The contributions of black writers to American literature span genres and generations. 

Black History Month is a great time to highlight the work of black authors in the U.S. (and beyond), but of course, these literary works are worth honoring year round. This February, we’re taking a look at recent history and celebrating contemporary icons and rising stars in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and more. 

Here are 50 commendable books by black authors published in the past five years.

  • 1 ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward
    “While the magical element is new in Ward’s fiction, her allusiveness, anchored in her interest in the politics of race, has been pointing in this direction all along. It takes a touch of the spiritual to speak across chasms of age, class, and color. … The signal characteristic of Ward’s prose is its lyricism. ‘I’m a failed poet,’ she has said. The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition. … The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic.” — The New Yorker

  • 2 ‘Whatever Happened To Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins
    “In defying convention with their interracial love, Collins’s headstrong black protagonists are far more vulnerable when love fails: they can’t go on, and yet there’s no going back. Exposed and humiliated, they find solace in the anonymity of the uncaring metropolis.” — The Guardian

  • 3 ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi
    “It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of ‘Homegoing,’ and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight.” — The New York Times

  • 4 ‘I Can’t Date Jesus’ by Michael Arceneaux
    “Arceneaux’s essays penetrate to the heart of intersectionality to reveal personal and religious trials of faith. Together, they make a powerful statement of self-acceptance in a world much in need of lessons about diversity, tolerance, and openness. A funny, fierce, and bold memoir in essays.” — Kirkus Reviews

  • 5 ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
    Crown Publishing Group
    “Obama writes with a refreshing candor, as though her keen awareness of her celebrity is matched only by her eagerness to shed the exhausting veneer that helped enable her husband’s political rise. ‘My husband is making his own adjustments to life after the White House, catching his own breath,’ she writes at the end of the preface. ‘And here I am, in this new place, with a lot I want to say.'” — The Atlantic

  • 6 ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas
    “Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teena
    Balzer + Bray
    “Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted — and completely undervalued — by society at large.” — Publishers Weekly

  • 7 ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith
    Swing Time makes for truly marvellous reading. The narrator’s journey, from gritt”>
    Penguin Press
    “For its plot alone, Swing Time makes for truly marvellous reading. The narrator’s journey, from gritty estate to glittering globe and back again, is the juicy stuff of which film adaptations are made. … Cinematic as it is, the novel does what only literature can and what only great literature will: forces us to assess the very vocabulary with which we speak of human experience. Change is a central theme, for on one level Swing Time functions as a classic story of betterment, in which the ability to move, to change, is rendered as a form of power.” — The Guardian

  • 8 ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ by Danez Smith
    Don’t Call Us Dead is exceptional. These are poems”>
    Graywolf Press
    “The level of craft at work in each of the poems in Don’t Call Us Dead is exceptional. These are poems about black men and their imperiled, impassioned bodies, what it means to live with HIV, and so much more. There is pain here but there is so much joy, so much fierce resistance to anything that dares to temper the stories being told here.” — Vulture

  • 9 ‘How Not to Get Shot’ by D.L. Hughley and Doug Moe
    William Morrow
    “Comedian Hughley pulls no punches in this caustic, maddening, and hilarious examination of the current state of race relations in the United States. Hughley observes how often black people are killed by police in the U.S. and pairs the often sanctimonious advice from clueless white people on ways to avoid such a fate (e.g., don’t break the law, don’t dress like a thug) with equally ridiculous advice from African-Americans (e.g., always drive with a white male friend, only wear khakis and a polo shirt).” — Publishers Weekly

  • 10 ‘An American Marriage’ by Tayari Jones
    Algonquin Books
    “While Jones keeps her gaze on the personal, this intimate story of a relationship cannot be divorced from its racial context. The black body in America can’t escape the scrutiny of the political lens, not entirely. The characters feel lucky that Roy is still alive — as Celestial says, there is ‘no appealing a cop’s bullet.’ While not a polemic, the novel gives us a quiet, revolutionary statement about black innocence, which Celestial defines as ‘having no way to predict the pain of the future.'” — The New York Times

