49 Bl@ck AF Books I Read in 2019

The Amazing, The Aight, and the Rest of ‘em…

When I decided to promote Black literature as a form of activism back in 2018 I was working with a very linear approach. I felt it was vital for me to catch up to all the Black classics I missed out while reading snoozes like The Catcher and the Rye, smh. My collection of reads in 2018 reflected that mission, with an equal mix of classics and new releases. This year, I wanted to make sure I was keeping an ear to these literary streets so I could promote new releases once they hit bookstores. My 2019 Bl@ck AF Reading List is still pretty nerdy, but I did my best to spice it up with some street lit and historical romance. Enjoy!

Black Feminist Lit

1. Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists are Taking Over the World, From the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones, 2019

Reclaiming Our Space affirms the importance of Beyoncé’s internet putting respect on our names. It also cites Black women who have and continue to innovate social justice and branding, both online and off. Ultimately, Reclaiming Our Space is a literary reminder to Black feminists that we are the driving force behind social media.

2. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris, 2015

Pushout is the kind of book that every adult should read, but all education providers must. It advocates for Black girls and speaks on their behalf, while including stories from school-aged Black girls. I wish I would have had Pushout to read when I was twelve.

3. Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’ eke Natasha Tinsley, 2018

Sections that include the maternal mortality crisis are jarring and somewhat hard to digest. Yet, it’s uplifting to see a Black scholar use her platform to center and amplify the most marginalized of us; the dark-skinned, the fat, the trans, and the socially unacceptable.

4. More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth, 2019

A personal favorite. Welteroth’s case for betting on yourself is made with examples of times when she underestimated her own worth, moments that are bittersweet and incredibly relatable. From colorism to intersectionality, More Than Enough is unapologetic in its truth-telling.

5. The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to fall in love with me by Keah Brown, 2019

I love Keah Brown’s writing style. It’s clean, often feeling like you’re eavesdropping on an intimate conversation between close friends. When addressing the intersectional shortcomings in fashion and entertainment, her views are direct and cohesive. As the topic shifts to how beauty standards affect the way she’s seen and moves in the world, Brown’s reflections are eye-opening in ways I wasn’t prepared for.

6. Unf*uckablewith: Rising From The Ashes Into Your Black Woman Badassery by Catrice M. Jackson

Catrice M. Jackson continues to provide motivation and nourishment for other Black women with the follow-up to 2018’s, The Becky Code. With purpose and touching personal stories, Unf*ckablewith demands Black women to find their calling, center their health, and rise above misogynoir and white violence.

Critical Race Theory

7. How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance by Akiba Solomon and Kenrya Rankin, 2019

A collection of essays and commentary from some of today’s greatest thinkers, activists, and artists. Speaking to and dedicated exclusively to the Black gaze, the anthology is both a literal and figurative guide on surviving white supremacy. The list of contributors incude Damon Young, Ta-Nahesi Coates, and the one and only, Tarana Burke.

8. Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon, 1952

The Woman of Color and the White Man, The Black Man and Language, and The Black Man and Psychopathology are self-explanatory chapters Fanon dives into, examining and theorizing the power dynamics and assimilation conflicts Black people face. The intellectual labor we use to move our bodies through space is incomprehensible, yet, Fanon finds the words.

9. Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps, 2016

Same Family, Different Colors pairs statistics with intimate testimonies to prove that colorism can have life-altering effects on some more than others. The book is written from a global perception, examining colorism among Black families, as well as non-Black communities of color.

10. I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin, 2018

From the beginning, Baldwin writes of plans to visit the children of three Black men in his life who had been assassinated; Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. His relationships with these men, each ending in their assassination, left a lasting impression on Baldwin’s views on existing in Black skin in America.

11. Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey, 2018

Well, That Escalated Quickly is almost 250 pages of Ramsey breaking down concepts, ideas, terms, and issues that are older than her. Yet… there are no notes at the end of the book! This is because Ramsey fails to cite any of the Black revolutionaries that made Well, That Escalated possible. The closet Ramsey comes to paying homage is at the end of the book when she describes Kimberlé Crenshaw as a civil rights activist. Really, girl?

Black American History

12. They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rodgers, 2019

By no means is They Were Her Property an easy read. Besides the dense, college text-style which the book is written — loaded with historical facts and notes, it’s a bitterly painful read. Nearly every page contains the story of an enslaved African who succumbed to circumstances at the control of their mistress. Still, despite its triggers, They Were Her Property is required read for white women.

13. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Congo by Zora Neale Hurston, 2018

image courtesy of goodreads

This non-fiction is based on a series of interviews Zora Neale Hurston documented with Cudjo Lewis. Cudjo, an African native, was a member of the last ship that transported kidnapped Africans to America and forced them into chattel slavery. This is a book for us, our parents, and our children.

14. American Slaves Tell Their Stories: Six Interviews by Octavia V. Rogers Albert,1890

Six intimate stories were compiled to create American Slaves Tell Their Stories, and each story is more heart wrenching than the last. The stories are delivered in its original dialect , Black English as June Jordan referred to it, reminds readers of the language that enslaved Africans created, which was a mix of native land, new communal meanings, and English. American Slaves Tell Their Stories is filled with revelations of how Black families survived the ‘work south’.

