10 Must-Read Novels By Brilliant Black Female Authors Of Our Century

These are uncertain times we are living in, but one of the few things we can always find comfort in is the exquisite world of literature. In literary works, we either find the great escape or the perfect inspiration to face the world with motivated and renewed eyes. Either way, the words remain fiercely within us.

From all those pages that lived through your mind weeks after reading them, which of them were by black female authors? 2021 is especially a great time to expand our bookshelves with female voices of color and oh, what a treat we bare. 

With so many new and matured brilliant black female authors, choices are endless with stories so rich awaiting to be explored. Below is a list of must-read novels by black female authors in 2021.


1. How Beautiful We Were

BY IMBOLO MBUE

This release comes at a much-needed time where the world is faced with many unprecedented pandemics. Besides COVID-19, the greater destructions include climate change, and in How Beautiful We Were, Imbolo Mbue brings us back to reality from the bubble we may float through sometimes and places a mirror before our eyes. 

The novel takes a look at the environmental crisis, corporate greed, and the revolution they bring about. 

Mbue begins the novel by reflecting with regret on the past. “We should have known the end was near,” she writes. “How could we not have known? When the sky began to pour acid and rivers began to turn green, we should have known our land would soon be dead. Then again, how could we have known when they didn’t want us to know?”. 

Taking place in a fictional village of Kosawa in an unnamed African country, How Beautiful We Were follows the response of people to environmental exploitation. When destruction hits and a pipeline spills causing children to fall sick and farmlands are left infertile, something must be done. Read to find out what transpires in this riveting novel.

Published: 4 March 2021

2. This Close to Okay

BY LEESA CROSS-SMITH

“Grief is complicated…bizarre…it can make us do all sorts of things.” A novel of healing and for healing, This Close to Okay is an uplifting story of chance encounters with eternal impact. 

Tallie Clark, a recently divorced therapist is driving home from work when she spots a man standing on the side of a  bridge. Tallie immediately pulls over amid the pouring rain and manages to convince the man named Emmett, to have a chat over a cup of coffee.

After learning the man has no place to go, Tallie invites him to come back to her house, all while hesitating to reveal that this is also her day job. They then begin to spend an emotionally charged weekend together where secrets are shared and healing is made.

Leesa Cross -Smith’s writing is very raw and very human, ready to tear the reader apart before mending them. The alternating perspectives between Tallie and Emmett make this read an even greater joy, with both characters showing fragility and openness to the unknown.

Published: 2 February 2021

3. An American Marriage

BY TAYARI JONES

Tayari Jones has set the tone for black female authors with a triumphant streak of releases, and it is no wonder why. A 2018 bestseller, An American Marriage won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and was listed on the 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy seem to be leading the American Dream. Things take a turn when Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. 

With Roy sentenced to 12 years in prison, the couple’s love is put to the ultimate test. A must-read book that is both thought-provoking and gentle in its portrayal of race, marriage and friendship.

Published: 29 January 2018

4. The Kindest Lie

BY NANCY JOHNSON

The Kindest Lie is set in 2008, during the inauguration of Barack Obama- marking a significant transition of hope. This debut novel by black female author Nancy Johnson elegantly covers many topics necessary to have; race, social class, and motherhood, to name a few. 

An Ivy League-educated Black engineer, Ruth Tuttle, is living in Chicago with her husband who wants to start a family. He has no idea what big secret Ruth has been hiding. 

Though she promised her family not to revisit the past, she knows that’s what she needs in order to move forward. And she begins by telling her husband that she had a daughter when she was a teenager that she was forced to give up for adoption.

Through revisiting her past, she discovers more hidden secrets.

Published: 2 February 2021

5. Half of a Yellow Sun

BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE

The only way you may have never heard of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is if you’ve been living under a rock. But if that is so then fear not as that means having to catch up to all the delight. 

From fiction, non-fiction and short stories, Adichie has paved the way for black female author’s of this century. She became a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2008 and boasts with one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time, “The Danger of A Single Story.”

Personally, all Aditchi’s books are a must-read, but Half of a Yellow Sun stands out above Aditchi’s other marvelous works. 

The novel takes place in Biafra in the late 1960s as the republic attempts to pursuit independence in Nigeria. Half of a Yellow Sun carefully chronicles the history and conflicts of the war through the lives of three main characters who become affected by the heart-wrenching events.

We follow Ugwu, a 13-year-old houseboy working for Odenigbo, a revolutionary university professor; Olanna, the professor’s mistress who has abandoned her life and Richard, a shy Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene.

Published: 12 September 2006

6. Girl, Woman, Other

BY BERNARDINE EVARIST

Girl, Woman, Other can be described as simply exquisite, and it has many accolades to show for it. The novel won Fiction Book of the Year at the 2020 British Book Awards where Bernardine also won Author of the Year. This is but a few of the prizes held by this 464-page must-read.

Girl, Woman, Others follows the lives of 12 characters in the United Kingdom as they navigate through life over the course of several decades. 

It offers a feminist narrative to the history of contemporary Britain that is rarely ever seen.

Bernardine does not go by rules of conventional structure and punctuation, yet maintains an undeniable elegant flow.

The different perspectives carried throughout the book make for a worthwhile learning experience, especially relating to the definition of being black and the questions of identity.

Published: 2 May 2019

7. Homegoing

BY YAA GYASI

Effia and Esi are two half-sisters born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana.

While Effia enjoys life in the Cape Coast Castle, beneath the castle is Esi; imprisoned then sold along with thousands of others into the slave trade, and shipped to America. 

There, her children and grandchildren are raised in slavery.

Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi succeeds in the perfect portrayal of two different worlds, yet connected by one thread.

The novel highlights cultural changes in Ghana and America through racism, slavery and colonialism, all with captivating characters with a story that must be heard.

Published: 7 June 2016

8. On Beauty

BY ZADIE SMITH

In On Beauty, acclaimed black female author Zadie Smith journeys through two families who lead different yet increasingly intertwined lives. 

With identity being the key theme in the novel, characters are faced with the dilemma of wondering who they are supposed to be. 

Should they embrace cultural norms or live freely within their wishes? A compelling read of identity in the modern space.

Published: 2005

9. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

BY CHERIE JONES

Yet another triumphant debut novel by a woman black author, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is set in a small beach town in Barbados. 

We meet Lala, a hair-braider about to give birth when her husband’s criminal activities lead to tough consequences. 

Themes of poverty, sexual abuse, poverty, crime, prostitution and murder are explored.

Published: 5 January 2021

10. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

BY DAWNIE WALTON

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a dazzling oral history of a fictional rock and roll duo who rose to fame in the 1970s.  

Coming of age in Detroit, Opal can’t imagine ever settling for a 9-5 job. Knowing she’s meant to be a star, she takes up aspiring British singer Nev on his offer to make music together. Following another band’s use of the Confederate flag, Opal’s protest earn her consequences she couldn’t see coming.

Dark secrets about their past unravel as Opal and Nev contemplate a reunion in 2016.

A debut novel by Dawnie Walton, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev was described in Kirkus as “An intelligently executed love letter to Black female empowerment and the world of rock music.”

Published: 30 March 2021


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