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This list was curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled and books that have great Goodreads reviews.
In honor of Black History Month, and to celebrate Black voices across multiple genres — including literary fiction, fantasy, young adult, poetry, and even cookbooks — we’ve put together a list of a dozen new titles that have captured our attention. We highly recommend adding these to your Read Next list.
Of course, this is but a small window into the books that shine a light on Black lives, history, and joy. We hope it will be a catalyst for you to continue discovering more Black voices.
This powerful biography in poems is a rare window into the life of sculptor Augusta Savage. Being Black, a woman, and an artist in the Harlem Renaissance (during the 1920s and 1930s) was no easy feat. She was an influential artist and trailblazer of her time, working to advance equal rights in the arts, and was the United States’ first Black gallerist.
The poems by award-winning author Marilyn Nelson chronicle the intense challenges and creative triumphs that August Savage experienced — some of the poems taking on the shape of her sculptures. It also includes many photographs of her work. This is a piece of America’s “hidden history” you don’t want to miss.
You may have learned about Roman goddesses like Venus and the Greek goddess Aphrodite, but what about those from the many African cultures? Have you heard of Egypt/Romani goddess, Sara La Kali, Haitian Iwa Erzuli Dantor, or Yoruba/Nigerian Yemaya?
For spiritually motivated/curious readers, Abiola Abrams, spiritual teacher, intuitive coach, and oracle deck creator, has written a gorgeous guide of sacred rituals for self-love, prosperity, and joy through the ancient wisdom of African ancestors. The author calls it an “invitation to a sacred healing adventure” and has 42 rituals inspired by various goddesses, from Nana Buluku to Iset.
BLACK FOOD: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora [A Cookbook] edited by Bryant Terry
You don’t want to miss this collection of recipes, stories, essays, and art. Editor Bryant Terry, a James Beard and NAACP Image Award-Winning Chef, describes it as containing “culinary histories of the African diaspora” both past and present.
More than 100 chefs, artists, activists, scholars, journalists, poets, and more contributed to chapters such as “Motherland,” “Land, Liberation, & Food Justice,” “Black Women, Food, & Power,” “Black, Queer, Food,” and “Radical Self-Care.” It’ll look beautiful on your coffee table, yes, but this one’s also intended to be well-loved in the kitchen and shared with friends.
From My Heart to Your Table embodies the essence of home cooking. With recipes like mac and cheese, vegan spinach dip, okra bites, gumbo, chicken nachos, blackberry jam cupcakes, and three different cornbreads, we envision this cookbook showing signs of being well-loved in no time. Chef Rene Johnson has created a cookbook with her own fresh spin and modern vegan recipes, but at its heart is the soul food that has been in her family for generations.
We asked Rene a few questions about her cooking, inspiration, and more below.
A conversation with chef Rene Johnson
Greatist: What does soul food mean to you?
Soul food means wonderful childhood memories for me and from when my children were growing up. It’s memories of the smells that would wake us up in the morning when my grandmother Veltrue Johnson would be making greens early Sunday mornings before church, so that when we came home that afternoon, Sunday dinner would be almost done.
Soul food is what brings Black families to the kitchen table. Soul food keeps us connected. Soul food means LOVE.
Greatist: Vegan and soul food might seem like an unlikely pairing to some. Has vegan food always been a part of your life? If not, what has your journey with vegan food been like? P.S. That cashew cream Alfredo looks delish!
No, vegan food has not always been a part of my life, I grew up with a grandmother who farmed almost all the food we ate, and raised all the meat as well. Her motto was, “the fresher, the better.”
I got introduced to veganism because of my children. They are very aware of the food trends and very conscious of what my grandchildren eat. They are always looking out for meat, and I appreciate that from them. What usually happens is they will say to mom, “we want to try this recipe or way of eating,” and they will ask me to make it first or put my spin on it. And that’s what happened with veganism.
The other most important thing that made me change to eating vegan is, I am a caterer, and I needed to find a way to be inclusive to all of my clients. People are taking responsibility for their health, which meant I needed to be able to assist with that, since I am in the food business. When I realized that I could make my grandmother’s Red Beans and Rice vegan and keep the “soul,” that was a game-changer for me. Not to mention the health benefits, and how good it is for the environment.
Being vegan has been a wonderful journey for me. I love taking traditional recipes and transforming them into vegan dishes. I had a really bad sweet tooth before going vegan, and for me, it has helped with my sugar craving. But I also eat guilt-free. I don’t allow anyone to judge me for being vegan, and I do not judge anyone who is not.
Greatist: What was an early experience where you learned that food has power?
I learned about my food power when I was about 14 years old. My mother worked 2 to 11, which meant my Dad was responsible for dinner, and he would do the best he could. I would go in the kitchen and try to fix up what he made. Then, it switched. I started asking my mom to bring things home for me to make for dinner. My favorite part would be seeing my Dad, sister, and brother enjoying what I made.
One of my most favorite memories in my early, early childhood memories is with my grandmother, I did not like food that much when I was little, but I loved the experiences that it brought me with my grandmother. I loved seeing her in her garden, or her bringing fruit off of her trees and having us smell the fruit right off the tree. I loved tasting the food right out of the pot that she was cooking.
