20 incredible books by Black and LGBTQ+ authors you need to read this Black History Month – and beyond
To mark Black History Month we want to highlight some incredible Black LGBTQ+ authors to add to your reading list.
Black History Month takes place in October in the UK and should be a time for non-Black people to educate themselves by reading and listening to Black voices, as well as supporting Black-owned businesses and creatives.
This also includes queer, trans and non-binary Black people, whose voices and stories are overlooked far too often, and should be lifted up by others within the LGBTQ+ community.
From fantasy novels to YA fiction and poetry and essay collections to biographical accounts, there are some incredible books out there including by LGBT+ Black authors to read during Black History Month and beyond.
Below we’ve put together 20 books to help you get started during Black History Month – and remember to continue the support all-year round.
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1. Felix Ever After
Black, queer, trans author Kacen Callender’s body of work ranges from children’s fiction to YA to adult. Their book Felix Ever After is about a trans teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time. When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages – after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned – Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi-love triangle. As he navigates his complicated feelings he redefines his most important relationship, and that’s how he feels about himself. It’s a powerful Black History Month read.
2. Rainbow Milk
Our second book choice for Black History Month is this coming-of-age-story which follows 19-year-old Jesse McCarthy who grapples with his racial and sexual identities against the backdrop of the legacies of the Windrush generation and a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. It begins with the arrival of his ancestors from Jamaica to the Black Country in the UK in the 1950s where they face systemic discrimination and violence. The story then moves on to Jesse who seeks a fresh start in London at the turn of the millennium, but finds himself at a loss for a new centre of gravity, and turns to sex work to create new notions of love, fatherhood and spirituality.
3. Romance in Marseille
Another excellent book to read during Black History Month is this pioneering novel by Claude McKay, which highlights physical disability and Black international politics. It follows Lafala, who is stowed away on a transatlantic freighter in an icy-cold closet, resulting in the loss of his frostbitten legs. When his successful lawsuit against the shipping company brings big bucks, Lafala returns to Marseille to resume his affair with Aslima, a Moroccan prostitute. With its scenes of Black bodies seeking pleasure and fighting for freedom even when stolen, shipped, and sold for parts, the novel explores the heritage of slavery amid a predatory modern economy.
This funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms is penned by Bryan Washington. It follows Benson and Mike, two young guys who have been together for a few years, but they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. When Mike finds out his estranged father is dying Osaka, he flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes and extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. While Benson is stuck at home with Mike’s mother, Mitsuko in an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted.
5. Brown Girl Dreaming
This collection of poems by Jacqueline Woodson sees the author share what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s. From living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement as she was being raised in South Carolina and New York. Each poem is accessible and emotionally charged and reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories – despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Brown Girl Dreaming was also chosen by President Obama for his book club. It’s truly unmissable this Black History Month.
To get the book and read it this Black History Month head to Amazon here.
6. You Should See Me in a Crown
This fun, rom-com young adult novel from Leah Johnson follows Liz who believes she’s too Black, too poor and too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed town. Her escape plan to attend an elite college and become a doctor falls through when the financial aid she’s counting on unexpectedly comes crashing down. When she remembers that her school gives scholarships for prom king and queen, she realises she needs to do whatever it takes to get to college.
Despite the social media trolls and catty competitors, a new girl in school, Mack who’s as much of an outsider as Liz makes it bearable. Mack is also running for prom queen, so will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams, or make them come true?
To purchase the feel-good, You Should See Me in a Crown go to bookshop.org.
7. The Queen’s English
From Chloe O. Davis comes this comprehensive guide to the LGBTQ+ community’s contributions to the English language. From “yaaaas queen” to bear and wolf as well as the all the letters in LGBTQIA+, this is a guide to queer culture created by a queer author. The modern dictionary is an in-depth look at queer language from terms influenced by celebrated lesbian poet Sappho, to New York’s underground queer ball culture to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
It features more than 800 terms and phrases as well as colourful illustrations and photography, showcasing the limitless imagination of the LGBT+ community.
8. Sister Outsider
The revolutionary writings of Audre Lorde gave voice to those ‘outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women’. Uncompromising, angry and yet full of hope, this collection of her essential prose – essays, speeches, letters, interviews – explores race, sexuality, poetry, friendship, the erotic and the need for female solidarity, and includes her landmark piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’.
9. The City We Became
This fantasy novel by N. K. Jemisin follows five New Yorkers who must band together to defend their city in the first book of a series by the New York Times bestselling author. The plot reads: “Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five. But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.”
10. The Summer of Everything
The latest queer YA book from Julian Winters is The Summer of Everything. The story follows comic book geek Wesley who is trying to save his beloved local bookstore, salvage a strained sibling relationship and win the heart of his crush. But his advice from friends, 90s alt-rock songs and online dating articles aren’t helping much with the latter.
