Earlier this week, Amistad Books announced the Black Publishing Power initiative on Twitter. A publisher of Black and multicultural books since 1967, Amistad Books aims to see bestseller lists full of Black authors, who have historically been underrepresented in the publishing industry.
To do this, they are asking readers to participate by purchasing two books by Black authors between June 13 and June 20. With that in mind, Early Bird Books has put together the below list of suggestions of books by Black authors, all of which at least one of our staff members has read and loved. And as a bonus, on top of our regular ebook links, each recommendation comes with a suggestion for a Black-owned bookstore from which to purchase a hard copy of the book.
To demonstrate our power and clout in the publishing industry, Saturday June 13 – Saturday June 20, we encourage you to purchase any two books by Black writers. Our goal is to Blackout bestseller lists with Black voices. #BlackoutBestsellerlist #Blackpublishingpower ✊🏾✊🏿✊🏽 pic.twitter.com/xHfmCeVwwU— Amistad Books (@AmistadBooks) June 14, 2020
Recommended by Kaytie Norman, Editor.
This incredible saga traces the paths of two distant sisters in Ghana— Effia, who is married off to an English slaver, and Esi, who is sold into slavery and shipped off to America by the same man. The story seamlessly switches narratives and generations, following the family lines as they survive warfare in Ghana and slavery and racism in America. And somehow, while showing us the long-lasting effects of the slave trade and systemic racism is America, Gyasi also manages to create characters who are incredibly touching, compelling, and real.
The Ballad of Black Tom
Recommended by Matthew Thompson, Executive Editor.
Victor LaValle crafts mesmerizing, urgent worlds in every narrative he creates, from the haunted human odyssey of The Changeling to the otherworldly paranoia and real-life traumas that course through Big Machine. In The Ballad of Black Tom, which was a Shirley Jackson Award winner and a Hugo finalist, LaValle delivers a Lovecraftian occult horror tale set in Jazz Age New York City that subverts the bigotry and xenophobia of Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook": by casting a black protagonist named Charles Thomas Tester who holds power over the Great Old Ones.
Recommended by Carolyn Cox, Senior Editor.
If you are the kind of reader who finds disaster novels oddly soothing, then I highly recommend this lean and unforgettable literary zombie novel from a Pulitzer Prize-winner.
Zone One begins at the end of the pandemic. Sweeper crews, like the one protagonist Mark Spitz belongs to, are tasked with taking down the remaining undead ‘skels’ wandering the abandoned streets and offices of downtown New York.
As they make slow, gruesome progress, Mark struggles with his Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD) and anxiety about resuscitating America.
Zone One critiques and eulogizes the concept of normalcy, and subverts racial biases about American heroism. It’s a timely, genre-bending read that’s relevant to the current moment, and will haunt you for years to come.
Buy the paperback from Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, CA.
Recommended by Paige Hettinger, Editorial Intern.
This satirical retelling of the Theseus myth reimagines the narrative as belonging to Oreo, a biracial girl in Philadelphia. When Oreo sets out on a quest to find her Jewish father in New York City, the task becomes far more complicated than she anticipated. What results is a hilarious, baffling, and badass labyrinthine story about identity and perseverance. Oreo does not just live in the novel’s cultural gaps—she thrives in them.
Considered “before its time” upon publication in 1974, the novel was only recently pulled from obscurity and into instant cult-classic status. A wicked reclaiming of its Western, white, mythological framework, Oreo challenges not only the boundaries of race and identity, language and sexuality, but of the novel itself.
White is for Witching
Recommended by Elias Garfinkel, Editorial Intern.
Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching delivers a dose of gothic horror to magical realism, resulting in a classically dark tale with a modern sensibility. Centered around the house of the Silver family, Miranda (Miri) Silver begins to experience personal ailments and outside forces that keep her isolated in the home, producing in similar paranoia to the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper.
Addressing ideas of race and sexuality, a girlfriend of Miri’s, Lind Ore, speaks about the alienation that comes from being one of few black students at their university. The shared sense of realistic and supernatural isolation helps depict the internal and external struggles to overcome feelings of otherness.
Buy the paperback from Books and Crannies in Martinsville, VA.
Recommended by Mackenzie Stuart, Assistant Editor.
Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winner is widely read in high schools and colleges, but if your curriculum glossed over it like mine did, there’s no time like the present. I read this for the first time this year, and I’m actually glad I discovered it as an adult. Beloved is about a woman who escaped slavery, though she’s still haunted by its horrors—both figuratively and literally. Morrison uses magical realism to examine themes like trauma, motherhood, and broken families, ultimately resulting in a surreal and beautifully written novel about the ugliest side of humanity and the painful generational effects of racism.
The Firebrand and the First Lady
Recommended by Kate Phelan, Senior Editor.
Patricia Bell-Scout's energizing dual biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and Pauli Murray is one that changed the way I thought of an iconic figure of American history while introducing me to a person who changed the world, yet is rarely mentioned today. Pauli Murray, lawyer, writer, priest, and activist, was a key thorn in FDR's side during the later years of his presidency and a dear friend to Eleanor long after her husband's death.
The creator of the term "Jane Crow," referencing the specific ways black women experience discrimination, Murray's extensive and deeply impactful career is charted carefully by Bell-Scout while her personal life, including her lesbian relationships and her own experience of gender, are given room to breathe in a moving narrative.