  • 11 ‘Freshwater’ by Akwaeke Emezi
    Grove Press
    “A stunning and disorienting story about a broken woman trying to overcome the pain of her human life while straddling ‘the other side.’ It interweaves Igbo religious myth with a story of overcoming mental illness — floating between the corporeal and metaphysical. … Freshwater is unlike any novel I have ever read. Its shape-shifting perspective is radical and innovative, twisting the narrative voices like the bones of a python.” — The Toronto Star

  • 12 ‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay
    “At a time when there is no shortage of recommendations for women on how to discipline or make peace with their bodies, Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, stands out precisely because she begins it by declaring that she hasn’t overcome her ‘unruly body and unruly appetites.'” — The Atlantic

  • 13 ‘Behold the Dreamers’ by Imbolo Mbue
    Random House
    “Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. … There are a lot of spinning plates and Mbue balances them skillfully, keeping everything in motion … Behold the Dreamers is a capacious, big-hearted novel.” — The New York Times

  • 14 ‘Citizen’ by Claudia Rankine
    An American Lyric, which serves as an attempt to categorize the unclassifiable.”>
    Graywolf Press
    “Rankine subtitles this book An American Lyric, which serves as an attempt to categorize the unclassifiable. Some of this might look like poetry, but more often there are short anecdotes or observations, pieces of visual art and longer selections credited as ‘Script for Situation video created in collaboration with John Lucas.’ Yet the focus throughout is on how it feels and what it means to be black in America.” — Kirkus Reviews

  • 15 ‘Heavy’ by Kiese Laymon
    Heavy is a dark book, and the trauma that Laymon orbits is almost like a black hole; its shape is circula”>
    Heavy is a dark book, and the trauma that Laymon orbits is almost like a black hole; its shape is circular. Even when he finally tries to have an honest conversation with his mother (at a casino, of all places) about the things he’s experienced, the harms that befell him, it’s still impossible for either one to understand the other without blame.” — The Nation

  • 16 ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi
    Henry Holt and Co.
    “While Tomi Adeyemi’s Africa-inspired fantasy was written for young adults, readers of all ages will be captivated by this engrossing tale that leaves you as eager to see the resurrection of the Orishan gods and their celestial gifts as the novel’s protagonists.” — USA Today

  • 17 ‘The Mothers’ by Brit Bennett
    Random House
    “Bennett paints a picture of familiarity tinged with jealousy, and the conflicted emotions felt when everyone you have left behind has gone on with their lives without you. Her extended return makes for some of the best scenes in the book, as the characters grapple with things left unsaid. The Mothers is a beautifully written, sad and lingering book — an impressive debut for such a young writer.” — The Guardian

  • 18 ‘You Can’t Touch My Hair’ by Phoebe Robinson
    “The book reads more like a conversation than a set of essays — one that she and many other people of color are sick of having … In the essay collection, Robinson wades through the fascination white people have with how people of color, and specifically black women, present their bodies. She confronts critical subjects like the historical representations of black hair in media, problematic casting calls for people of color, and which member of U2 she’d like to sleep with in descending order of hotness. In other words, this is not a definitive tome on race and hair politics, nor is it trying to be. It is clear that Robinson’s comedy background is at the forefront of the collection. If she is going to have to have this conversation, she is going to do it on her own terms.” — LA Review of Books

  • 19 ‘We Love You, Charlie Freeman’ by Kaitlyn Greenidge
    Algonquin Books
    “Greenidge proves herself a master of dialogue, which helps her craft engaging, well-drawn characters. … With humor, irony, and wit, Greenidge tackles this sensitive subject and crafts a light but deeply respectful take on this heavy aspect of America’s treatment of black people. This is a timely work, full of disturbing but necessary observations. A vivid and poignant coming-of-age story that is also an important exploration of family, race, and history.” — Kirkus Reviews

