The increased time indoors that this year offered us created more time for some of us to catch up on our reading lists and discover new books. On the other hand, the chaos of this year made it difficult to find enough time or concentration to read, or to even know what books have been coming out. Below is a masterlist of books by Black women authors released in 2020. You may have missed out on some of the amazing works that Black women have been putting out in the world, so enter an imaginative and beautiful world of literature, poetry, criticism, and more! Pick up these titles from a Black-owned bookstore if you can.
You can also make a communal activity out of it: pick a few books you like, get your Black women friends together, and start a book club! It may just be the release you need after the year we’ve all had.
You’ve probably heard of or read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Newbery Medal-winning novel about Cassie Logan and her Mississippi family. In Mildred D. Taylor’s tenth book, the finale to the Logan family saga, Cassie is now a young woman searching for her place in the world and witnessing historic events like the Great Migration north and the rise of the Civil Rights movement.
If you were a fan of the HBO hit Lovecraft Country, you’ll enjoy this novel. This is a story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City. “In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.” Jemisin’s novel explores the soul of New York City, along with race and gender.
This collection of short stories is a light but moving read, evocative of summertime nostalgia. There are 42 short stories in the book, ranging from the 80s to present day, that “expose the hearts of girls and women in moments of obsessive desire and fantasy, wildness and bad behavior, brokenness and fearlessness, and more.” Some of the stories are only a page long and others are longer, but they all explore teenage friendships and the experiences of womanhood.
The Vanishing Half is longlisted for the National Book Award and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. It is a Good Morning America Book Club pick, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and will be adapted into an HBO limited series. The book deserves the praise; following in the footsteps of Nella Larsen’s classic Passing, this novel is about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. It is a novel you will not be able to put down and won’t be able to forget about.
This steamy, delicious novel is an intergenerational tale of race and class. Edie is stumbling through her twenties and then she meets Eric, a digital archivist from New Jersey with an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—”with rules.” This book examines a young woman trying to make sense of herself and believe in her own talent.
Grown is a story about a young woman, but it is important for all ages. After Enchanted Jones, who dreams of being a famous singer, spends a night with legendary R&B singer Korey Fields, she wakes up with blood on her hands and no memory of what happened. No one knows who killed Korey Fields, but all signs point to Enchanted. This story touches on misogynoir, rape culture, and is essential reading during the #MeToo era.
Following Yaa Gyasi’s acclaimed national best seller Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom is a story about Gifty, a sixth-year PhD candidate who turns to science to find solve the mystery of her family’s suffering. This journey leads her to longing for her childhood and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised. “Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love.”
This is a gripping, exciting thriller that will excite fans of Get Out. The main character, Sydney, was born and raised in Brooklyn but her neighborhood is rapidly changing. She and her new neighbor, Theo, take a deep dive into history that quickly turns into a descent into paranoia and fear. They question coincidences, where people go when gentrification pushes them out, and how deadly the neighborhood revitalization can really be.
In Peace Adzo Medie’s debut novel, Afi Temple is a young seamstress in Ghana who has been convinced by her mother to marry a wealthy businessman whom she does not know. She leaves her city of Ho to live in Accra with her new husband, agreeing to the marriage to give her mother the financial security she needs. But will she see it through?
Black Bottom Saints is a blend of fact and imagination, and a tribute to Detroit’s legendary neighborhood, a mecca for jazz, sports, and politics. It is about Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, a gossip columnist who curates his own list of Black Bottom’s venerable “52 Saints.” Ziggy pays tribute to these saints alongside local heroes, and creates different cocktails for each one.
This is a collection of three plays by Lisa B. Thompson, Black feminist playwright and author of Single Black Female. Underground explores the challenges of radical black politics among the black middle class in the post-Obama era. Monroe, a period drama about the Great Migration, depicts the impact of a lynching on a family and community in 1940s Louisiana. The Mamalogues, a satirical comedy, focuses on three middle-class black single mothers as they lean in, stress out, and guide precocious black children from diapers to college in a dangerous world.
