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Celebrating Black History Month: Melissa’s Top Reads by Black Authors (2024)

woman browsing books by black authors

Each year I put together a list of my favorite books from the past year — books that moved me, made me laugh or cry, helped me grow, or simply offered me an escape. I’ve done this for the last few years, but pre-unprecedented times, I wasn’t a huge reader.


Fortunately, a shift in perspective combined with a need to fill a mental void changed the game for me. I became and am still an astute consumer of the written word. And I’m better for it. While I could share the full list each year, I prefer curation and intention in such a personal aspect of my life.


So, in honor of Black History Month, I am continuing my annual list of the books by black authors that have impacted me in one way shape or form over the last 12 months.


Since setting out to read more year over year, I’ve curated my favorites not only in blog form but also physically in my home. There is a large circular shelf hung on the wall right when you walk in the front door. That (now crammed full) shelf holds the books that have had the most significant impact on me. Much to my partner’s frustration, I dog-ear pages in those books that have left me speechless, shifted, or altogether changed. The shelf is meant to be an invitation to those who come into my space… pick a book, pick a page, leave changed. It’s one very small way of sharing the beauty and power of the written word beyond lists and links. 

 

But you can’t all be in my home to hold and cherish these selections yourself. So, lists and links it is for now!

 

For this year’s black book list, there isn’t so much a theme as there is a throughline. Obviously, each one is written by a black author, some more well-known than others. But more than that, every single book on this list spoke to me profoundly, in substantially different ways but at seemingly the perfect time in my life. So I present them to you. However, while I recognize the truth of these works for me, these books may not be the jam for everyone, and that’s just fine.

 

Take what resonates and leave the rest. I hope, though, if you have the opportunity to read one or more of the below, they move you in some form or fashion for the better. 

 

Let’s get into it. 

 

Open Water - Caleb Azumah Nelson

In this beautifully written book, Caleb Azumah Nelson brings together a world of art and love in a short but powerful story. As a young black man falls in love, he weaves through feelings of elation and despair, along with the constant reality of racism, toxic masculinity, and muddled identity. This book gave me a perspective I did not previously have on what it means to be a black man in search of home. It sits on the shelf in my entryway today.


Set Boundaries, Find Peace - Nedra Glover Tawwab

Focusing on healthy relationships and personal development, Set Boundaries, Find Peace is a guide of sorts to do just that. It’s an easy read or listen, but I suggest being in the mood to take some notes. With each short section, Tawwab offers useful — and practical — strategies for identifying what boundaries we may need, how to define and share those with others, and how to “stand on business” as the kids say when someone violates the boundary we set. A helpful tool for those working through healing relationships with others.


The Body Is Not An Apology - Sonya Renee Taylor

From activist, artist, and founder Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body Is Not An Apology was the exact book I needed at the time I read it, and for that I am grateful. Breaking through the idea that our bodies are our worth has been an ongoing struggle for me personally. It isn’t something I share openly because it comes with shame and other intense feelings, which I am just now coming to recognize and metabolize in a healthier way. But this book tenderly lays out so many of the concepts around body image and body hatred that many of us struggle with but may not know the how or why of naming them. Taylor’s book reads like a friend giving us the real deal on body acceptance over body positivity, and anyone can gain something valuable from her words.


Above Ground - Clint Smith

In Above Ground, Clint Smith effortlessly draws the reader in with simple but poignant poetry and prose. Ranging from topics like fatherhood and the black experience to nostalgia and activism, his words flow beautifully, one to the next, so much so that you forget for a moment the heaviness of the lyrics. The collection is powerful and worth more than one read. And for those keeping track, it is one book that will always remain on my entryway shelf.


Women Talk Money - an anthology edited by Rebecca Walker

A client asked for a financial/money-related book recommendation to share with a friend, and while I did not yet know this book existed, I would have added it to the list in a heartbeat. No, Women Talk Money is not a grouping of financial tips and tricks for women. It is truly what the title spells out. This collection, edited by Rebecca Walker, pulls together money stories from prominent women in an effort to start conversations. And it does just that. Each essay brings a unique perspective to the what, why, and how of money in women’s lives and the narratives built around women and money because of their lived experiences. Some notable contributors include Tressie McMillan Cottom (see other book review articles for more works from her), Adrienne Maree Brown, and Sonya Renee Taylor.


Speak - Tunde Oyeneyin

I do not have a Peloton bike or subscription, but if I did, Tunde Oyeneyin would be the instructor I faithfully followed, based on her voice alone. When I started Speak as an audio book I could not push pause. Such an inviting, calming tone delivering wisdom in nearly every sentence took me by pleasant surprise. Listening to her share her stories of personal and professional growth — and the muddiness and insecurity that can bring — brought me quickly to a place of self-reflection. This book not only helps readers understand Oyeneyin as the star she is, but also provides space to work through SPEAK: surrender, power, empathy, authenticity, and knowledge. This book is the jam for anyone in the process of cultivating — and increasing the volume of — their own voice.


Black Girl, Call Home - Jasmine Mans

Another collection of poems, Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans took the breath right out of me, multiple times. A trigger warning for those who may need it: Mans’ collection covers quite a bit of difficult ground, including police brutality, self-harm, sexual assault, and severe depression. It is not for the emotionally weary or the unprepared. However, the entirety of the book, including the parts we as the collective might want to brush over, is a beautiful work. At a minimum, Black Girl, Call Home offers a very real and often brutal depiction of the experience of coming into black womanhood. You will feel the weight of her words with every page turn, and you will be better for it.


All the Black Girls Are Activists - EbonyJanice Moore

Did I know what the fourth wave of womanism was before picking up this book? No. Am I grateful to the book universe for directing it my way? Without a doubt, yes. EbonyJanice’s All the Black Girls Are Activists is a such a profound, eye-opening dissertation on the next revolution among and for black women: pursuing softness, dreaming, and personal wholeness as liberation. The essays in this work expand on the previous waves of womanism, discuss the dismantling of the culture of hustle, and provide an educated space in which to uncover what’s next on the path toward a freer existence. The book is written for black women; it is a must read for everyone.


God Is a Black Woman - Christena Cleveland

Psychologist, activist, and theologian Christena Cleveland shares a deep recollection of her crisis and reclamation of faith within the pages of God Is a Black Woman. With a throughline of exceptional storytelling and intimately personal confrontations with self, the book walks us through her journey of uncovering the Sacred Black Feminine. In each chapter, she breaks down her walking pilgrimage through France to lay eyes on the black madonnas she’s researched, and shares in detail the recovery of the divine in her own eyes throughout her trek. The book is an integration of womanist ideology, Christianity, and the black experience in all of it. I will read this again and again.


If any of these books speak to you, I encourage you to pick them up in the way that serves you best. My 2024 reading list is already shaping up, but I’d love to know what you would add to this list of books by black authors — feel free to reach out with recommendations! Here’s to adding more to the shelf.

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