15. Rebel (Women Who Dare #1) by Beverly Jenkins, 2019

The storyline of Valinda and Drake’s forbidden passion was pretty damn cheesy. Still, the antagonism from Lost Cause members and a failing Reconstruction was intriguing. Real facts with an antebellum backdrop almost made me forgive the presence of words like moist.

Wellness

16. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by Adrienne Maree Brown, 2019

An outstanding book on the importance of embracing erotica, pleasure, and joy. Adrienne Maree Brown passes the mic to more than a dozen writers, creators, and influencers of color who encourage everyone to not only love the skin they’re in but enjoy it.

17. Pussy Prayers: Sacred and Sensual Rituals for Wild Women of Color by Black Girl Bliss, 2018

An easy-to-read/at times challenging-to-process book about one’s relationship with their vagina. Because Pussy Prayers embraces the reality that having one does not make a woman and not all women have/need pussy’s, it’s a healthy read for everyone.

18. Fuck That Cape: The Grown Woman’s Unapologetic Guide to Putting Herself First by Jennifer Carter, 2018

The book is as real as the title. Jennifer Carter got so tired of doing everything for everybody that she stopped decided, and she wants you to do the same. With lighthearted stories and excellent suggestions on how to center you, Fuck That Cape makes a good case for radical, immediate self-care.

Beyology

Beyoncé in Formation Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’ eke Natasha Tinsley

(See Black Feminist Lit selection)

19. There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker, 2017

Content ranges from politics, Blackness, autumn, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Still, Beyoncé is the underlining theme, making her way into various poems. Parker’s poetry is melodic, irreverent, and entertaining by equal measure.

20. Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé edited by Veronica Chambers, 2019

Blackademics who challenge gender norms, politics, and respectability are going to devour Queen Bey. Contributors explore every facet of the star’s artistic, political, spiritual, and personal endeavors.

21. I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons Why I Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux, 2018

Anybody can enjoy this book — gay, hetero, Black, or white (I wouldn’t recommend it for Beythiests, though). However, Black queers need it most. The compassion Arceneaux uses to write about life through the eyes of a Black gay man is likely to be a literary hug for all the Black queer children.

Memoir/Biography

22. The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson, 2019

The Bold World gives vision to a child coming into their identity while embracing their body, not fighting against it. This unconventional memoir takes you through worlds of Black elitism, family blending, growing up trans, and parenting. Patterson’s worlds are real, holding space for all Black parents who are trying to raise their children to be whole and free.

23. The World According to Fannie Davis by Brigdett M. Davis, 2019

For Fannie, running numbers was a way to provide for herself and her family. The money she generated through her hustle sent her children to good schools and helped put Bridgett through college. The World According to Fannie is filled with tales of life in 70s Detroit, and what life was like for Black folk back in the day. Davis writes beautifully and did her mother’s story justice. I loved this book.

24. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, 2017

Roxane Gay gets honest about her history with weight gain, which is connected to an inhumane sexual assault when she was in junior high. Hunger is as smart and bittersweet as you’d expect a Roxane Gay to be.

25. Becoming by Michelle Obama, 2018

It’s a beautifully written, safe read. Becoming has just as much pageantry and respectability as one would expect.

Essays/Short Stories

26. Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays by June Jordan, 2002

There isn’t a dull page in Some of Us Did Not Die. Jordan provides impeccable writing, using the same precision with her words that a surgeon does with a scalpel. Though she was a master wordsmith, she was more than a writer. She was the survivor of rape — twice. She was an activist. Some of her greatest thoughts and musings are included in Some of Us Did Not Die.

27. Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji, 2019

A jarring collection of short stories that explore love, angst, and dysfunction in the lives of various different women. In each story, Mutonji allows Black women to explore intense emotion during otherwise common experiences.

28. Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism by Aph Ko and Syl Ko, 2017

I was initially intimidated by Aphro-ism because it’s a pretty dense book. However, when I got over the big words, I appreciated the depth of the analytical framework presented. Aphro-ism allows Black people to look at their relationship with animals and a colonized society with a radically different lens.

29. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs, 2018

Alexia Arthurs says more in one sentence than some writers say in an entire essay, which is why the stories in How to Love a Jamaican are so compelling.

30. Still Breaking Normal: A Fat, Black, Femme, Geek Navigating an Anti-Black World by Talynn Kel, 2018

Talynn Kel is married to a white man who’s challenged with dismantling his racism while making space for herself in the white, fatphobic cosplay world. The experiences that follow provide Kel with insight and wit that fills Still Breaking Normal. Fun, very readable, and honest.

31. Black is the Body: Stories from my Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard, 2019

Emily Bernard is a professor who provokes her white students to use the n-word, is clueless about keeping up with her Black daughter’s hair, and married to a white man who teaches… African American studies. Make. It. Make. Sense.

