The first woman and first person of color to win two National Book Awards for Fiction, Mississisippi native Jesmyn Ward‘s work examines the bonds of familial love amid the legacy of slavery and segregation in the rural South. Centering the stories of historically marginalized Black communities as they reckon with the violence of racism and living in American poverty, she is the author of three novels – Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing.
Ward also edited the anthology The Fire This Time – a collection of contemporary essays and poems about race – and penned the devastating memoir Men We Reaped. She received the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Genius Grant in 2017 and was awarded this year’s Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, celebrating a lifetime of work exploring the intersection of racism and social injustice.
Sharing a reading list with Goodreads in honor of 2018’s Black History Month, Ward recommended some of her favorite fiction, poetry, and non-fiction work from contemporary African-American writers. Ward noted:
“Each writer on this list adds essential words to the conversation we’re having about what it means to live and love and find joy and suffer grief in America right now. Every book we write broadens everyone’s ideas about who we can be and what we are capable of. Here you will find worlds and people who will surprise you, anger you, bring you deep melancholy and sublime happiness. Each of the writers will subvert your ideas about humanity, America, and yourself.”
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Boondock Kollage: Stories from the Hip Hop South by Regina N. Bradley
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
Counting Descent by Clint Smith
Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing by Charif Shanahan
Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson
Heavy by Kiese Laymon