The Best Black History Month Reads, According To This Year’s Debut Authors

Thirty early-career writers recommend some of their favorite books.

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Books recommended for Black History Month include 'Oreo,' 'Star Child,' 'Panther Baby,' 'Black Birds...
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If you’re looking to build a reading list for Black History Month, you’re in luck. Bustle has reached out to 30 Black authors who are publishing their debut books this year, asking them each to recommend a title to read this February — or any other month. Whether you’re in the mood for classics from the Harlem Renaissance or a newly-published novel, you’ll find something here.

Every February, the United States and Canada celebrate Black History Month — a four-week-long observance, during which the contributions of Black thinkers, creators, and activists receive a much-needed spotlight. Responses from the Black community remain varied, with some appreciating the period of reflection the observance offers, and others unimpressed by the way mainstream culture relegates Black history to a single, four-week period each year. As with observance periods for other marginalized groups, however, the most pressing question surrounding Black History Month is not whether it should exist, but why we still need it.

Below, find 30 books to read for Black History Month, as chosen by 2022’s debut authors.


Charity Alyse recommends The Black Kids

The Black Kids is everything I needed as a teenager. Like Ashley, I grew up as one of the few Black girls in a predominately white space, so I loved how this story turned the ‘Black best friend’ trope on its head and placed her center stage. Reed didn’t just tell a coming-of-age story, she expertly fashioned together a coming-into-Blackness story! I loved seeing Ashley given permission to make mistakes and grow from them — slowly. Her story taught me how bravery isn’t something we’re born with. Instead, it’s a seed planted deep within our souls, watered by trial and tribulation and when fully grown, sprouts a tree rooted in resistance. From cover to content, this book preaches why being one of ‘the Black kids,’ is both an honor and privilege — and I am here for it!”

Charity Alyse’s debut novel, Other Side of the Tracks, is out in Fall 2022 and available for pre-order now.


Jendella Benson recommends The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois

“A book I haven’t been able to shake since completing it a few weeks ago. It is a family saga of epic ambition that immerses you in the humanity of America’s tangled and corrupt history through the lens of a beautifully flawed and brilliant young woman, and Ailey and her family still live in my head rent-free. I have to admit, usually I shy away from narratives that directly involve great historical sins such as genocide and slavery, but from the first page, this book took a hold of me and would not let go.”

Jendella Benson’s debut novel, Hope and Glory, is out on Apr. 19 and is available for pre-order today.


Ayanna Lloyd Banwo recommends The Book of the Little Axe

“I recommend this book every chance I get: The Book of the Little Axe by Trinidadian American writer, Lauren Francis-Sharma. I still can’t understand why more people were not shouting about this book from the rooftops. The sheer scope of the story, the unforgettable characters and the gorgeous prose make this a must-read. It also upends the traditional migration narrative that people expect from Caribbean diaspora novels. Come for an ambitious feat of historical fiction that takes you from Spanish Colonial Trinidad on the cusp of change to the Crow Nation in Bighorn, Montana, and stay for Rosa Rendón, a young Black woman on the move who refuses to live by anyone’s definitions. I absolutely loved it.”

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s debut novel, When We Were Birds, is out on Mar. 15 and is available for pre-order today.


Lizzie Damilola Blackburn recommends Of This Our Country: Acclaimed Nigerian Writers on the Home, Identity, and Culture They Know

Of This Our Country is a brilliant collection of personal essays written by 24 multitalented authors of Nigerian heritage. Inspired by their own experiences and memories, each essay provides a fascinating insight into what makes Nigeria so beloved, so extroverted, and sadly its own enemy at times, touching on topics from politics and religion to class and identity. Thought-provoking, moving, and occasionally funny, this must-read anthology provides a multifaceted exploration of Africa's most populous country — both its past and its present, but most importantly, its potential.”

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn’s debut novel, Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?, is out now.


Ama Codjoe recommends Quicksand

“I trust Nella Larsen has earned new readers with the 2021 film release of Passing. Rereading the novel after watching the film felt enlarging: like coffee paired with ice cream. But I’d like to recommend Larsen’s first novel Quicksand (1928), the only other published novel of Larsen’s we’re lucky enough to have. Quicksand’s protagonist Helga Crane journeys through myriad landscapes, identities, and selves. As I journey with her, I am reminded of the constraints and dreams of my own life. Larsen’s attention to the sensual and sensory make for a luscious, thought-provoking read.”

