Some Lesser-Known (but still great) Reads for Black History Month

February is Black History Month. And while there are so many classics written by Black authors (Hello, Beloved, The Color Purple, Purple Hibiscus, and so many more!), I thought I’d share some titles that I love that aren’t quite as well-known, from both Africa and the Black Diaspora,

Don’t Cry for Me, Daniel Black (2022): This was my top read of 2022 so I’ve written about it a couple of times before, but I still don’t hear much about it, so I’m going to highlight it again. It’s written as a heartfelt letter from a dying Black father to his estranged son, explaining who he is and where he came from. So, while this is ostensibly a book about Black fatherhood and the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality within the Black community, it also beautifully represents aspects of Black American history like sharecropping, the Great Migration, and the Black Power movement. I really love this one!

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014): This is a beautiful novel in verse about a young Black girl growing up in South Carolina and New York City in the 1960s and ‘70s. This got quite a bit of attention when it was released, winning both the National Book Award and Newbery Honor, but seems to have faded into the background a bit since then. But please do yourself a favour and read this book!

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018): This dark comedy follows a hard-working nurse whose commitment to doing right by her family is put to the test when her sister’s boyfriends start turning up dead. As heightened as the premise for this is, this is a great ‘slice of life’ story that I found very enlightening, particularly about contemporary life in Africa’s major cities, the role of social media, and the continued subtle legacies of colonialism. (There’s one scene I’ll never forget where the heroine code-switches the register of her English when speaking to a police officer — so fascinating from my North American, White perspective!)

Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds (2017): This short, modern YA classic takes place during the length of a single elevator ride as its protagonist considers his family’s and neighbourhood’s history with gang-related violence. It’s chilling. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a wonderful piece of literature.

Jazz Moon, Joe Okonkwo (2016): This little-known historical novel follows the lives of two queer jazz musicians, both in Harlem and later as they travel to Paris to try to escape the racism they experience at home. A good story, well-told.

The Binti Trilogy, Nnedi Okorafor (2015-18): This trilogy about a girl who escapes her village to go to university on a distant planet and then has to come home to face the consequences, is one of my all-time-favorite science fiction series, so it’s well worth reading on that front alone. But it’s so much more than that, offering a powerful vision of African futures that are indelibly linked to African pasts.

Last Summer on State Street, Toya Wolfe (2022): This 2022 release made some ripples when it first came out, but it definitely deserves some more love. It follows a group of friends and the different directions their lives take after they learn the Project they’ve been living in is going to be torn town. If you’ve ever wondered what gentrification looks like from the perspective of the community being displaced, this is a great start.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw (2020): This collection of short stories ‘does what it says on the box’, exploring the lives of a diverse group of Black women in the United States as they navigate work, relationships, gender politics, sexuality, race, and even the weather.

Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn (2022): I just read this last month, but thought it was well-worth highlighting again here. This is a great book dealing with the complexities of the culture of the Black Diaspora in the United Kingdom, and the more general tensions inherent in ‘first-generation’ experiences. The main character may make a lot of bad decisions here, but you’ll never stop cheering her on.

One response to “Some Lesser-Known (but still great) Reads for Black History Month”

  1. […] great read-alike to this would be Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, which has a similar structure and looks at similar issues, but through an American […]


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