Culture

5 Books We're Reading for Black History Month

Highlighting, reading, and celebrating Black authors and their contributions to literature is a meaningful way to recognize Black History Month. Diversity in literature is key for representation, and there are countless books about Black culture, African American history, and the Black experience that deserve more time in the spotlight—not just in February, but all year long.

What is Black History Month? 

Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, honors the sacrifices and contributions of African Americans while recognizing their indelible role in American history. The annual celebration originated in the early 20th century as “Negro History Week,” as historian Carter G. Woodson pushed to promote and educate people in the United States about Black history and culture.

Why February? The second week of the month coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (who issued the Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglass (one of America's most talked about Black history heroes—while Douglass' story is a powerful one, it's also important to recognize history's hidden figures, like the ones featured in this list from Oprah Daily). Black History Month is also recognized in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

Of course, reading is only one of many ways we can honor Black culture and African American history. We had a hard time narrowing down our book list, so you can expect more recommendations in the near future. For now, though, here are five of BookClub's current favorites from contemporary writers.

If you’re interested in American history (and what's missing), read How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

One of last year’s most celebrated books (and one of President Barack Obama's favorites), Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed confronts the legacy of slavery in America.

In an effort to uncover the past, Clint explores locations pivotal to the history of slavery in the United States, from New York City to the deep South. What he finds is shocking: Far too many of our collective narratives are watered down, fabricated, or distorted. And while historical moments like the civil rights movement and, today, Black Lives Matter, push to challenge those narratives, our education system is failing. (What you learned about the civil war in high school is likely not the whole story.)

In our interview with Clint for the Critical Conversations book club, he shared, “There is a systemic, structural failure of our education system that has made it so that millions of people have no understanding of the history of slavery.” Fascinating, eye-opening, and transformative, this New York Times bestseller is a must-read for anyone seeking the truth behind American history as we know it.

If you’re looking for a book that’s hot off the press, read What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by Marie Claire, Essence, and many others, this poignant coming-of-age novel is vivid, mesmerizing, and deeply impactful. (We were lucky enough to enjoy a sneak peek—more to come).

What the Fireflies Knew is told from the perspective of a young Black girl as she and her sister contend with the death of their father, the disappearance of their mother, and their new life with their estranged grandfather. At the cusp of puberty, Kai’s young protagonist must pick up the pieces of her shattered past to carve out a new identity. A moving portrait of girlhood, Kai’s rich debut will make you laugh, cry, and long for another chapter. (There’s even a read along playlist from the author for an even more immersive experience.)

If you’re a fan of Black horror, read The Between by Tananarive Due

When he was a child, Hilton’s grandmother sacrificed her life to save him from drowning. Thirty years later, he and his family are plagued by dark forces both tangible and surreal—from grisly nightmares and reverberations of grief to racist attacks. Hilton’s grasp on reality loosens, and he questions whether he was meant to survive at all.

Tananarive’s The Between is a powerful work of Black horror, a sub-genre of horror that redefines the genre and, more specifically, what it means for Black audiences. (This can include everything from Beloved by Toni Morrison to Get Out by Jordan Peele, a widely impactful film that Tananarive explores in our Belletrist book club interview.) It’s a book that satisfies readers who crave a good thriller—with a healthy dose of social commentary.

If you’re an entrepreneur, read It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton

In 2015, Arlan Hamilton dreamt of breaking into the venture capital business—a predominantly white, Silicon Valley boys’ club. As a gay, Black woman, Arlan didn’t fit the mold. She was also living on food stamps and sleeping on an airport floor. No college degree, no influential network. But she did have a vision.

In her witty, frank, inspiring debut, Arlan shares the lessons she learned as she built a multimillion-dollar investment fund from the ground up. Her book is essential for anyone who’s not afraid to dream big, even (and especially) in the face of adversity. We were honored to feature It’s About Damn Time in our Entrepreneurship book club—and we’re excited for an upcoming collaboration with Arlan in the near future! (Wink, wink.)

If you love a good coming-of-age memoir, read Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome

What does it mean to be a young man in America? Or, more specifically, a gay, Black boy in rural Ohio?

Winner of the Kirkus prize, Brian Broome’s coming-of-age memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods, explores the intersection of various identities—and raises questions about how, and where, to fit in as a Black American and member of the queer community. It’s heartbreaking, humorous, painful, and poignant. While Brian’s distinct voice shines on every page, his story speaks to a broader struggle: how to be oneself in a world that demands conformity.

For poetry fans: Brian shared with us that “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks inspired the structure of his memoir.

Who are your favorite Black authors, past and present?

These books offer unique portraits of Black life—as a journalist, a child, a Black woman, an entrepreneur. And they’re just a small sampling from an endless list of works that represent life as a Black person (in America and elsewhere), from novels and short stories to memoirs and poetry. What are some of your favorites from BookClub or your own shelf? Let us know @bookclubdotcom on Instagram or Twitter, and keep your eyes peeled for more of our recommendations throughout the year.