Ama Codjoe’s debut poetry collection, Bluest Nude, is out on Sep. 13 and is available for pre-order today.


Sutanya Dacres recommends Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

“Emma Dabiri’s Twisted is a dazzling and captivating ode to Afro hair. Dabiri takes the reader on a historical, sociological, and anthropological journey that goes beyond beauty and style. She investigates and analyzes the ways in which the decision to wear one’s hair in its natural Afro state is an act of resilience and rehabilitation of culture and traditions. It’s an arrestingly powerful book that will stick with the reader for years to come.”

Sutanya Dacres’ debut memoir, Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me, is out on June 21 and is available for pre-order today.


Lianne Dillsworth recommends This Lovely City

“Lawrie Matthews arrives in London from Jamaica to help the Mother Country rebuild after the ravages of war. He expects a warm welcome but instead encounters privations and prejudice. Evie, the girl next door, is different and they fall in love — but when the body of a mixed-race baby is found on Clapham Common, Lawrie’s background makes him the prime suspect for a hostile police. A historical mystery and poignant love story combined with an engaging and complex cast of characters, This Lovely City captures the experiences of the Windrush generation and paints a vivid and unflinching picture of postwar London.”

Lianne Dillsworth’s debut novel, Theatre of Marvels, is out on Apr. 12 and is available for pre-order today.


Tiffanie Drayton recommends Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone

“This book completely changed my views on Black marriage, shifting responsibility for low marriage rates in the Black community from Black women and men to the systemic racism which wreaks havoc on our lives.”

Tiffanie Drayton’s debut memoir, Black American Refugee: Escaping the Narcissism of the American Dream, is out on Feb. 15 and is available for pre-order today.


Saara El-Arifi recommends The Unbroken

“As magnificent as it is fraught, C.L. Clark’s epic fantasy The Unbroken transports you to the battlefield of a new world. With echoes of North African history, the novel brings to light important issues around authority, identity, and political occupation. Yet it's in the book's characters where the true magic lies: full of badassery, queerness, and complex arcs that left me wanting more, the only consolation in coming to the end was knowing that it’s the first book in a trilogy. The story is a journey that you don’t want to miss, so if you haven’t read this important novel, then get your hands on it and settle in for a heart-pounding ride.”

Saara El-Arifi’s debut novel, The Final Strife, is out on June 21 and is available for pre-order today.


Deborah Falaye recommends Ashes of Gold

“In this epic conclusion to J. Elle's breathtaking YA debut, Wings of Ebony, Rue returns with the same fierce determination as she embarks on a journey to reclaim the magic that has been stolen from her people. With the world of Ghizon now divided and on the brink of war, Rue and her friends join the rebellion to lead the fight against the Chancellor and his army. But victory comes at a price, and as Rue struggles with who her true allies are, she must also learn to overcome her own fears and insecurities in order to become the leader her people need. Ashes of Gold is a magical story about the bonds of sisterhood, the celebration of Black love, and a Black girl's journey to take back her strength and power.”

Deborah Falaye’s debut novel, Blood Scion, is out on Mar. 8 and is available for pre-order today.


Aaron Foley recommends The World According to Fannie Davis

“Detroit history is Black history, and far too often the contributions to the culture outside of Motown are overlooked. Fortunately, there are writers like Bridgett Davis doing their part to course-correct. Davis’ The World According to Fannie Davis is a part biography, part memoir of her mother — a numbers runner who came into wealth as Detroit’s burgeoning Black middle class, fueled largely by the automotive industry but also the ecosystems around it, became the city’s majority from the 1960s until now. Though numbers running, a precursor to a legalized lottery system (read the book to see how that goes), is seen today as illicit, Davis flips the script and explains how her mother and others in the game were able to provide solid upbringings for families like hers while also advancing the fortunes of a generation of Black Detroiters. I tore through this book in a weekend — not just because I recognized in Fannie Davis many women I grew up around, at least one of whom ran some numbers themselves, but also because as we discuss unsung figures we don’t see in the history books, Fannie Davis and the many Black pioneers outside the much-discussed urban centers of Atlanta, D.C. and New York City rank among them.”

Aaron Foley’s debut novel, Boys Come First, is out on May 31 and is available for pre-order today.


