Writing—and reading—Black: Our favorite Black-authored books of 2022
In need of a last-minute gift? We suggest a book by a Black author—and have compiled a list of our favorites of the year!
As creator-host of theGrio’s “Writing Black” podcast, I spend a lot of time reading—it’s kinda part of the gig. It helps that I have a lifelong love of books, but I also love reading and championing Black books and writers, which means I’m always finding new favorites to recommend.
With 2022 soon coming to a close, it’s an ideal time to revisit some of the titles that brought me joy this year. With an assist from theGrio’s Daily Lifestyle Writer Kay WIcker, we’ve compiled a list of 2022 releases by Black authors that sparked our imagination, inspiration, and intellectual curiosity. Chances are, they might just do the same for someone on your list this holiday.
So if you’re still grasping for thoughtful gift ideas that’ll arrive in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa), look no further than the shelves of your local bookseller or e-tailer. (If you act today, you can still get gifts there by Saturday.) There’s something for absolutely everyone, and the gift of a book can make even the latest to the party look good—so let’s dig into some of this year’s best Black books!
For the history buffs
Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen – George McCalman (Harper One)
If you’re gifting a multigenerational household this season, artist George McCalman’s illustrated celebration of Black pioneers across generations is a work of art and legacy for all to enjoy, introducing new heroes, histories, and insights to even the sagest person on your list.
For a season of joy
Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration – Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts (Gallery Books)
Whether they’re in need of a pick-me-up this season or are the eternal optimist in your life, this inspirational tome is a necessary reminder that joy remains our birthright, no matter what the obstacle.
Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be – Tunde Oyeneyin (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster)
A new year is always a good time to refresh, reset, and reevaluate one’s approach to life. Peloton star and influencer Tunde Oyeneyin’s bestselling “memoir-manifesto-guide,” uses her SPEAK acronym (“Surrender, Power, Empathy, Authenticity, and Knowledge”) to help others find their personal best.
For rising stars
Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments – Carell Augustus (Ebony Magazine Publishing)
With a foreword by Forest Whitaker and an afterword by Niecy Nash, this coffee table-worthy photography book reimagines classic Hollywood imagery with a buzzy cast of current Black talents in a cinematic celebration we deserve.
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop – Danyel Smith (Roc Lit 101)
In a stunning analysis widely lauded as one of the best books of the year, renowned music journalist and cultural critic Danyel Smith celebrates Black women as the architects and muses of pop music as we know and love it.
The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson – Misty Copeland
Anyone who has seen Misty Copeland perform knows she defies gravity. In her latest book, the prima ballerina and bestselling author pays loving tribute to the personal mentor who fostered her rise, pioneering Black ballerina Raven Wilkinson. A study in mutual respect, love, and the power of mentorship, you can hear Copeland speak on Wilkinson’s impact on the latest episode of “Writing Black.”
For fiction lovers
Take My Hand – Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Berkley)
Bestselling author Dolen Perkins-Valdez once again brings her deft touch to historical fiction as she draws on real-life events to illustrate still-existent healthcare disparities in post-segregation Alabama, as seen through the eyes of a Black nurse.
Memphis: A Novel – Tara M. Stringfellow (The Dial Press)
“A rhapsodic hymn to Black women” is how the New York Times described poet Tara M. Stringfellow’s debut novel, a sprawling and deeply affecting multigenerational and matrilineal family epic that unfolds over several decades in the author’s iconic hometown.
For the romantics
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty – Akwaeke Emezi (Atria Books)
Whether writing fiction, memoir, or YA, arguably, bestselling author Akwaeke Emezi’s greatest gift is their ability to bring searing yet relatable vulnerability to the page. In their first foray into romantic fiction, they weave that magic again, earning honors as a Best Romance of 2022 from both The New York Times and Washington Post.
Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm: A Novel – Laura Warrell (Pantheon)
The title might put them in the mood, but the chorus of characters in Laura Warrell’s jazz-fueled debut are as layered, complex, and occasionally dissonant as the musical genre itself, compelling fellow writers like bestselling author Jason Reynolds to hail it as “a modern masterpiece.”
Wahala – Nikki May (Custom House)
Fans of female-driven Black rom-coms like “Harlem,” “First Wives Club,” and “Run the World” will love Nikki May’s debut, which chronicles the shifting dynamics of a London-based trio of Black friends after the arrival of a very dynamic fourth in their cherished friend group.
For speaking truth to power
The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century – Peniel E. Joseph (Basic Books)
Peniel Joseph brings his experience as a historian to bear in this gripping exploration of our present fight for full equality, identifying it as America’s third opportunity to transform a “racial reckoning” into tangible results.
Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem – April Ryan (Amistad)
From theGrio’s own April Ryan, a celebration of Black women as the pillars of democracy and their role in American political progress. Speaking as a political insider and pioneering White House correspondent, as well as with a bevy of Black female political leaders, Ryan makes the case that the future is Black and female.
His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice – Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa (Viking)
The murder of George Floyd highlighted the painful history of police brutality in America and became a flashpoint for a global racial uprising. Through intimate conversations with Floyd’s loved ones and community, Washington Post political journalists Samuels and Olorunnipa both humanize the man and contextualize his place in the ongoing fight against racial injustice.
The Confessions of Matthew Strong – Ousmane K. Power-Greene (Other Press)
What happens when a Black historian takes on a fictional exploration of the intersection of Black progress and white supremacy in post-Reconstruction America? A suspense-filled and all-too relevant tale of a man bent on exacting Black terror—and the Black woman who defies him.
