This spring starts with yet another contentious presidential race, one that brings hope for some and uncertainty for others—or perhaps a mix of both. We continue to fight for a better world in many ways, whether it be through the ballot box, research, art, literature or activism. The books presented in this roundup envision futures built on empathy and love instead of division and punishment. Novels, young adult and children’s literature reflect the ways we, and many of our ancestors, find courage through lineage, mythologies and languages that survive despite racist violence. Histories, essays and memoirs canonize those who laid the groundwork for us, allowing us to push onward into a more progressive future. As another winter fades away, let these race-focused books welcome the new beginnings ahead.
Learn strategies for accountability outside of the carceral system in Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Beyond Survival,” with essays by adrienne maree brown, Janae E. Bonsu of BYP100, Mijente, Trans Lifeline and more (AK Press). In “Hood Feminism,” author and activist Mikki Kendall points out the pitfalls of mainstream feminism and argues that its movement fails to fight for the needs of women who face poverty, racism and hypersexualization (Viking). Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh gives words to her street art campaign that honors women who have faced sexual harassment in “Stop Telling Women to Smile” (Seal Press). “We Keep Us Safe” is an urgent call to action by Zach Norris, the executive director of the Ella Baker Center, to fight for inclusive communities centered on empathy rather than fear, featuring a foreword by journalist Van Jones (Beacon Press). Asian-American women share personal reflections as they deconstruct skin color and colorism in the 30 essays in Nikki Khanna’s “Whiter” (NYU Press).
HISTORY & POLITICS
“A Black Women’s History of the United States,” by and , is an expansive look into this country’s history told through the lives and legacies of Black women, including vanguards, artists, enslaved women, freed women and revolutionaries (Beacon Press). Through eight essays that draw on history, politics and author Laila Lalami’s history as an immigrant woman, “Conditional Citizens” demonstrates how White supremacy shapes U.S. politics and attitudes on immigration (Pantheon). The rising hostility toward Muslim Americans is examined with empirical research in “Outsiders at Home,” by Nazita Lajevardi (Cambridge University Press). Writer and professor Morgan Jerkins retraces her ancestors’ journeys across America as she paints a history of the Great Migration in “Wandering in Strange Lands” (Harper).
MEMOIR + BIOGRAPHY
Several writers share stories of immigration in “A Map Is Only One Story,” a collection pulled from the archives of Catapult magazine (Catapult). Comedian Chloé Hilliard’s memoir, “F*ck Your Diet,” blends humor and reporting to share her life of yoyo diets and personal acceptance and the harmful government policies that shape our collective obsession with achieving “the perfect body.” (Gallery Books). “Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest,” by Ian Zack, delves into the late folk singer’s life and her legacy as one of key voices of the Civil Rights Movement (Beacon Press). In “The Magical Language of Others,” author E.J. Koh translates and reflects on letters written years ago by her mother, who left her children in California to move back to Korea (Tin House). “Race Man” includes over 50 years of speeches, articles and interviews by Julian Bond, a Black racial justice leader who was involved in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center (City Lights).
Three generations of Black women struggle to survive in the years just after the Civil War in “Conjure Women,” a historical novel partly based on the real-life stories of formerly enslaved people collected by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s (Random House). “Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick” introduces eight of prolific author Zora Neale Hurston’s previously unpublished stories set in the rural South and Harlem (Amistad). During the Gold Rush, two young Chinese-American siblings flee their Western mining town as they search for a place to lay their recently deceased father to rest in C Pam Zhang’s “How Much of These Hills Is Gold” (Riverhead Books). Native Hawaiian author Kawai Strong Washburn’s “Sharks in the Time of Saviors” centers on Native mythologies and the bonds of a working-class family (Farrar Straus & Giroux). “These Ghosts Are Family,” by Maisy Card, is a saga that looks at eight generations of a Jamaican family’s painful past, from its colonial history in the 1800s to modern-day immigrant experiences in Harlem (Simon & Schuster).
A Black teenage wizard learns to control her magical powers as she navigates life between her low-income neighborhood in East Cleveland and her wealthy school on the West Side in Echo Brown’s “Black Girl Unlimited” (Henry Holt and Co.). A Black, queer and transgender seventeen-year-old explores love, relationships and self-discovery in “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender (Blazer + Bray). Evette Dionne, editor-in-chief of Bitch Media, shares stories of Black women who fought for their right to vote in “Lifting as We Climb” (Viking Books for Young Readers). A Cuban-American teenage girl realizes her presidential candidate father’s politics do not align with her own as they launch into the national spotlight in “Running” by Natalia Sylvester (HMH Books).
FOR THE KIDS
“Cradle Songs of Alaska,” illustrated by Tlingit Athabascan artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl, teaches children traditional lullaby songs in Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshian, all with English translations (Sealaska Heritage). Joanne Robertson’s “nibi is water, nibi aawan nbiish,” a bilingual book in English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), explores the many ways children experience water (Second Story Press). In “Like the Moon Loves the Sky,” by Hena Khan, a Muslim mother shares unconditional love for her son with images and words inspired by the Quran (Chronicle). “Say Her Name” pays tribute to the titular campaign, victims of police violence and trailblazing Black women activists of The Movement for Black Lives, with words by Zetta Elliott and artwork by Loveis Wise (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). Middle-grade readers will gain a deeper understanding of racism—and how to fight it—with the 20 lessons in Tiffany Jewell’s “This Book is Anti-Racist” (Francis Lincoln Children’s Books).