Juliana Goodman recommends How It Went Down

“When a Black teen named Tariq is killed by a white shooter, his community sets out to uncover the truth about the events of that day. What I love about this story is that it’s told from multiple viewpoints, allowing us to see how Tariq’s death impacted everyone, from his younger sister to his rival. The writing is powerful and authentic. A heartbreaking portrait of a Black neighborhood trying to make sense of the death of one of their own and how to move forward.”

Juliana Goodman’s debut novel, The Black Girls Left Standing, is out on June 28 and is available for pre-order today.


Kai Harris recommends The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“I thought I'd already discovered all the books that would make my all-time-best-book-ever list. That is, until I picked up Deesha Philyaw's The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. This collection explores the lives of Black girls and women as they follow the desires of their hearts — even when it means breaking the rules and ignoring warnings several generations in the making. Each character, each story, each world is its own. The stories are complex and intimate, rich and subtle. My favorite thing about reading this collection was how often I saw myself in its characters. How often I laughed at inside jokes and was compelled to reminisce on my own Black girlhood/womanhood. There's nothing like that feeling. I am sure I will read this one again and again!”

Kai Harris’ debut novel, What the Fireflies Knew, is available now.


Taylor Harris recommends Citizen: An American Lyric

“As a Black woman, I get to be the you in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Critiques about the use of second person, as heavy-handed or suffocating, be damned. In her award-winning, genre-defying book on race in America, Rankine uses poetry, prose, artwork, sound, and space without apology or introduction. There is no ‘Attention, white people: In this book, you will find….’ You are either in, or you are out. If you are in, you sit alongside her, or maybe you are her, in the driveway, after a colleague has complained about having to ‘hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.’ The offense always comes fast, doesn’t it? A flick of their tongue leaves you whirling. But watch Rankine carefully chart the visceral and emotional aftermath of a microaggression: ‘When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash.’ Anytime a poet writes prose, I am terrified in the best way. I’ve been overlooked and targeted in restaurants and bakeries. I’ve fought a prestigious PWI for my spouse’s tenure. I’ve been pulled over for swerving when the street was lined by parked cars. I have wondered: Is it me or are they racist? Rankine, with sharp text and margins and a poet’s wonder and scalpel, reminds me I am not alone.”

Taylor Harris’ debut memoir, This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, is available now.


Tammye Huf recommends Washington Black

“On a plantation in Barbados, 11-year-old George Washington “Wash” Black is pulled from the fields to become the manservant to his master’s eccentric brother, Christopher “Titch” Wilde, a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. When an untimely death places Wash in grave danger, Titch orchestrates an escape in his flying machine that ultimately takes Wash across continents on adventures he never dreamed of. But his new life of freedom brings its own particular brand of challenges. Navigating love, abandonment, and a fierce search to find his place in the world, we see in Washington Black a character as real and rounded as they come. And we root for him every step of the way.”

Tammye Huf’s debut novel, A More Perfect Union, is available now.


S. Isabelle recommends Pride

Pride is one of those books where, once I finished it, I was immediately jealous of the past version of myself who was just picking it up for the first time. Zoboi had already solidified herself as a favorite author of mine after I’d read American Street, so it was no surprise that her Austen remix would become a forever favorite as well. The story follows Bushwick teen Zuri as she navigates growing up, family life, the effects of gentrification, and burgeoning love when the arrogant and wealthy Darius moves in across the street. The writing is what you can expect from Zoboi: gorgeous, heartfelt, and perfectly written for its audience. As a Haitian American reader, Pride is a comfort. As a teen librarian, it’s my go-to recommendation. As a writer, it’s something to aspire to. May we all live with the wit and confidence of Zuri Benitez.”

S. Isabelle’s debut novel, The Witchery, is out on July 26 and is available for pre-order today.


Chantal James recommends Brown Girl, Brownstones

“Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones is an immersive epic that casts the life of a young daughter of Barbadian immigrants in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s on a grand scale. It’s the kind of book that foregrounds the details of an ordinary life, the tiny tragedies and longings of growing up, against larger historical events. Marshall's first novel arrived with an urgency to explore the kinds of protagonists who had rarely been centered, and in doing so she has provided generations of readers with the opportunity to know that they are seen and heard. She paved the way for many of the Black women writers who would emerge in the decades to come.”