  • 20 ‘The Turner House’ by Angela Flournoy
    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
    “Angela Flournoy’s debut novel … explores the impacts of addiction on a large Detroit family without being heavy-handed or even overtly cautionary. It’s a rare feat, and she achieves it through the unlikeliest of means: the early appearance of a haint.” — Washington Post

  • 21 ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson
    Puffin Books
    “This is a book full of poems that cry out to be learned by heart. These are poems that will, for years to come, be stored in our bloodstream.” — The New York Times

  • 22 ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ by Charles M. Blow
    Mariner Books
    “In Charles M. Blow’s honest and artful, ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ we get his African-American life, the bulk of the memoir covering the years from his early childhood to his early 20s, spent mostly in Louisiana. By the end of the book, the cumulative effect of reading Blow’s story is a clear understanding of what has formed his sensibility — professional, sexual, and otherwise — and shaped how he’s come to view himself and his place in the world.” — Chicago Tribune

  • 23 ‘Hum’ by Jamaal May
    Alice James Books
    “The melancholic hum of May’s tone lends gravity and heart to this debut collection, which might have otherwise been consumed by its conceits. May’s work is skillful and nuanced in its surprising approach to the nature (and nurture) of identity.” — LA Review of Books

  • 24 ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Spiegel & Grau
    “An eloquent blend of history, reportage, and memoir written in the tradition of James Baldwin with echoes of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man … It is less a typical memoir of a particular time and place than an autobiography of the black body in America.” — The Boston Globe

  • 25 ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ by Issa Rae
    “Sharp and able to laugh at herself, the author writes as if she’s unabashedly telling friends a stream of cringeworthy stories about her life. Having grown up with the understanding that laughing at and talking about people was a form of entertainment and bonding, Rae continues the tradition by inviting readers into her inner circle and making her own foibles her primary focus.” — Kirkus Reviews

  • 26 ‘An Unkindness Of Ghosts’ by Rivers Solomon
    Akashic Books
    “Solomon debuts with a raw distillation of slavery, feudalism, prison, and religion that kicks like rotgut moonshine. On the generational starship Matilda, which will take hundreds of years to reach its destination despite traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light, a tech-ignorant white supremacy cult called the Sovereignty runs on the labor and intimidation of a black enslaved class.” — Publishers Weekly

  • 27 ‘The Woman Next Door’ by Yewande Omotoso
    “Omotoso captures the changing racial relations since the 1950s, as well as the immigrant experience through personal detail and small psychological insights into mixed emotions, the artist’s eye, and widow’s remorse. Hers is a fresh voice as adept at evoking the peace of walking up a kopje as the cruelty of South Africa’s past.” — Publishers Weekly

  • 28 ‘Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History’ by Vashti Harrison
    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
    “Harrison’s book focuses on great black women, and it’s lovely to see Lorna Simpson and Gwen Ifill ascend to the ranks of Marian Anderson and Bessie Coleman. Harrison wants readers to imagine themselves in such august company; her adorable illustrations depict all of these figures as a little black girl, an everygirl, in a variety of costumes and backdrops.” — The New York Times

  • 29 ‘No Ashes in the Fire’ by Darnell L. Moore
    No Ashes in the Fire is vulnerable. An activist and journal”>
    Bold Type Books
    “In a word, Darnell L. Moore’s compelling memoir No Ashes in the Fire is vulnerable. An activist and journalist, Moore takes readers through the glorious and traumatic experiences of his self-discovery as a young queer man growing up in Camden and Philadelphia.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer

  • 30 ‘Loving Day’ by Mat Johnson
    Loving Day, the one-drop rule is being undermined, shown to be “>
    Spiegel & Grau
    “Johnson is able to interrogate black history. In Loving Day, the one-drop rule is being undermined, shown to be anachronistic; nevertheless he makes it clear that all black people ought to abide in the ship, as black anti-colonialist societies in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century opposed to emigration to Africa urged.” — The New York Review Of Books