To honor Black History Month this year, you might want to consider adjusting your 2019 reading list from the traditionally-celebrated African American authors who have molded the shape of contemporary American literature — academic staples such as Octavia Butler, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston may come to mind — to the modern novelists living on their legacy. Check out these works by African American authors set to publish in 2019:
1. “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead
June 3, 2019
Following up his Pulitzer Prize and #1 New York Times Bestselling book “The Underground Railroad,” Colson Whitehead has written a new provocative narrative on the Civil Rights era in his book, “The Nickel Boys.” Set to publish in July, “The Nickel Boys” illustrates the unforgiving consequences of race relations in Tallahassee, Florida, through the lens of a college-bound African American boy named Elwood Curtis.
Curtis is sent to a juvenile detention center, coined Nickel Academy, where the guards starve, neglect and sexually abuse the young boys. The mistreatment is all under the facade of “physical, intellectual and moral training.” Based on a real-life reform school in Florida, Whitehead depicts the grotesque and harrowing realities of the institutionalized assault on young black men in 20th century America.
2. “The Source of Self-Regard” by Toni Morrison
February 12, 2019
Distinguished, inventive and brilliant, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison is releasing a collection of non-fiction works in “The Source of Self-Regard.” Morrison is most notably celebrated for her considerations of African-American experiences in her novels “The Song of Solomon” and “Beloved.”
Now, her eloquent language and acute awareness are divided into three parts within the new book; the first portion is a prayer for those who passed away in the Sept. 11 attacks, the second a deliberation on Martin Luther King Jr. and the third a eulogy for James Baldwin. Gracefully picking apart female empowerment, capitalism and the role of black authors in American literature, Morrison ennobles her audience with her same exquisite cultural commentary that makes her one of the greatest writers in American history.
3. “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson
February 12, 2019
“American Spy” tells a story of passionate romance, broken families and political turmoil in Burkina Faso. Lauren Wilkinson writes of Marie Mitchell, an FBI intelligence officer in 1986. Mitchell is a genius, but during the Cold War era in which she lives, her black identity is exploited when she is sent to Burkina Faso to intervene in their Communist Revolution. Determined to keep her job, she agrees to go and undermine the work of Thomas Sankara, a Communist revolutionary known as “Africa’s Che Guevara.” Wilkinson’s captivating perspective on the Cold War in “American Spy” kicks off her career as a contemporary novelist.
4. “In West Mills” by De'Shawn Charles Winslow
June 4, 2019
Set from 1941 to 1987 in a rural African American community in North Carolina, De’Shawn Charles Winslow tells the story of a free-spirited woman who is ostracized by her community — essentially because she refuses to conform. Protagonist Azalea "Knot" Centre does whatever and whoever she desires, spending many days drinking cheap moonshine and feasting on nineteenth-century literature. Knot builds an emotionally generous relationship with her next-door neighbor, Otis Lee, who takes on Knot’s complications in lieu of his own. Rich with character flaws that are heartbreakingly sincere, “In West Mills” is Winslow’s endearing literary debut.
5. “We Cast a Shadow” by Maurice Carlo Ruffin
January 29, 2019
“We Cast a Shadow” is a cryptic satire on race relations in the Southern United States. Carlo Ruffin depicts a near future in which a new medical procedure promises to keep Black people safe from police brutality by making them look white. The narrator is stuck between keeping his son, Nigel, safe from racial violence or revoking him of his familial and racial identity. The lip-thinning, skin-bleaching and nose-shrinking procedure is expensive, making the liberation operation a costly privilege. Sharp and courageous, Carlo Ruffin brilliantly interweaves the complexities of family ties and inherited violence in his illuminating debut novel.