Chantal James’ debut novel, None But the Righteous, is available now.


Chantal V. Johnson recommends Oreo

“I recommend Oreo, a cheeky picaresque about a black Jewish teen searching for her absentee father in Manhattan. Part kooky family saga, part mythic quest, Oreo courses with bravado, giving us a singular heroine who, in one scene, fends off predatory men wearing only a mezuzah necklace, sandals, and bra. The novel's many pleasures include manic code-switching, comic set-pieces, punchlines in several languages, and a metallic anti-rape device. At the helm of it all was Fran Ross, a writer who didn't care about being easily understood, such not-caring reflecting her genius, her independence, and her seriousness about having fun.”

Chantal V. Johnson’s debut novel, Post-Traumatic, is out on Apr. 5 and is available for pre-order today.


Noué Kirwan recommends The Wildest Ride

The Wildest Ride is an engaging and unique, multicultural romance featuring a Black woman competing in the male-dominated professional bull-riding world. Even those that don't normally read cowboy romance will find something to love in this absorbing book. From details about rodeo culture and the Circuit to a true history of the Mvskoke Freedmen (as the African American tribal members also call themselves) and the INFR (Indian National Finals Rodeo), there is a wealth of information woven into every page. *And Marcella's author's note is a particularly informative read.* So, whether this is your first rodeo romance or your 20th, there is a lot to enjoy in Lil and AJ's love story.”

Noué Kirwan’s debut novel, Long Past Summer, is out on Aug. 2 and is available for pre-order today.


Ebony LaDelle recommends Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

“I’m reading Parable of the Sower now and have been so moved to learn more about the ‘Mother of Afro-futurism,’ but sadly there aren’t a lot of books about her life and legacy, so the recent publication of Ibi Zoboi’s Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler is right on time. I read this book in one sitting. Star Child is an inspiring book about the life of one of the greatest Black sci-fi writers of our time, who carved a space for Black writers to tap into their own imaginations and to question everything in front of us, with no boundaries on the future we can imagine for ourselves and our people. This book is filled with journal entries and affirmations from a very shy child and slow reader, who took to writing and drawing illustrations of horses (s/o to Black Beauty, a childhood favorite of mine) and space to escape her bullying while living in the Jim Crow era in California and wanting better for herself. As a writer who didn’t like the sci-fi movies or short stories she saw or read, she rewrote the heroes of her own story to be Black women instead of white men saving white female damsels in distress. Octavia was ‘a brown girl who dreamed up new worlds,’ which, in today’s particular climate I find her work soothing. While this book may be for readers 10 and up, for anyone clamoring for a biography of Octavia Butler, this will be just the book to make you yearn for more of her, and you’ll find yourself wanting to read Butler’s entire backlist.”

Ebony LaDelle’s debut novel, Love Radio, is out on May 31 and is available for pre-order today.


Kristen R. Lee recommends You Truly Assumed

“An empowering, timely, and powerful novel that gives voice to an unheard group in YA fiction.”

Kristen R. Lee’s debut novel, Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman, is available now.


Erica Martin recommends Me (Moth)

“I highly recommend Me (Moth) by Amber McBride. This novel-in-verse is absolutely stunning. There’s a lot of subtle beauty and depth behind her words, the sign of a skilled writer. Of one who understands how to say more with less. Pick this one up; you won’t regret it.”

Erica Martin’s debut poetry collection, And We Rise, is available now.


Nikki May recommends Small Island

“This wonderful book illustrates how soul-destroying English racism was for its colonial victims. Funny, irate, and important, it’s perfectly observed. My heart broke for my father who experienced similar ugliness 20 years later. The flawed characters show that things aren’t always black or white. It’s a masterpiece.”

Nikki May’s debut novel, Wahala, is available now.


Moses McKenzie recommends Nobody Knows My Name

“A collection of Baldwin's early essays. This rich and stimulating collection contains ‘Fifth Avenue, Uptown: a Letter from Harlem,’ polemical pieces on the tragedies inflicted by racial segregation, and a poignant account of his first journey to ‘the Old Country,’ the southern states. Yet equally compelling are his 'Notes for a Hypothetical Novel' and personal reflections on being American, on other major artists — Ingmar Bergman and Andre Gide, Norman Mailer, and Richard Wright — and on the first great conference of Negro-American writers and artists in Paris. In his introduction, Baldwin describes the essays as requiring ‘every ounce of stamina he could summon to attempt to look upon himself and the world as it is’; his uncanny ability to do just that is proclaimed on every page of this famous book.”

