After 365 days of nonstop reading, writer and editor Clarence Reynolds has whittled his best books down to an exquisite nine titles. Let us know if you think he’s forgotten a book or two.
by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Alfred A. Knopf
At its heart, Americanah is a tender love story. Yet through Ifemelu, the keenly observant and out-spoken protagonist, this bold author also takes a look at race relations, self-identity, and more importantly, a person’s sense of belonging in this comedic and pertinent tale in which American society is commented on from the mind of a young woman who expresses her viewpoints in a blog titled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” Read Mosaic review
Claire of the Sea Light
by Edwidge Danticat
Alfred A. Knopf
A beautifully told fable about a young girl who disappears on her seventh birthday, just as she is about to be rescued by her father from a life he feels uncertain about. Full of themes of youthfulness, aging, and life replacing death Claire of the Sea Light unfolds the secrets and mysteries of the inhabitants of a seaside village. The stories are woven with charming detail at every turn.
The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke
There are bound to be many stories told by people who experienced Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. And there will also be stories from writers who use the incident as a backdrop and a creative force. In her second novel, Locke presents a suspenseful mystery that takes place post-Katrina, as Caren Gray searches for clues pertaining to the murder of a woman who was found dead on a plantation-turned-tourist attraction in Louisiana. This spellbinding tale is interwoven with a bang of emotion and a meditation on history and nostalgia.
Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities
by Craig Steven Wilder
In this powerful book, Wilder, a professor of American history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explores the connection between prestigious academic institutions and slave labor. In essence, his rich research examines how the slave economy and slave labor helped to build many of America’s most prestigious colleges by helping to provide and secure financial support. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, to name a few, “stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage,” he writes.
The Good Lord Bird
by James McBride
It takes a fearless writer to tackle the subject of slavery with a humorous voice. In McBride’s latest, the protagonist is a young boy who is mistaken for a young girl and who keeps up the charade, believing it is a survival tactic that will keep him alive and out of harm’s way. Irreverence is key here, as the colorful and eccentric characters, among them abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass, are rendered to be comic; yet McBride delivers an engaging story.
Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
by Farah Jasmine Griffin
Novelist Ann Petry, dancer Pearl Primus, and musician Mary Lou Williams came from different backgrounds and integrated various artforms in their work, yet once they arrived in Harlem a thread connected them. Griffin weaves important historical details and personal emotions to craft a much-appreciated story about the ambitions of these Black female artists who strived for acceptance and equality and helped to make Harlem the beacon that it was in its heyday.
by Kiese Laymon
In this clever and funny time-travel story set in Mississippi, a sophisticated teen-age boy named City is the main character of both narratives: the story in 1985 and the present-day tale. Laymon weaves together a tender coming-of-age story that explores racial tension, self-perception and self-acceptance, along with honest bonds of family love and friendships.
Men We Reaped
by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward’s third book is an emotionally charged and beautifully written memoir that not only mediates on her growing up in the rural South, but also reflects upon her personal feelings about the lives of the young men she knew growing up who died tragically and in the prime of their lives.
The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat
by Edward Kelsey Moore
Alfred A. Knopf
Moore’s debut is a splendid story about the friendship of three women who have comforted and supported each other through their ups and downs. The lively characters and their relatives are portrayed with kindheartedness and truthfulness that allows the reader to understand how their unique bond strengthened over 40 years.
Clarence V. Reynolds, an independent journalist, is the director at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.