Every month, silly. And here are some excellent options, from A to , well, W.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Gorgeous, poetic novel about four young African American girls who grow up, grow close, and grow apart in the Brooklyn of the 1970s. The novel begins as two of the girls – now grown women – run into each other on the subway after years of separation. One of the women rises and, although she knows her old friend expects her to come over and “hug the years away,” instead gets off the train. The scene both startles and puts the reader on notice to expect a wallop from this brief book that deals with memory, grief, racism, white flight, male violence, and the power of women’s friendships, with language so sharply honed you almost don’t feel it stab you in the heart.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
With unnerving candor, Gay tells the story of how she was gang-raped at 12, and how she set out to protect herself by growing larger and larger until her body became a cage she couldn’t escape. The trauma of her youth, which infuses much of her fiction, is here examined in depth, as Gay reveals how it shifts shape and reaches into her adult life, squeezing and scrambling shame, pleasure, strength and identity in its pulsing grip.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Powerful, strange and beautiful novel about an African American family living in rural poverty in Mississippi, the legacy of violence, the undying hold of racism, and the thinning wall between this world and the next. Like her first novel, Salvage the Bones, this book won the National Book Award and many other accolades. Really, just read everything Jesmyn Ward ever writes and you’ll be OK.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins
This is the rare book whose backstory is almost as intriguing as the wide-ranging short stories collected within. Kathleen Collins was a writer, playwright, filmmaker and political activist who died in 1988, at age 46. Her fiction was virtually unpublished. She was the first African American woman to produce a feature-length film, but it was never released in theaters. Most of her work resided only in a large trunk that her daughter, Nina Lorez Collins, moved from apartment to apartment for years before she felt ready to explore the contents. The treasures she found included the 16 short stories that – along with a fascinating introduction by Nina Lorez Collins and a lovely foreword by Elizabeth Alexander – comprise this book. The stories vary in quality from interesting to unforgettable, and her subject matter is equally protean. In these pages we meet the African American intelligentsia and activists of the 1960s and 1970s, the classical musicians and bohemian artists, the white freedom riders willing to risk beatings in Southern jails and the bourgeois black fathers who don’t want their daughters anywhere near them, the women and men who yearn for love but recoil from its costs. The social and political upheavals of her generation crackle through this collection, in constant conflict with the immovable weight of racism and colorism.
Here’s what’s next on my list. The publisher – who happens to be my publisher, Shade Mountain Press – describes it as “Eerily intertwined stories of an ill-fated young couple in the 1850s and the troubled historian who discovers their writings in the present day.” The book comes out February 21, but I’m a little scared already. See if you can pull your eyes away from this cover.