The holiday season is officially here, which means it’s time to make gift lists and start shopping for friends and family. But listen, do folks really need another scented candle, pair of socks, or pricey electronic gadget? Perhaps it’s time to consider a more radical act of giving: books by Black women.
Why Black women specifically? Well, consider all the ways racism and sexism make being a published author more difficult. In the literary world, Black representation among publishing staff and literary agents is notably sparse, especially in roles with decision-making power.
A recent survey by Lee & Low found that publishing as a whole is 76% white, and marketing departments in the industry are, on average, 74% white. That means although Black women authors release plenty of excellent books every year, they may not get the marketing budget their white peers do.
As Cherise Fisher, a literary agent at Wendy Sherman Associates, told the New York Times in 2021, “There is an engine in publishing houses. Not every book gets the same amount of gas. Some books get premium. Some get regular.”
And at a time when book bans are yanking the poetry of Amanda Gorman and novels by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker out of classrooms and libraries, giving the gift of a book written by a Black woman is akin to gifting revolution.
So have your local Black-owned bookstore wrap up Jesmyn Ward’s latest for mom or dad, hand your siblings a juicy Beverly Jenkins or Jasmine Guillory romance, and gift Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” to folks so they can read it and see the film on Christmas Day. Oh, and somebody you know is going to like Viola Davis’ memoir (and Jada Pinkett Smith’s), too.
Need more book ideas? Here are five recommendations from Team Word In Black:
Published in 2015, Tananarive Due’s debut collection of short stories was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and named one of the Best Books of 2015 by the Los Angeles Times. As digital editor Nadira Jamerson explains, the tales included “made me fall in love with Black horror. If you’re looking for a thrilling read that mixes Black history with horror and fantasy, you’ll love this collection.”
2. “My Sister, The Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite
This 2019 page-turner is a Booker Prize nominee and was also named the best mystery/thriller by the Los Angeles Times. Health data reporter Anissa Durham says this “thriller novel tells the tale of an older sister who cleans up after her younger, beautiful sister who continues to ‘dispose’ of her boyfriends. But, when her younger sister starts dating the doctor where she works as a nurse, does she continue to stand by her sister or warn the doctor she’s had eyes on for years?”
3. “Black Women Will Save the World,” by April Ryan
“The trailblazing White House correspondent narrated the power and impact Black women continue to carry across generational lines,” education reporter Aziah Siid says about Ryan’s 2022 book. “She explores the adversities Black women endure and the ways they’ve turned pain into progress — all while chronicling her own personal journey. The book is a reminder of why the slogan, Black Girl Magic, is perfectly put.
4. “Kindred” by Octavia Butler
If you don’t have this 1979 science fiction masterpiece on your bookshelf, buy one for yourself and one for a friend. Health reporter Alexa Spencer says “plot will keep any thrill-seeking reader on their toes: Jumping back and forth between 1970s Los Angeles and the Antebellum South with the main character, Dana. ‘Kindred’ is the perfect mix of history and compelling fiction.”
5. “One Blood” by Denene Millner
Give me a novel about identity, family secrets, and personal discovery, and I’m hooked. Published in September, “One Blood” is the latest from Millner, a six-time New York Times bestselling author. The book takes us through the stories of three generations of Black women, the challenges of motherhood, and the intergenerational traumas that break us — and bind us together.