This striking debut is comparable to The Handmaid’s Tale, but focuses on the violence that Black bodies have endured in the name of science. Lena Johnson moves back to Lakewood, Michigan when her grandmother dies and she discovers the extent of the family debt. Her new job in Lakewood requires her to take part in a program where she lies to her friends and family about the research being done in their town on a pill to make bad thoughts go away, or an eyedrops to make brown eyes turn blue. The effects could be devastating for the subjects involved.
Maisy Card’s debut novel about generations of a Jamaican family follows in the tradition of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. The book tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem, and follows their struggle with their own ghosts and struggles to build their own identities. Stanford Solomon faked his death and stole his best friend’s identity; Stanford is actually Abel Paisley. His daughter is a home health aide who comes in to work to unknowingly tend to the father she thought was dead.
Following family tragedy, formerly inseparable twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike find that their paths diverge and they must locate and guard their own source of power. Black Sunday explores family life and the devastation of estrangement. This story follows two young women who find their own individual paths to independence in a place rife with both hypocrisy and love.
Young Adult Fiction
This book includes sixteen tales by award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. This book is perfect for lovers of Octavia Butler and Beyonce’s Lemonade. “Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected.”
This is a heartfelt novel about a 16-year-old’s complicated friend breakup. The book alternates between Then and Now as main character Cleo struggles to forget her ex-best friend while learning about the power of new beginnings.
This novel follows Liz Lightly, a teenager who has always believed she’s too black, poor, and awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. She has a plan to go to college and become a doctor to escape her town, but when her financial aid falls through she develops a plan to become prom queen to win a scholarship. She hates the spotlight but is willing to do whatever it takes to get her dream. She also befriends the new girl at school, Mack, who is funny, charming and just as much of an outsider as Liz…and also running for prom queen.
A captivating reimagining of a classic story, Cinderella is Dead is about teen girls who team up to overthrow the system and in the process learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew.
Liara Tamani’s second novel about young couple Carli and Rex explores first loves, family, heartbreak and betrayal. “A glance was all it took. That kind of connection, the immediate and raw understanding of another person, just doesn’t come along very often. And as rising stars on their Texas high schools’ respective basketball teams, destined for bright futures in college and beyond, it seems like a match made in heaven. But Carli and Rex have secrets. As do their families.”
This is a novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. From young adult author Ibi Zoboi and prison activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, this story follows Amal Shahid, a student who ends up in prison after an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood. He turns to his art; this should have never been his story, but can he change it?
National Book Award-winner and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo tells a beautiful story of grief, forgiveness and loss through this novel in verse. Camino Rios discovers that her father has not come to visit her that summer in the Dominican Republic like he always does, and in New York Yahaira Rios is devastated to learn her father died in a car crash. Through losing their father, the girls discover each other, and their father’s secrets.
Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, this book tells the story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her “louding voice” and speak up for herself. This story is about determination and fighting for your dreams. Adunni has a goal to escape the poverty she was born into so that she can build the life she wants, and her journey can inspire you to think about how you can change the world.
A finalist for the National Book Award, Every Body Looking follows Ada, who is now a freshman at an HBCU. While navigating this new freedom and finding her identity, Ada explores her sexuality and wrestles with her past, including her mother’s struggle with addiction and her Nigerian father’s attempts to make a home for her. Ada is on a journey toward finding herself and reclaiming ownership over her body and her life.
In this provocative debut, 17-year-old Tracy Beaumont asks the Innocence X organization to help her father, an innocent man on death row. When Tracy’s dad only has 267 days left, the police arrive at her home and her older brother Jamal has to go on the run after being accused of killing a white girl. Tracy investigates to find the truth, determined to save her brother, and embarks on a journey uncovering the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history and present.
From one of the greatest writers of our time, the author of Barracoon and Their Eyes Were Watching God, this collection of stories includes eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. This book is “an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture.”
Blair Imani is a Black queer Muslim author and activist. An illustrated history of the Great Migration and its sweeping impact on Black and American culture, Making Our Way Home explores issues like voting rights, domestic terrorism, discrimination, and segregation alongside the flourishing of arts and culture, activism, and civil rights.
This book is an essential anti-racist text. Layla F. Saad takes readers on a 28-day journey of journal prompts to do the necessary work to unpack their inner biases and, especially for white people, dismantle their privilege so that they can stop inflicting harm on people of color.