If you’re a fan of this one, then Winters has also penned another book to read this Black History Month: Running with Lions, which follows love on the soccer field and How To Be Remy Cameron, an exploration of self-expression from an out-and-proud gay teen.
11. Queer Love in Color
This book is a photographic celebration of the love and relationships of queer people of color by former New York Times multimedia journalist, Jamal Jordan. It gives an intimate look at what it means to live at the intersections of queer and POC identities today, and honours an inclusive vision of love, affection, and family across the spectrum of gender, race, and age.
Icon and actor Billy Porter says, “thank you, Jamal Jordan, for showing the world what true love looks like.”
To purchase Queer Love in Color head to Amazon here.
12. The Wicker King
If you’re a fan of YA novels that explore fantasy and sci-fi but you also want queer characters to be at the centre of the story then K Ancrum’s The Wicker King is ideal. It follows August and Jack who’s intense friendship goes way back, they alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free falling into a surreal fantasy world that feels made for them, and each must choose his own truth.
Ancrum also penned The Weight of the Stars which follows two girls who dream of life in the stars while falling in love with each other.
13. The Deep
This book from Rivers Solomon follows the water-breathing descendants of African slave women who were tossed overboard. They have built their own underwater society-and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future in this imaginative novella inspired by the Hugo Award-nominated song “The Deep” from Daveed Diggs’s rap group clipping.
Solomon who writes about identity, the legacy of generational trauma, family bonds, love and queerness won the Lambda Literary LGBT+ science fiction/fantasy/horror award for The Deep.
14. If It Makes You Happy
Claire Kann writes heartwarming and affirming books about Black queer girls including If It Makes You Happy. The book follows a fat, Black queer girl named Winnie who isn’t interested in your diet advice. She works at her Granny’s diner in the small town of Misty Haven, in her fabulous 1950s inspired uniform. With her family and girlfriend at her side, she has everything she needs to one last perfect summer before starting college. That’s until she becomes Misty Haven’s Summer Queen and is forced to take centre stage in photoshoots and a list of community royal engagements. Stripped of her protective bubble she must conquer her fears and be the best Winnie she knows she can be, despite what others think.
To get the book head to Amazon here.
15. Filthy Animals
Filthy Animals by queer, Black writer Brandon Taylor is a series of link stories that portrays young adults enmeshed in desire and violence for a hotly charged work of fiction from the author of the Booker Prize finalist Real Life. One of the stories follows Lionel, who is recently discharged from hospital and meets two dance students, Charles and Sophie at a party. He is drawn to them both but their relationship is difficult to read.A s he navigates their sexually fraught encounters he is forced to weigh his vulnerabilities against his loneliness – and to consider his return to life.
16. The Prophets
The debut novel from Robert Jones Jr. is about two enslaved young men in love, Samuel and Isaiah. The pair work in the barn on the Halifax plantation run by Massa Paul, but the barn is also a haven of radiance and love where they can be alone together. A fellow slave named Amos starts to direct suspicion towards the two men, then while preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them in a story of suffering, hope and love.
17. Here For It
From the creator of Elle magazine’s “Eric Reads the News” comes this heartfelt and hilarious memoir-in-essays entitled, Here For It. Penned by R. Eric Thomas, he didn’t know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went, whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city, he found himself on the outside looking in. Thomas re-examines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience, including struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason) and the exhaustion of code-switching in college. Through this he re-envisions what “normal” means and what happens when you finally place yourself at the centre of your own story.
To purchase Here For It head to Amazon here.
18. Only on the Weekends
This queer love story by Dean Atta is written in verse and follows Mack, who never thought he’d find love. The 15-year-old hopeless romantic blames the films he’s grown up watching and is ecstatic when Karim – who he’s liked for as long as he can remember – becomes his boyfriend.
When he moves to Scotland he discovers how painful love can be, especially when Karim doesn’t make the effort to visit. Mack meets Finlay on a film set in his new hometown and experiences something powerful, a feeling like love at first sight and his old life and new life begin to collide.
To purchase the book and read it this Black History Month, go to bookshop.org.
19. Open Water
Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson has been described as “the most essential British debut of recent years” by critics. The story focuses on two young people who meet at a pub in South East London.
They’re both Black and British and have won scholarships to private schools where they struggle to belong. He’s a photographer and she’s a dancer and they’re both trying to make their mark in a city that by turn celebrates and rejects them.
The novel asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it, with an insight into race and masculinity throughout.
To buy Open Water head to bookshop.org.
20. Ace of Spades
YA mystery, Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé has been described as Gossip Girl meets Get Out. The story is set at Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect.
But there’s an anonymous texter, Aces, who is revealing the darkest secrets of two students, Devon a talented musician who can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public, and head girl Chiamaka, who isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she’s paid for power.
Someone who holds all the aces is out to get them both and they’re planning more than a high-school game in this novel that’s described as “thought-provoking”.
The book is available to buy from bookshop.org.
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