Maybe you read Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison in high school. Maybe you’ve recently picked up all about love (1999) by bell hooks. Notice anything? They’re from last century. And if you only read books suggested on social media, your appreciation of Black authors may not have evolved beyond these classics. What contemporary classics are Black authors writing these days?
With the rise of BookTok, many people are getting their reading recommendations from TikTok and Instagram. As a result, Bookstores dedicate shelves to highlighting popular BookTok picks. Plus, movie adaptations are increasingly driven by demand from online book success. So representation in bestselling novels has never been more critical.
So where are BookTok’s Black authors?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ottessa Moshfegh, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Colleen Hoover, and the rest as much as the next girl. But every single BookTok video that makes its way onto my For You Page is seriously lacking in diversity.
\u201cI wish booktok hyped up Brown and Black rom coms the way they hype up white rom coms. Like it\u2019s crazy how viral mediocre repetitive white romances get but not awesome Brown and Black rom coms\u201d— #freekashmir (@#freekashmir) 1642217419
If I do see a book by a Black author, it’s Taylor Morrison, James Baldwin, or a celebrity biography. This mirrors a mainstream penchant for engaging with Black stories only when they include trauma, history, or triumph under extreme duress. Please — there are other Black stories out there!
Sure, during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020, social media was rife with calls to amplify Black voices. But everyone’s real quiet now. Did anyone read all those theory books they bought? Did anyone keep their vow to read more diversely? I don’t want to be cynical, but BookTok’s whitewashed picks set a defeatist precedent that’s corrupting publishing standards.
Luckily, there are so many incredible Black authors out there writing terrific books. And they deserve recognition — and book sales! For every genre and book lover, there’s a wealth of unexplored talent waiting to be discovered. Seriously, take a step off BookTok and make it a point to support Black authors.
From refreshing takes on old tropes to completely unprecedented plotlines, here are my favorite books by Black authors that you should definitely add to your TBR:
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Bolu Babalola takes classic romance tropes and subverts them to explore questions of gender and race in this compelling, bittersweet novel. A gripping read that will have you pushing Normal People down on your list of favorites.
A Reese Witherspoon book club pick, this novel is getting some hype — but it deserves so much more. This evocative romance delves deep into the internal lives of its characters without sacrificing that seductive spark.
If you liked Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, you’ll love Memphis. This seventy-year portrait follows three generations of a Black family in the South that will make you identify with the characters instantly — no matter who you are.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover but I picked this book up because of its title and I was not disappointed. Its deep and passionate narrative makes you reflect on the beautiful turmoil of life — the complexity of emotions, the effects of grief, and the choices we make for love.
Nikki May’s debut novel will make a striking first impression. Explore her surprising story about a friendship that’s threatened by the influences of ambition, culture, and betrayal.
An empathetic familial tale about a dying father who writes letters to his estranged, queer son. His final effort to reconcile with his son paints a portrait of their lives that you won’t be able to put down.