5 Books by Black Authors to Read this Black History Month
Updated: Feb 27
February marks an important time of year: Black History Month. This month highlights the past, present, and ongoing contributions of Black folks in Canada and across the world . Black History Month also emphasizes Black stories and art, and although reading from diverse authors is important year-round, programs running this February put Black authors in the spotlight. So, here is a list of five books from a variety of genres, written by Black writers whom I recommend making a conscious effort to check out.
Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta — Short Story Collection
Zalika Reid-Benta published her first novel, a collection of short stories titled Frying Plantain, in 2019 with Anansi Press. Reid-Benta grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where she graduated from the University of Toronto, and is currently based as she continues to write. Frying Plantain has won several awards including the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. Each story follows Kara Davis, a young girl navigating the developmental years from elementary school to high school, while seeking balance and acceptance between her Canadian nationality and Jamaican identity. This novel focuses on Kara while highlighting the relationships between mothers and daughters across generations, the nuances of Black identity, and experiences growing up in a predominantly white society.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — Historical Fiction
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written two fiction novels, a short story collection, and various nonfiction essays. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, recounts a time in history rarely taught in Canadian education: Biafra’s fight for independence from Nigeria in the 1960s, which resulted in the Nigerian Civil War. Adichie’s novel gives readers insight into five different characters living in Southeastern Nigeria during the 60s. Each of them has their own story although they are entangled in one another’s, providing readers with several different points of view. This novel is both educational and evocative, provoking meaningful thought for any reader who picks up the work. I do want to put forth a content warning, as this text deals heavily with situations of violence and assault.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon — Young Adult Fiction
Contemporary fiction with a touch of romance, Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star follows Natasha, an undocumented Jamaican immigrant, and Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, as they coincidentally meet during a day that will impact their entire futures. Yoon has written five books including The Sun is Also a Star, which has been adapted into a film. Yoon grew up in both Jamaica and Brooklyn, but currently writes from Los Angeles. The Sun is Also a Star navigates the impacts that people have on one another as Natasha and Daniel interact with each other and various other characters throughout the book. In her writing, Yoon presents two in-depth characters as they make big decisions impacted by their own desires, families, cultures, and current circumstances.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna — Fantasy
Namina Forna is a screenwriter from Sierra Leone who is currently based out of Los Angeles. Her first novel, The Gilded Ones, is a Young Adult Fantasy novel that takes place in the fictional kingdom of Otera, inspired by West Africa. Deka, the protagonist, is a sixteen year-old girl who must undergo a ceremony that will reveal the colour of her blood and determine her future within her village. When she is identified as gold-blooded and therefore “impure,” she must choose between a dark future in her village or an unknown future fighting as a warrior in Otera’s army of girl’s similar to herself, each with different gifts. This feminist novel provides fantastical thrill for enjoyers of this genre while being heavily influenced by West-African culture.
No Language is Neutral by Dionne Brand — Poetry
For those who love poetry, Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral provides a Black, feminist perspective on themes of love, identity, sexuality, the body, slavery, immigration, culture, and more. Brand was born in Trinidad and Tobago and moved to Canada in 1970 to study at the University of Toronto. Toronto elected her the third Poet Laureate in 2009, and she has continued to write and receive many awards. No Language is Neutral is as powerful as it is eloquent, with Dionne’s poetry highlighting the blunt realities of history and the present through her work. The book has been added to Canadian curriculums for its thoughtful insights and is a meaningful companion to readers seeking growth.