The Violin Conspiracy – Brendan Slocumb (Anchor)
Musician and educator Brendan Slocumb is also a virtuoso of mystery, as evidenced by his acclaimed fiction debut. Featuring another classical musician as its complicated hero, this literally thriller keeps readers on the edge of their seats.
For cookbook collectors
My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef – Kwame Onwuachi (Knopf)
Acclaimed chef Kwame Onwuachi became a bestselling author with his 2020 memoir, “Notes from a Young Chef.” This year, he doubled down on the deliciousness, bringing the diverse recipes from his own diasporic heritage to create one of Bon Appetit’s Best Books of the Year.
Ghetto Gastro presents: Black Power Kitchen – Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker with Osayi Endolyn (Artisan)
Just in time for the holidays, the collective known as Ghetto Gastro brought its multidisciplinary philosophy to the page with an incredible array of recipes that fuse cultures, transcend class aesthetics, and challenge genres for a series of simply stellar culinary delights.
Black Mixcellence: A Comprehensive Guide to Black Mixology – Tamika Hall with Colin Asare-Appiah (Kingston Imperial)
When we say Black people have influenced every aspect of culture, we mean it. For proof, look no further than this guide to Black mixology, which draws on both Black history and current tastemakers to celebrate the colorful side of cocktail culture.
For the stargazers
Signs & Skymates: The Ultimate Guide to Astrological Compatibility – Dossé-Via Trenou (Running Press Adult)
If they’re constantly looking to the stars for guidance, gift them the expertise of West African astrologer Dossé-Via Trenou. Her culturally relevant, “whole chart approach” will give them the relationship insights they’ve been looking for.
For the fantasists
Moon Witch, Spider King: The Dark Star Trilogy, Book 2 – Marlon James (Riverhead Books)
In the follow-up to 2019’s “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” bestselling author Marlon James shifts narrators for the second installment in his “Dark Star Trilogy.” Hailed by some as even better than the first (which we also recommend), fans of “Game of Thrones” or the Tolkien universe will get lost in this gripping narrative rooted in African mythology.
Beasts of Ruin – Ayana Gray (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
In another buzzy sequel, Ayana Gray continues the journey that launched her bestselling debut, “Beasts of Prey.” Building worlds also inspired by African mythology, Gray’s coming-of-age tale will thrill young and adult readers alike.
Whiteout: A Novel – Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon (Quill Tree Books)
In the follow-up to 2021’s “Blackout,” (also a must-have) Black female YA author supergroup Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon once again join forces, performing a literary holiday miracle. This time, they move the narrative to Atlanta, delivering a heartwarming Black teen romance told from multiple perspectives.
What the Fireflies Knew – Kai Harris (Tiny Reparations Books)
Black girlhood is at the center of this story of loss, love, and self-discovery, poignantly rendered by Kai Harris in her acclaimed debut novel. Told from the perspective of eleven-year-old “KB,” race, family, and reconciliation are all to be reckoned with in this coming-of-age tale.
For growing minds
Stacey’s Remarkable Books – Stacey Abrams (Balzer & Bray)
Foster their love of reading early with the follow-up to political powerhouse Stacey Abrams’ #1 New York Times bestseller and NAACP Image Award-winning children’s debut “Stacey’s Extraordinary Words.” Abrams’s own childhood love of books comes to life with help from artist Kitt Thomas.
Hold Them Close: A Love Letter to Black Children – Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (HarperCollins)
Show little ones how cherished they are with a love letter in picture book form. With collaged illustrations by Patrick Dougher created with the photographs of Jamel Shabazz, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow pens an affirming tribute to Black children.
The Marvellers – Dhonielle Clayton (Henry Holt & Co.)
The only author to appear on our list twice, bestselling author Clayton’s “Marvellerverse” took flight this year with a middle-grade fantasy about magic-making youngsters that rivals any Harry Potter plot.
For short attention spans
The Last Suspicious Holdout – Ladee Hubbard (Amistad)
From “Rib King” author Ladee Hubbard comes a collection of thirteen intertwining tales about the Black inhabitants of a “sliver of southern suburbia.” Exploring the surreal, sublime and subversive in an idealized post-racial existence, Hubbard dishes out incredible writing in small but exacting doses.
The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe (Harper Voyager)
Like any great musician, Janelle Monáe knows a thing or two about collaboration. So, it’s little surprise that collaboration informed the bestselling literary companion to her acclaimed visual album, “Dirty Computer.” Evoking Monáe’s always Afrofuturist vision and some of the genre’s best writers, the collection brings us further into the ArchAndroid’s world.
Recitatif: A Story – Toni Morrison (Knopf)
Nearly 40 years after its completion, Toni Morrison’s only short story, one she called an “experiment,” resurfaced this year with a foreword by bestselling author Zadie Smith, who warns: “The subject of the experiment is the reader.” Indeed, Morrison’s prose is as enigmatic as ever in this mind-bending narrative of race, identity, and friendship in under 100 pages.
AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home – Jeanine Hayes and Bryan Mason (Clarkson Potter)
If they’re nestling in for a staycation this holiday season, treat them to some in-house inspiration from husband-and-wife interior design team AphroChic, who add to their growing library of publications with a gorgeously photographed celebration of the unique ways Black families bring culture home.
Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades of experience in fashion and entertainment, great books and aesthetics, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body: Words of Change series.
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