It’s no mystery that the book publishing industry is in major need of a diversity overhaul. Thanks to one of the few minority-owned publishing companies around, we now have tangible proof that lifts the veil on exactly how much of a cultural shift needs to happen.
Lee & Low Books created the Diversity Baseline Survey back in 2015, and it helps determine the racial, gender, sexual orientation, and ability makeup of publishing houses and review journals across the country. In their 2019 survey, the company found out that 79 percent of respondents identified as white, 78 percent as women, 88 percent as straight, and 92 percent as non-disabled.
While those numbers are unfortunately not surprising in the least, they do serve as a reminder to fans of fiction how damn important it is to support Black and BIPOC authors now more than ever before. And what better way to do that than curling up with some iced coffee and reading any number of these awesome books in your backyard this summer?
The first novel in Marlon James’s “Dark Star” trilogy explores what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child. It’s been deemed the “African Game of Thrones” for deftly weaving together African mythology and a story filled with mystery, magic, and adventure. James’s trilogy has already been optioned for film rights, so one this is a must read right now.
This modern fantasy about mermaids, the bonds of friendship, and self-discovery that collides with modern-day racism and sexism. According to Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles, Morrow’s book is “an enthralling tale of black girl magic and searing social commentary ready to rattle the bones.”
In this jam-packed collection of tales by bestselling and award-winning authors, the Black experience is explored through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. With Black women and gender nonconforming individuals at the center of these stories, you can’t go wrong with this unforgettable, groundbreaking book.
Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, and BuzzFeed, this poignant novel centers around a Black and queer young man from Alabama who leaves behind a painful childhood to attend college in a Midwestern town.
A 2011 National Book Award winner, Salvage the Bones centers around a poor Mississippi family facing the grave threat of a powerful hurricane.
Identical twin sisters break their inseparable bond as children when they run away from the small, southern Black community they grew up in and immerse themselves in two strikingly different worlds as grown women. The Wall Street Journal declared this novel reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” making this a must-add to your summer reading list.
Adjei-Brenyah was named a “5 Under 35” honoree by the National Book Foundation, and for good reason. This collection of fierce, satirical stories about the physical and psychic trauma of Black life in America depicts racism as a modern-day bloodsport and consumerism as the zombie apocalypse.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is based on a real-life reform school in Florida where boys were routinely beaten and dozens were murdered. Set in the 1960s, “The Nickel Boys” follows two Black teens who unexpectedly meet at the fictional Nickel Academy, and both are forced to individually and collectively experience the tragic effects of being Black in the twentieth century.
This New York Times Best-Seller has been around for a while, and it’s understandable why. The novel centers around Starr Carter, one of the only Black teens at a predominately white high school. Feeling as if she abandoned her Black friends and family with the move to a nearly all-white school, Carter grapples with more than just personal ambivalence when she becomes the sole witness to a police shooting of an unarmed Black teen. As timely as it is timeless, “The Hate U Give” takes the universal coming-of-age story to a stirring new level.
In this heart-wrenching debut novel by Emezi, a young Nigerian woman named Ada is born with a “miasma of spirits” inside of her head. Each fractured part of her personality takes a turn speaking to the reader as they drive Ada towards wild, reckless behavior as she grows up. When she endures a traumatic event upon moving to America, Ada’s spirits threaten a hostile takeover as they lead her down a dark, dangerous path.
From the bestselling author of “How Stella Got her Groove Back” and “Waiting to Exhale,” “It’s Not All Downhill from Here” explores what happens to 68-year old Loretha Curry when a sudden tragedy shatters her comfortable life of a happy marriage, a successful business, and a group of BFFs who will need to step in to help her pick up the pieces.
This juicy romantic novel stars Olivia, a lawyer in a new town who unexpectedly falls for a white hotshot senator. As their private lives intertwine with their public ones, Olivia must decide if her former mystery man turned famous politician is worth the intense scrutiny their relationship faces. According to Cosmopolitan, “Everything Jasmine Guillory touches turns to gold.” Can’t get a better recommendation than that to dive into this delightful romance.
Queenie Jenkins is a Jamaican woman living in London who aches for a sense of belonging in this powerful novel by Carty-Williams. Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Woman’s Day, Newsday, Publisher’s Weekly, Bustle, and Book Riot, this passionate story about identity politics and relationships will resonate with you in surprising ways.
This instant New York Times Bestseller is about a 25-year old Black woman living in Philadelphia who finds herself being mistakenly accused of kidnapping a child while she’s babysitting for a white family one night.
Half-sisters Effia and Esi are born in two different villages in 18th century Ghana with no idea that the other exists. One grows up to marry a British slaver and bask in a life of comfort, while another is sold into slavery and shipped to America. Gyasi’s prose follows the generations and descendants that follow. This beautiful, powerful novel follows the epically different paths of Effia and Esi, along with eight generations of their descendants.
Full disclosure — I’m going to have a royally tough time narrowing down my favorites on this list, so I’ll probably just read all of them. And honestly, so should you.
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