Summer is just around the corner—and with it comes some time for a restful vacation. Whether you’re stuck on a crowded flight or relaxing on the beach, here are some stellar books published by black authors during the first half of 2016—just in time to take along with you for some exhilarating summer reading.
Hope Wabuke is a Southern California-based writer and a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
1. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
This formidable, epic novel begins with two African sisters who experience life during the slave trade differently: One is taken as a wife by a white Englishman and remains in Ghana, while the other is sold into slavery to America. The novel follows the descendants of the sisters as they grow up on two different continents over the next 300 years. Beautifully moving and haunting, this is a perfectly rewarding read to dig into during summer vacation.
2. Collected Poems: 1974-2004, by Rita Dove
One of the nation’s foremost poets, Rita Dove has received numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. She is also the former poet laureate of the United States. Here, in this collection spanning 30 years of her poems, we have the stunning breadth of Dove’s talent on full display.
11. I Almost Forgot About You, by Terry McMillan
Terry McMillan delivers another entertaining story of female friendship, love and self-discovery in I Almost Forgot About You. Here, our hero is Dr. Georgia Young, a 54-year-old optometrist who is motivated to sell her practice, travel across country and rediscover her dreams—with a chance at love along the way. A heartwarming story of an individual’s ability to change her life at any age.
12. Fuchsia, by Mahtem Shiferraw
This stunning debut poetry collection by Ethiopian poet Mahtem Shiferraw sings with the musicality of language, color and imagery. Writes Shiferraw in her poem “Broken Men”: “They want to go back where/once they were kings/and made of palpitating mud/and spit, and air.” Shiferraw, winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, is an incomparable voice in contemporary poetry.
13. Grace, by Natashia Déon
In Grace, Natasha Déon takes on the darkest aspect of slavery’s painful existence: the systematic rape of black women to produce more enslaved black children, who were then sold away from their mothers. In vivid, haunting prose, Déon looks at one such line of women—mother, daughter, granddaughter—to tell the stories that must be told. A profound work of heart and grace.
14. The Big Book of Exit Strategies, by Jamaal May
In his debut poetry collection, Hum, Jamaal May wowed readers with the force of his visceral, stunning language. Now, in this follow-up effort, he once again delivers. An electrifying read.
15. The Loss of All Lost Things, by Amina Gautier
In her third collection of short stories, accomplished short-story writer Amina Gautier gives us tales that all revolve around the idea of loss—whether the loss be of a person, place, thing or abstract idea. The stories, careful in execution and haunting in their aftermath, will leave the reader breathless.
3. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi
These fantastical tales from the prolific Oyeyemi draw from magical realism but remain grounded in the truth of character and emotion. The stories range from the tale of a baby abandoned outside a church to office politics, from humorous to sad, but all showcase Oyeyemi’s mastery of storytelling and ideas.
4. Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson
The first adult novel from National Book Award-winning children’s author Jacqueline Woodson in over 20 years, Another Brooklyn is a haunting, poetic tale of four girls coming of age in the New York City borough. Navigating absent parents, near poverty and sexually predatory men, each girl forges her own path to make a life of her own.
5. Charcoal Joe, by Walter Mosley
It’s hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Walter Mosley introduced us to his famous detective Easy Rawlins. In this latest in addition to the series, Mosley’s talents are in full effect, weaving a tale of suspenseful intrigue that always keeps the reader guessing. An entertaining read from a storyteller at the top of his game.
6. The Face: Cartography of the Void, by Chris Abani
From acclaimed novelist and poet Chris Abani comes a lyrical, meditative memoir. This book, part of a new series by Reckless Books in which authors pen autobiographies grounded in an exploration of their faces, is a profound, moving tale of the formation of self and cultural identity.
7. Trail of Echoes, by Rachel Howzell Hall
The third installment of Hall’s addictive Lou Norton series, Trail of Echoes deepens the relationships among Norton, her fellow detectives, friends and family. But the fast-paced storytelling and thrilling suspense that characterize the series are still here in full force. A necessary read for fans of the detective, mystery or thriller genre.
8. Here Comes the Sun, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
A superbly realized tale of gender, class, race and sexuality in Jamaica. Here, the lives of poor Jamaicans living in the slums are in stark contrast with the world of the wealthy white men who frequent the island, often for sex tourism. But as one Jamaican woman gets caught up in this lifestyle, things quickly spiral out of control. Nicole Dennis-Benn is a powerful and brave new voice in American literature.
9. Speak From Here to There: A Cycle of Poems, by Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella
Esteemed poet Kwame Dawes joins forces with John Kinsella in a novel experiment: For six months they exchanged lyric emails steeped in the culture that each inhabited—Dawes in Nebraska and Kinsella in Australia. Collected here is their conversation, equally poetic and accessible. A lovely collaboration from two of the most gifted poets of our time.
10. We Love You, Charlie Freeman, by Kaitlin Greenidge
This brilliantly disturbing debut novel from Kaitlyn Greenidge is, on the surface, about two girls whose family is paid by a research institute with a racist past to adopt a chimpanzee and live with it as a member of their family. But as the chimpanzee becomes more beloved by the girls’ mother than her own children, questions of family, identity and race become more complex. Greenidge’s staggering talent deftly builds this heart-wrenching tale.