Your book club is set — way beyond February.

By Keah Brown
Updated Feb 09, 2019 @ 8:00 pm
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I was around eight years old when I started dreaming about publishing a book. I didn't know what it would be about. All I knew was that I wanted to see my name on the spine of a book in a store; I wanted to set up a table and have a line of readers waiting for me to sign their copies. I was an avid reader, devouring romance novels, and wanted nothing more than to create a world where I could see someone like me get to fall in love.

As an adult, I've been writing essays on black womanhood, disability, and how I experience music, pop culture, and life and my twenties through that lens. Now, eight-year-old me can fully freak out: I've sold a book. The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Meis a collection of those essays. I have held it in my hands for the first time, and on August 6 it will be in stores. Maybe I’ll even get to sign a few copies.

Books have always been an anchor for me. Reading, I could picture a future where I was as happy and whole as I am, in so many ways, today. On my journey toward publication, I've been reminded of the shoulders I stand. There are so many authors who created worlds that allowed me to dream bigger and want more for myself as a young girl with a disability.

Especially for Black History Month, I want to talk about the black writers who came before me and created space in the publishing world for themselves, and then for me to follow. The writers who created characters that experience the full spectrum of emotion; characters who are messy, exciting, vulnerable, and who don’t have to try to tuck parts of themselves away to be all of those things. In this list of books I hope you'll read, I have chosen authors whose work illustrates that black people are not a monolith. We do not all love the same things, hate the same things, or write in the same genres. Each of these books showcases and examines the ways in which our history as a people is rich, fun, complicated, and worthy of the stories we are willing and eager to tell.

Some names you may recognize and some you won’t but that’s the beauty of lists like these. They allow you to expand your experience of black Americans through literature and non-fiction. Pick up a copy and read — and please, not just in February.

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Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D.

Dr. Cottom’s eight essay collection covers beauty, money, and so much more. An assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth university, she's an intellectual powerhouse who has been championed by the likes of Oprah, Trevor Noah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Roxane Gay. The latter said this about Thick: “To say this collection is transgressive, provocative, and brilliant is simply to tell you the truth.” After the success of Lower-Ed, Dr. Cottom's book about the troubling reality of for-profit college, this work felt to me like necessary reading. (The New Press)

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Heads of The Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Publisher’s Weekly calls Nafissa Thompson-Spires “a stunning new talent in literary fiction.” In this collection, she grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes “stuffed with invention.” When the book was first released in 2018, it hit over a dozen best seller lists including NPR and Vanity Fair. Thompson Spires' beautiful and gut-punching lines have the power to incite cultural conversations about troubling times, while leaving a reader hopeful. (Simon & Schuster)

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The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison needs no introduction. In fact, I almost wrote THE before her name because she is a living legend who deserves nothing but the world’s respect and admiration. On sale February 12th, The Source of Self-Regard offers new nonfiction through essay, speeches, and meditations in culture, art, and society. In the spirit of honesty, Toni Morrison could write about anything and I’d read it. She has written prolifically and almost nonstop since she won the Nobel Prize in 1993, and many of her books have made their way into required reading. Probably best to keep up and not let this one pass any of us by. (Amazon)

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The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

The Wedding Party, out on July 16th, follows The Wedding Date (Jan 2018) and The Proposal (Oct 2018), which were two of my favorite books of the last year. They are fun, sexy, and wonderfully written fiction to disappear into for a weekend. This one finds protagonists Theo and Maddie helping to plan their best friend’s wedding. They decide to sneak around until the wedding is over but their hearts have other plans. You can read The Wedding Party as a standalone if you want, but you’d be missing out a whole swoon-y world that Guillory has created. (Amazon)

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orisha Book 2) by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi took the world by storm with her debut young adult fantasy novel, Children of Blood and Bone. She has been called the next J.K. Rowling, and her trilogy compared to a Hunger Games — but black. Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Adeyemi exclusively told InStyle, is out on March 7th via Macmillan. After successfully bringing magic back to Orïsha, Zélie and Amari learn that they may have opened up their world to more than they expected. Readers across the world are eagerly awaiting this next installment. (Amazon)

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Black is the Body: Stories From my Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, And Mine by Emily Bernard

I have not stopped thinking about the subtitle of this essay collection since I was first made aware of this book in December 2018. I am a very family oriented person and the idea of hearing three generations of stories from black women is so exciting to me. I wish my own grandmother were here to tell more stories. Black is the Body was one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 most anticipated books of 2019, and now it's out and in its second printing. Clearly, we could all use some generational storytelling about now. (Amazon)

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

The Come Up comes on the heels of the success of Angie Thomas' novel, The Hate You Give (which is now also a movie starring Amandla Stenberg) about a young girl who witnesses the killing of her unarmed childhood best friend at the hands of police. Out as of February 5th, The Come Up follows Bri, a 16-year-old aspiring rapper with big shoes to fill. Her father, an underground hip-hop legend, died just before he was about to take off in his career. Based on the critical acclaim around The Hate You Give, the bar for this book has been set pretty high. Who wouldn't be excited for a new story about a young black girl trying to figure out life and become someone she can be proud of? (Amazon)