Looking for a great book? Looking for a great gift? Here are 26 of the best books by black authors published in 2016. They are realistic stories, science fiction and fantasy stories, mystery thrillers, investigative journalism and histories. Ranging from fiction to poetry, short stories to essay collections, there is something here for every taste.
Hope Wabuke is a Southern California-based writer and a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
1. Cannibal, Safiya Sinclair
Jamaican-born poet Safiya Sinclair revitalizes language with her keen imagery and vivid language. “Consider our galloping sun, its life,” Sinclair writes, asking us to reconsider everything we know through every pitch-perfect word in this collection.
2. Swing Time, Zadie Smith
This sixth book by acclaimed Afro-British writer Zadie Smith centers on the story of two girls who dream of being dancers—but only one has the talent to make it. Traveling from Northwest London to West Africa, Swing Time showcases the complex beauty of the global black experience.
11. The Face: Cartography of the Void, Chris Abani
A jewel of a memoir from one of the foremost writers of our time. Here, Chris Abani looks at the formation of self against a backdrop of culture and history.
12. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction, The Underground Railroad explores the journey of two enslaved black Americans from Southern bondage to Northern freedom—only the Underground Railroad is not just a network of people, but a physical train.
13. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayi
Internet sensation Luvvie Ajayi gives her fans her eagerly awaited first full-length book. In this collection of essays, Ajayi analyzes everything from toxic relationships to racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.
14. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, Jesmyn Ward
National Book Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward gathers here essays from leading intellectuals of color meditating on race in our time.
15. Trail of Echoes, Rachel Howzell Hall
Rachel Howzell Hall’s Los Angeles-based detective Lou Norton is back for a third installment of this suspenseful series. A thrilling read for lovers of the mystery-thriller genre.
16. I Almost Forgot About You, Terry McMillan
One of the best-selling black writers of all time, Terry McMillan is back with the story of Dr. Georgia Young, a staid middle-age woman who decides to change her life and discovers a joy she had never thought possible.
17. Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
This provacative novel juxtaposes the story of a Cameroonian immigrant with his wealthy white employer, asking questions about family, class and the American dream.
18. The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter, Kia Corthron
This highly anticipated debut novel from acclaimed TV writer and playwright Kia Corthron explores the intertwined lives of two families—one white, the other black—over nearly a century.
19. Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995-2015, Kevin Young
This latest collection by the acclaimed poet Kevin Young continues his exploration into the black experience in America. Here, Young delves into the racist laws and ideologies that still affect the lives of black Americans today.
20. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
One of the most anticipated novels of 2016, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing does not disappoint. In a story stretching across centuries and from Africa to America, Gyasi delves into the pain and joy of the experience of the global African Diaspora.
3. Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole
The Nigerian-American writer of the acclaimed Open City gives us his first collection of essays in Known and Strange Things. Here, Teju Cole explores art, politics and culture at the intersection of Africa and America.
21. Grace, Natashia Deón
In this tale of legacies passed down between mothers and daughters, we follow a young woman’s quest north to escape slavery in the South. Superb language and suspense make this a rewarding read.
22. Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn
The many layers of life in Jamaica are the subject of this explosive debut novel by Nicole Dennis-Benn. Looking at poverty, European sex tourism and the daily lives of Jamaicans, Dennis-Benn makes us see beneath the surface and reckon with complexity.
23. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education, Mychal Denzel Smith
This memoir by Mychal Denzel Smith explores what it is like to come of age as a black man during the tenure of the first black American president. Here is analysis of the insincerity of respectability politics and a need for true intersectionality in thinking of race, gender and power.
24. Fuchsia, Mahtem Shiferraw
Ethiopian-American Mahtem Shiferraw’s debut poetry collection is both powerful and soft in its use of language, imagery and color.
25. Bestiary, Donika Kelly
“Broadly speaking,” says Donika Kelly of her haunting, lyrical poetry collection, “it’s about what it means to be a person, how to articulate what it means to be a queer-identified woman, to be a lesbian, to be black in spaces that are mixed.” An important read.
26. Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives, Gary Younge
In this powerful piece of nonfiction, Afro-British journalist Gary Younge looks at America’s gun culture by documenting the lives of children lost to gun violence in a single day.
4. Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly
In this groundbreaking history, Margot Lee Shetterly uncovers the stories of the black female scientists, mathematicians and engineers who were instrumental in making America’s space race a reality. Known as “human computers,” these black women were fundamental in building NASA and getting a man on the moon.
5. Collected Poems 1974-2004, Rita Dove
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove has gathered here a selection of poems that span 30 years of writing. A powerful book from a groundbreaking American writer.
6. Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
The award-winning young-adult author pens her first book for adults in over a decade: a haunting tale of girls growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., written in lyrical, imagistic prose.
7. Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi
In this triumph of storytelling and historical research, Ibram X. Kendi explores the history of racist ideologies in America from the foundation of the United States to the present.
8. March: Book Three, John Lewis
The civil rights leader and congressman brings African-American history alive in this last part of his three-volume graphic novel series, a winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
9. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi
The short stories in this collection range across time and subject matter, and from the realistic to the fantastic, but they are all grounded in Helen Oyeyemi’s trademark luminescent prose.
10. We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Kaitlyn Greenidge
This frighteningly clever novel exploring family, race and legacy is one of the smartest books to come out this year. A must-read for lovers of satire and wit.