Samantha Irby writes honestly and hilariously about her life and experiences. This relatable collection of essays follows Irby’s bad dates, work troubles, and personal drama. Writer Jia Tolentino describes it as “Stay-up-all-night, miss-your-subway-stop, spit-out-your-beverage funny….irresistible as a snack tray, as intimately pleasurable as an Irish goodbye.”
This collection of essays asks the important questions about Black women: what Black girl magic means, why Black women are ignored by AI, how Black women have influenced popular culture, and more. Shayla Lawson places Black women and their voices on center stage.
Lynell George uncovers the work and ideas of Octavia E. Butler, creating a model of inspiration for both fans of Ms. Butler as well as any aspiring writers or creatives looking for inspiration. “It’s about creating a life with what little you have―hand-me-down books, repurposed diaries, journals, stealing time to write in the middle of the night, making a small check stretch―bit by bit by bit.”
This book from Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham is an infinite geography of possible futures. Readers will go from conversations with academics and activists to memes and Instagram posts. A collection of essays, conversations, infographics and recipes, Black Futures tells the story of the beautiful world that Black creators are putting forth today.
Mikki Kendall exposes the large blind spot of mainstream feminism. This book explores the oversights of feminism when it comes to ignoring the basic needs of the collective in exchange for increasing the privilege of the few. Kendall illustrates the ways that food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues.
This is a beautifully designed, colorfully illustrated celebration of the wisdom and wit of Congresswoman Maxine Waters. This book pays tribute to Ms. Waters from her St. Louis roots to her legendary showdowns with Donald Trump. This admiring portrait illustrates just how powerful and inspiring Maxine Waters is.
Longlisted for the National Book Award, this book tells the story of Black women in the suffrage movement. Black women were not supported in the suffrage movement and dealt with white abolitionist-suffragists who did not want to share power with Black women. Black women like Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, and Ida B. Wells were crusaders for the right to vote. Some even started their own Black suffrage associations when white ones rejected them.
MSNBC political analyst and SiriusXM host Zerlina Maxwell dismantles the problems of the Left, tackling white privilege, #HashtagActivism, and the Democrat party’s struggle to engage women and communities of color-and its preoccupation with catering to the white, male working class. Maxwell argues that liberals and progressives must empower marginalized groups and lean into identity politics in order to avoid downfall.
In Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell uses art, memoir and critical theory to question our exploration of identity within a digital era where there is little difference between online and real life. Russell shows that “liberation can be found within the fissures between gender, technology and the body that it creates.”
Media and political analyst Tiffany Cross explores the role that Black voters play in American democracy, offers concrete information to help harness the electoral power of the country’s rising majority, and exposes political forces aligned to subvert and suppress Black voters. This book demonstrates how America attempts, often successfully, to exclude Black voters, but also would cease to exist without Black voters.
Melissa Valentine’s older brother, Junior, was tragically murdered due to gun violence in 1990s Oakland. This book connects his unfortunate death to a collective grief for all Black people who die too young. This book is both a call to justice and a love letter to Valentine’s brother.
Writer and activist Mia Birdsong describes America’s need for interdependence and belonging. She shows that, out of fear, we have built walls up around ourselves and forgotten how to lean on each other. This book uses research, interviews and personal stories to return the sense of connectedness and remind us of the importance of showing up for each other.
This soulful collection includes 15 lessons that self-care storyteller Alex Elle has learned on overcoming obstacles and building confidence. The book draws from her personal journey from self-doubt to self-love, including a painful childhood, single parenting as a young mom, and a now successful career as an entrepreneur.
Historian Martha S. Jones tells the story of Black women in the suffrage movement, and how they defied racism and sexism to fight for their right to the ballot. Jones declares Black women as the vanguard of women’s rights in this country.
Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns Isabel Wilkerson examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions. She links the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany. “As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
Author of the acclaimed Citizen, Claudia Rankine urges us to have the uncomfortable conversations surrounding white supremacy and disrupt the comfort that politeness affords us. Rankine uses essays, images and poems to bring us into a discussion about how to approach each other in this moment of divisiveness.