Moses McKenzie’s debut novel, An Olive Grove in Ends, is out on May 31 and is available for pre-order today.


Shirlene Obuobi recommends Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

“I’m always on the lookout for stories about Black People Living — the kinds that don’t necessarily involve trauma, tragedy, or overtly center identity. Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? is just that; a story about 30-year-old Nigerian-British Yinka, who, as her cousins and sisters start pairing off, has been hearing this refrain from her squad of nosey Aunties with alarming frequency. She takes it upon herself to methodically seek out said Huzband herself, and the ensuing shenanigans are at times cringey and frustrating, at others laugh-out-loud funny. Yinka’s story touches on issues that were familiar to me — the tensions of straddling two cultures, religion, colorism and texturism, body image issues, and conquering the heterosexual female tendency to mold ourselves to be agreeable to prospective partners, instead of showing them ourselves as we are. Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? is a coming-of-age story in the truest sense, and reading the satisfying last act feels like a long exhale.”

Shirlene Obuobi’s debut novel, On Rotation, is out on June 21 and available for pre-order today.


Nikki Payne recommends Seven Days in June

“I know what you're thinking. Why are we talking about June in February? I'm cold, and you need to leave. But hear me out. Reading this gorgeous romance by Tia Williams is sure to warm you down to your toes. The protagonists, Shane and Eva, meet each other broken, they share a fragmented upbringing, a deep love of writing and seven days in June that changed their lives forever. Fifteen years pass, then Eva's quiet, ordered life is turned upside down when Shane reappears. Dear reader, when they meet again... all bets are off. Shane is a revelation as a leading man: sensitive, vulnerable and so powerful and erudite that I started to side-eye my partner. There were instances when I swear to you I could smell Eva's migraine ointment, she was so fully realized and tangible to me.

At its heart, it is a story of redemption with deep roots in Louisiana Creole superstition and HBO's Euphoria-level insights on the depth of young love. The characters are vibrant, bleeding, pulsing, living creatures that crawl off the page and stomp on your heart. Equal parts swoony and razor-sharp, when it's done, you'll want to go again.”

Nikki Payne’s debut novel, Pride and Protest, is out on Nov. 15 and available for pre-order soon.


Brianna Peppins recommends Clap When You Land

Clap When You Land follows the story of two half-sisters who know nothing of the other’s existence. After the tragic passing of their father, the Rios sisters grapple with grief, uncover truths, and ultimately find their way to one another. Acevedo delivers a novel-in-verse navigating loss, forgiveness, raw emotion, and the will to survive. This lyrical story is breathtaking, poignant yet hopeful.”

Brianna Peppins’ debut novel, Briarcliff Prep, is out on Nov. 15 and aa


Laila Sabreen recommends Off the Record

“One book by a Black author that I’d recommend to read during Black History Month is Off the Record by Camryn Garrett. The novel provides social commentary on the #MeToo Movement and is both charming and inquisitive. In addition, Josie is a main character that readers will absolutely root for as she learns to find her voice, stand up for what she believes in, and shine a spotlight on injustice.”

Laila Sabreen’s debut novel, You Truly Assumed, is available now.


Prince Shakur recommends Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention

“I read Panther Baby in 2017 after processing a lot of trauma around Standing Rock and when I was considering writing my own book. It helped me see how beautiful it is to be black and daring in our world. I wanted to bring that energy to my own life. I also think it’s wild that Jamal was a Black Panther as a teenager, was incarcerated as a part of Panther 21, be a close friend of Afeni Shakur, and is Tupac Shakur’s godfather.”

Prince Shakur’s debut memoir, When They Tell You to Be Good, is out in October 2022 and available for pre-order soon.


Joy L. Smith recommends Black Birds in the Sky

Black Birds in the Sky is an insightful and informative read about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1920 and the events preceding that tragic night. Colbert weaves her own personal upbringing as well as quotes from survivors to bring to light the racial history of America specifically in the Midwest ... A must-read for anyone looking to learn more about the events and people history could not leave behind.”

Joy L. Smith’s debut novel, Turning, is out on Mar. 1 and is available for pre-order today.

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