What We’re Reading: Books by Black Authors

What We're Reading: Books by Black Authors

From Alice Walker and Malcolm X to Saeed Jones and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, stories by Black authors have made a profound impact on the Celadon team. Here we share our reading recommendations of the books that changed or shaped our views.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Jamie Raab, Publisher & President

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

There are so many books I could recommend, fiction and nonfiction — it's hard to choose. But when I was in high school — and I went to a progressive public high school in the heart of Philadelphia — I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, and it made an indelible impression on me. This was in the late 60s, a time of tremendous social upheaval. We are now in the midst of another period of chaos, and I always find it helpful to go back to classic works during life-changing times.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Deb Futter, Co-Publisher & SVP

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I have read every book Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written but Americanah stole my heart. The characters’ struggle to find their identity and their place in the world is gut wrenching.

The Color of Water by James McBride

Rachel Chou, VP, Associate Publisher

The Color of Water by James McBride

I read this years ago, and it has stayed with me to this day. His beautiful prose and the memoir's structure moving between his memories and his mother's are breathtaking, disturbing, and haunting. McBride "paints a detailed portrait of their family life, of relationships complicated by the fact that 'human emotions, when mixed with racial issues, are prone to shatter like glass.'" (Library Journal)

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Ryan Doherty, VP, Executive Editor

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson's memoir of his time as a young lawyer starting the Equal Justice Initiative, a law practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need. The main story is that of Walter McMillian, a black man on death row who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn't commit. The book, incredibly powerful and beautifully written, is the story of Walter, but also of a young lawyer and his coming of age as a social justice activist. It is essential reading.

The Other Wes Moore

Ryan Doherty, VP, Executive Editor

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

This book will make you think hard about how your circumstances can and cannot determine your path in life. It is the story of two men named Wes Moore who grew up in the same Baltimore neighborhood and had vastly different fates.

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Heather Orlando-Jerabek, Publicity Assistant

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

I recently read Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and it was incredible. The stories touch on so many important themes our country currently faces and the visceral way the author translates the Black experience still keeps me up at night. Highly recommend this collection.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Randi Kramer, Assistant Editor

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

I'd like to recommend Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a small book that packs a big punch. Woodson traces the way history permeates each generation of two families, culminating in a young girl who bears the weight of so much that came before her. It is a powerful story of identity, sexuality, ambition, and responsibility, all told in a sparse, poetic, soaring language.

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

Rebecca Ritchey, Social Media Manager

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

The author is a writer and poet from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and this collection of essays is brilliant. He critiques music with profound observations on race and culture, and the poet in him really shines through the pages. It moved me in unexpected ways.

How We Fight for Our Lives

Anna Belle Hindenlang, Publicist

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Jones is an absolutely beautiful and honest writer. He talks about growing up Black and gay in the conservative American South; his family, his sexuality, and struggling to find self-acceptance and identity.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Anne Twomey, Creative Director

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This was one of the first books I read when I started my publishing career. I’ll probably read it again. This is a heartbreaking but redemptive story of Celie, an African-American woman in the poor rural South during the early 1900s. Epistolary in form, it encompasses the story of her life, family, and friends through her letters to God. It was both critically acclaimed and controversial for its depiction of sexuality.

Sancho by Paterson Joseph

Jaime Noven, Marketing Manager

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance by Paterson Joseph

One of my favorite books is actually a monologue. Sancho: An Act of Remembrance by Paterson Joseph tells the true story of Charles Ignatius Sancho, who became the first black person of African origin to vote in Britain. I've been telling everyone about Sancho since I saw the monologue performed live a few years ago. It is an amazing and little-known story that deserves an audience.

Cover of "the bluest eye," a novel by toni morrison, winner of the nobel prize, featuring a stylized blue letter "b" on a light background, with a foreword by the author.

Jennifer Jackson, Senior Director, Consumer Marketing

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The first novel by Toni Morrison, this is the story of a young Black girl, who grows up in an unstable home and is constantly told she’s ugly. She thinks that if she had blue eyes — a white standard of beauty — it would change how people treated her. The book is short – I read it in one sitting — and absolutely excruciating at times. It’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it was the catalyst for me to start seeking out other black female authors to learn more about their viewpoints and experiences.

The New Black by Evie Shockley

Cecily van Buren-Freedman, Editorial Assistant

The New Black by Evie Shockley

If you’re a poetry reader, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In it, Shockley meditates on the ideas of blackness past and present. She looks at the relationship between her identity and the historic position of blackness in America, exploring the ways that racism does and doesn’t change in this country. In these playful, humorous, and biting poems, Shockley explodes our neat narratives about black identity, showing that the past is layered on the present in inextricable and unexpected ways.

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

Clay Smith, Associate Designer

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

I read this last year after gravitating towards the book cover in a store. Admittedly, I read a large chunk of it right then and there after becoming completely absorbed in her weird but rich story collection. Each story felt connected and yet completely different as she played with a wide variety of different genres, worlds, and time periods. I was instant fan! Not to mention all her book covers are incredibly cool.

In further support of the Black community, please consider buying your books from one of these Black-owned independent bookstores.

Black Dot Books, Lathonia, GA

Books and Crannies, Martinsville, VA

Café con Libros, Brooklyn, NY

Eso Won Books, Los Angeles, CA

Frugal Books, Roxbury, MA

Harriett’s Bookshop, Philadelphia, PA

Loyalty Books, Silver Spring, MD

Mahogany Books, Washington, D.C.

Pyramid Books, Boynton Beach, FL

Sankofa, Washington, D.C.

Semicolon, Chicago, IL

Sisters Uptown, New York, NY

The Dock Bookshop, Fort Worth, TX

The Lit Bar, Bronx, NY

Uncle Bobbie’s, Philadelphia, PA

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