Organizer and co-creator of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza’s new book tells the lessons she learned over the years spent bringing people together to create change. She explores the importance of “making room amongst the woke for those who are still awakening,” and how the time between 2013—the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement—and now has taught her to activate people to fight for a better world.
Acclaimed cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author of This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins write about her journey toward understanding her northern and southern roots, the Great Migration, and the displacement of Black people across America. Jerkins recreates her ancestors’ journeys across America, following the migratory routes they took from Georgia and South Carolina to Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California.
Beloved and acclaimed writer Zadie Smith spent the early stages of this year’s lockdown writing Intimations, a series of six essays exploring our new world: submitting to a new reality, the concept of comparing relative sufferings, the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis, and more. This slim volume invites readers to reflect on the unique moment we are in and what it means for how we know each other and ourselves.
The author of Salvage the Bones, Men We Reaped, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward shares her experiences as a Southern Black woman and explores adversity and family bonds. The book comes from the commencement speech Ward gave in 2018 at Tulane University about the importance of respect and hard work. Illustrated in full color by Gina Triplett, this book will inspire anyone embarking on a new chapter in their life.
In the spotlight, Alicia Keys lives as one of the most celebrated and successful musicians in the world. But privately, she faces challenges like the complex relationship with her father, the people-pleasing nature that characterized her early career, the loss of privacy surrounding her romantic relationships, and the oppressive expectations of female perfection. More Myself, part-memoir and part-narrative documentary, shows us Alicia Keys finally finding herself.
Global icon and legendary musician Mariah Carey tells the unfiltered story of her life through this memoir. In her own words, “This book is composed of my memories, my mishaps, my struggles, my survival and my songs. Unfiltered. I went deep into my childhood and gave the scared little girl inside of me a big voice. I let the abandoned and ambitious adolescent have her say, and the betrayed and triumphant woman I became tell her side.”
Celebrated artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh uses her street art portraits to address the pervasiveness and consequences of street harassment, and the activism that can counter it. This debut book explores women’s marginalization and the true meaning of equality.
Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross, two award-winning historians, illustrate Black women’s ability to forge their own communities while battling oppression. This celebration of Black womanhood begins when the first African women arrived in what later became the United States, and follows all the way up to African-American woman today. This book explores the complexities of Black women’s lives as enslaved women, freedwomen, artists, activists, queer women, and more. Berry and Gross offer a testament to the strength, beauty, heartbreak, and love that exists within Black women’s communities across the nation.
Legendary poet Nikki Giovanni celebrates her loved ones and her Black heritage in this new collection of poems and prose, while exploring racism and white nationalism. She calls out segregation and Donald Trump in some poems, while offering her personal elegy for the relatives who saved her from an abusive home life in others.
In this vulnerable and powerful book of poetry, Roya Marsh recalls her early life and the attendant torments of a butch Black woman coming of age in America. Growing up, Marsh was regarded as a “tomboy.” She came of age during a time when anything outside of the heteronorm was simply regarded as “different,” and expressions of gender and sexuality weren’t as nuanced as they are today. Through dayliGht, Marsh unpacks traumas to unearth truths.
We Want Our Bodies Back is a moving collection of verse in defense of Black women. jessica Care moore’s poems speak to both Black women’s creative and intellectual power, and express the pain, sadness, and anger of those who suffer constant scrutiny because of their gender and race. “Fierce and passionate, jessica Care moore argues that Black women spend their lives building a physical and emotional shelter to protect themselves from misogyny, criminalization, hatred, stereotypes, sexual assault, objectification, patriarchy, and death threats.”
Photographer and poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths explores the ways mourning can consume a body. She reckons with her mother’s death, Black womanhood, art, and memory. The poems exist within the space whether public and private mourning collide. Griffiths uses text and imagery to create an associative autobiography, “blurring the body’s internal wilderness with landscapes alive with beauty and terror.”
Anodyne is a collection of poems that contemplate the ways in which history interacts with our bodies, and the various contrasts that are inherent to the human experience: endurance and failure, knowledge and ignorance, joy and devastation. Khadijah Queen’s poetry beautifully exposes the ways that we live in the world and in our bodies, and how we balance multitudes within ourselves.
Which of these books are you most excited to read? Let us know in the comments below!