Black Politics

32. We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McCain, 2019

Because Black mothers so rarely have the opportunity to explore their parental options without ridicule or shame, the invitation to dig deep into the world of Black motherhood is a warm welcome.

33. The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama by Gwen Ifill, 2009

The eternally unanswered question, What would Gwen have thought about politics today? doesn’t go away after reading The Breakthrough. Her observations and insight were on point and leaving you wanting more.

34. Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams, 2019

Lead from the Outside is a brilliant guidebook, providing suggestions on how to accomplish everything from getting your finances in order to the first steps to taking success to the next level.

35. Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy by Maggie Anderson, 2012

Maggie Anderson had the right idea when she decided to document her journey of supporting Black businesses exclusively for a full year. However, her approach was biased, leaving out online Black businesses, as well as being hyper-critical to Black businesses she didn’t find ‘suitable’. At one point she makes such disparaging remarks about a Black-owned convenience store and its patrons, you have to question who’s side she’s on.

FICTION

Novels

36. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, 2011

On the surface, the novel may appear to be a simple tale about a man torn between two women. Still, through Jones’ intention to focus on those affected by John and his lifestyle, Silver Sparrow is all about women. Mothers. Daughters. Wives. Mistresses.

37. Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen, 2019

It’s not easy trying to have it all when you’re a Black woman, but, sometimes it’s fun trying. In Tabitha, Black readers are given a well-deserved Joan Clayton/Carrie Bradshaw moment.

38. Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile, 2014

If there’s one character that remains true in both the novel and the TV show, it’s Charlee. She’s neither a farmer nor a businesswoman, but on her inherited land she grows to become both.

39. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, 2019

A beautifully written novel about the impact that one married couple’s crime has on their children, their marriage, and their community. Centering Black women and Black girls, The Care and Feeding is a page-turner.

40. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Bride is as beautiful as she is successful, and she’s in the midst of a confusing love affair with Booker. Toni Morrison’s writing shines through in this novel.

MYSTERY/THRILLER

41. Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon, 2019

When Autumn Spencer’s twin sister, Summer, disappears into thin air one cold,winter night, she begins her quest to find her. Speaking of Summer is a thrilling mystery that speaks to the experience of so many Black American women, drowning on dry land.

42. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyincan Braithwaite, 2018

Braithwaite did an awesome job of balancing suspense, humor, and drama. Just as there are funny moments between Korede and Ayoola, there’s also painful memories that suggest how Ayoola’s gone from innocent kid to manipulative killer.

43. American Spy by Lauren Wilkerson, 2019

Marie Mitchell is a 1980s FBI agent trying to solve the mystery surrounding her sister’s sudden death, while balancing her love for a man she’s been hired to kill.

44. They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall, 2019

What was supposed to be a relaxing evening on a deserted island turns into a fight for her life and no clues on who her could-be murderer is. I was underwhelmed but diehard mystery fans may feel otherwise.

45. Malawi’s Sisters by Stephanie S. Hatter, 2019

Whew chile, this book was shitty. Hatter used the 2013 tragic murder of Renisha McBride for her plot, a tale of a surviving family trying to cope after the killing of Malawi, who’s gunned down by a racist. One sister is homophobic, and the other is in a relationship with a white cop who ‘all lives matters’ everything. The book worked so hard to defend police and forgive Malawi’s murderer, you almost forget who the real victims are. Leave it on the shelf.

Romance

46. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory, 2019

When Nikole Patterson turns down her boyfriend’s public proposal, Carlos sweeps in, becoming the perfect rebound. As the two woo each other and move the goal posts on boundaries, things get complicated, quick. This was actually a lot cuter than The Wedding Date.

Rebel (Women Who Dare #1), 2019

(See Black American History)

47. Full Figured 13: $54 Million Dollar’s Worth of Fat by Mona Love, 2019

One of two stories told in the thirteenth installment of the Plus Size Divas saga (and, honestly, it’s the only one worth reading). Keisha is young, beautiful, and hopeless when it comes to finding love. However, after winning the lottery, she has to beat men off with a stick, and finding the one becomes even harder. It’s erotica romance with a lot of heart.

48. Side Chick Nation by Aya de Leon, 2019

You can tell that Side Chick Nation was supposed to be good. However, de Leon’s incohesive storyline and use of real life events to further an already outlandish plot underwhelmed me. I wouldn’t recommend it to my boredest friend.

49. A Plus Sized Diva: Who Ya’ Wit’? The Beginning by Brenda Hampton, 2013

The erotica is on point, but the romance was terrible. The relationship between Desa Rae and Roc is so dysfunctional that it’s dangerous. Throughout the book, Desa Rae is so dicknotized by Roc that she lets him get away with cheating, skipping out on his parental duties, and violence. Miss me with it.

Tamela J. Gordon is a writer, editor, book critic, and facilitator of safe space for Black women. Join Tamela’s Patreon community, her online book club (exclusively for non-men), and check out shewritestolive.com . You can follow Tamela on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads!

Writer. Feminist. Advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS.

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