaging, and provocative. It’s all the things you would want from a book…and a jazz song.
6. Christine Platt, The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less (2021)
When the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down everything and many of us were forced to work from home, there was a scramble to find the perfect Zoom room. . It was a time when people started to assess all the junk they’d accumulated. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find an uncluttered space with decent light, right? Does this mean we’ve all been living this way all this time? Sheesh. With The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less, novelist Christine Platt’s first self-help book, we get some tools to help us de-junk our spaces and lives. For Platt, minimalism isn’t about denying yourself happiness or haphazardly tossing out half of your closet. It’s about living with intention and surrounding yourself with objects that spark joy (okay, I got a little Marie Kondo on you there) and bring comfort and pride. Imagine living your whole entire life with that type of intention. School, work, romance, and friendships can all be changed for the better.
7. Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (2022)
It’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that as kids, we would do everything possible to avoid taking a nap. The absurdity of it! I re-instituted nap time for myself many years ago when I started working from home as a freelancer. It’s a game-changer. That’s why when I first came across Tricia Hersey’s Instagram account called The Nap Ministry, I immediately followed and stanned. The “liberating power of naps.” This woman speaks my language. With her book Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, we get Hersey expounding upon how critically important rest is to break the shackles of grind culture created by white supremacy and capitalism. The chapter titles are Rest!, Dream!, Resist!, and Imagine! You’ll have at least a couple “Wow” moments when reading this book.