I have an aunt named KK. She is 5 months older than me. As a little girl, she would eat my food for me because you had to clean your plate before getting up from the table. I was called Nae Nae, and she was called KK. We were a team. I made my oatmeal the way she liked it because most likely she was going to eat for me so I could get up so we could go play.
Greatist: Who inspires you to cook and create?
My mother and my grandchildren. When I am in the kitchen today creating new recipes, my mother and my grandchildren are a big inspiration. My mom makes such a big deal when she eats my food. I love to hear her say “Baby, this is amazing Uhhh uhhhhh” — after I make a recipe that she approves of, I usually share it with the world.
My grandchildren inspire me because they believe I can cook anything and everything, and guess what? They are pretty much right. They are always looking up recipes and calling me and saying, “Grandma, can you make me this?” Now you know that has to be inspiring, I always say, “Absolutely.”
Greatist: Do you have a personal favorite recipe in From My Heart?
My favorite recipe, believe it or not, is my Mama Cake Recipe — I just love it. It is so good, and in almost every Black home that cake recipe brings joy. It’s not vegan, but it is delicious. My other one is my vegan red beans and rice, they are so good, and they make you feel good with every bite.
Greatist: As we celebrate Black History month, do you have any favorite books (could be cookbooks, novels, anything!) by Black authors?
My two favorite Black cookbooks are The Dooky Chase Cookbook and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. I love them both.
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Rene!
Get your highlighter and sticky notes ready — this collection of essays is the kind of book you’ll want to share with friends, reread, and highlight your fave passages. For fans of uplifting, powerful, lyrical personal essays — and for anyone who has ever felt alone — this collection provides comfort and inspiration. It recognizes Black joy as a resource and tool for resilience, and defies the stereotypical narrative that Black lives consist only of trauma and hardship. Joy can and does evolve despite those things.
Get ready to click that preorder button because this highly anticipated gem of a book comes out in April and is an homage to musical masters who played a huge part in the story of American pop music. Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Mariah Carey, to name a few. It’s part memoir, part biography, part criticism, and is penned by the podcast host of “Black Girl Songbook” (who happens to also have served as editor at Billboard and Vibe, among other major outlets).
This debut mystery explores family secrets from the Caribbean to California. Estranged siblings Benny and Byron finally unite after their mother’s death, but she’s left them an unusual note: to share her famous black cake “when the time is right” and an audio recording that reveals generations of family secrets. If that doesn’t hook you, know that this is being adapted for TV by Oprah Winfrey’s production company. 👀
P.S. If you’re wondering what “black cake” is, it’s a very dark, rich, rum-soaked fruit cake from Caribbean culture. Of course, it represents so much more than a delicious dessert, and this novel does a beautiful job of showing how family, tradition, and identity are formed just as much by the stories that are told as by the ones that aren’t.
Magical realism, hoodoo, time travel, and a love story are just the tip of the iceberg in this alternate historical fantasy that takes place in the early 1900s. Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, leave Georgia due to mounting racial tensions and acts of violence. They journey to Chicago, Illinois, where they attempt to live their truths as gifted performers and hoodoo conjurers, but they must also come to terms with their traumas.
Early reviewers acknowledge that readers should be prepared for some difficult scenes but that this well-researched and soulful story contains strong characters with rich personalities, complex cultures, and a fast-moving plot.
This literary triptych (told in three parts) follows three Black women with albinism. They have all had different journeys in life, but all find themselves at a crossroads of self-discovery in this novel set in Shreveport, Louisiana. The place almost feels like a fourth character that threads through all three stories.
Each of the women has a very distinct voice that we won’t soon forget, but the stories all explore themes of Black love, grief, female strength, family (including the ones you choose), and layers of social and racial histories. Birdsong’s writing is spellbinding and had us completely losing track of time each time we sat down to read.
Return to the Wings of Ebony duology with this bold sequel. We don’t want to give anything away in case you haven’t read the first one, but we will say that this perfect-for-the-big-screen urban fantasy features Rue, a Black teen from Houston, Texas, who has godly ancestry and must save both the human world and god worlds. No pressure, right?
We love the themes of sisterhood, family, and adventure throughout. Ashes of Gold is receiving stellar reviews so far, and one fan says, “I may have enjoyed this one more than WoE […] Learning so much about the tribes and culture in Ghizon was reminiscent of what Africa may have been like had it not been colonized.”
If you enjoy magical realism and coming-of-age stories set on college campuses, then check this one out. The author drew on her own experience of attending Dartmouth to pen this YA novel that shows what it’s like to be a first-generation Black female college student on a predominantly white, Ivy League campus.
It follows a first-year named Echo (yup, same as the author) and explores themes of racism, ambition, love, self-worth, mental health, grief, and friendship as she’s faced with the reality (not depicted in the glossy brochures) of higher education in America.
This middle-grade historical novel is loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South, where some enslaved people escaped into the deep swamps and forests to create free lives in secret. “This is a tale of what might have been,” the author writes. It follows 12-year-old Homer as he flees Southerland Plantation with his younger sister, and finds a secret community called Freewater.
Though this beautifully written story is technically marketed for ages 8 to 12, we think it is an important read for any age. It shines a light on the “untold history” of these “resistance communities” and the multilayered experience of Black people in the 1700s and 1800s.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.