We will never go back to a time before the devastating losses and surreal political theater seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 changed us irreversibly, both as individuals and en masse. Let these books usher in the new year in all its complexity, with topics on grief, sexuality, history and more.
MEMOIR + BIOGRAPHY
Late legendary actress Cicely Tyson traces her life from growing up in Harlem to pioneering seven decades of film, theater, fashion and activism in her memoir, “Just As I Am” (HarperCollins). In “Love is an Ex-Country,” Palestinian-American writer Randa Jarrar takes us on a journey through her intimate experiences with race, gender and sexuality as she travels across the United States (Catapult). Marcos Gonsalez, a queer Boricua and Mexican-American writer, explores the lives, dreams and archetypes of brown Latinx men in the U.S., including himself, in Pedro’s Theory” (Melville House). “Conversations with Lorraine Hansberry,” edited by Mollie Godfrey, is a comprehensive collection of the playwright’s interviews from her Broadway debut to early death from cancer at age 34 (University of Mississippi Press). Danielle Geller returns to her home on the Navajo reservation, where she faces her family history through the letters, diaries and unexposed films of her deceased mother in “Dog Flowers” (One World). “We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival,” edited by Natalie West with Tina Horn, contains the personal stories of workers from across the sex industry, and donates proceeds to support incarcerated sex workers (The Feminist Press).
HISTORY + ACTIVISM
The legacy of the Black Panther Party is illustrated in David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson’s “The Black Panther Party: A Graphic History” (Ten Speed Press). “The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop” by Felicia Chavez provides educators with tools to nourish creativity in the classroom (Haymarket). “The Echoing Ida Collection,” edited by Cynthia R. Greenlee, Kemi Alabi, and Janna A. Zinzi anthologizes essays by Black women and non-binary writers from the eponymous writing collective inspired by trailblazing journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells (The Feminist Press). Delve into four hundred years of Black history through the voices of 80 activists, creators, historians, curators and cultural critics in historian du jour Ibram X. Kendi’s “Four Hundred Souls” (One World/Random House). Daphne E. Brooks, a Yale professor of African-American history, delves into the legacy of Black women who revolutionized music and sound in “Liner Notes for the Revolution” (Belknap Press). In “The Three Mothers,” scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs elevates the mothers of key racial justice figures Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin (Flatiron Books).
The messy love and sex lives of Black queer men are at the heart of Oakland-based author and artist Brontez Purnell’s “100 Boyfriends” (MCD X FSG Originals). Carribean Fragoza’s “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You” uplifts Latina and immigrant women protagonists who confront the culmination of historic and machismo violence (City Lights). “Kink,” edited by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwan, takes you deep into queer desire and sexual fantasies through the short stories of Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor and more (Simon & Schuster). Daniel W. Montiz’s “Milk Blood Heat” pulls you into Florida’s thick, sultry humidity, where intergenerational stories reveal the complexities of race and womanhood (Grove Atlantic). After a therapist saves a man from ending his life, the two cope with sorrow and depression in Leesa Cross Smith’s darkly humorous novel, “This Close to Okay” (Grand Central).
An Ojibwe teen is thrust into an FBI investigation after she witnesses a murder over a deadly new drug in Angeline Boulley’s “Firekeeper’s Daughter” (Henry Holt + Co.). Poet Safia Elhillo’s verse novel, “Home is Not a Country,” follows a 14-year-old Sudanese-American girl as she seeks acceptance living in a suburb with her Muslim immigrant single mother (Make Me a World). From environmental racism to disaster capitalism to social change, Naomi Klein and Rebecca Stefoff’s “How to Change Everything” offers readers age 10 to 17 a handbook to protect our planet (Atheneum). A Chinese-American teenager navigates lesbian love in 1950s San Francisco in Malinda Lo’s “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” (Dutton). In author L. L. Mckinney and illustrator Robyn Smith’s “Nubia: Real One,” a Black teenage girl superhero must keep her extraordinary powers hidden while her community faces injustice (DC).
FOR THE KIDS
“Ancestor Approved,” edited by author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), is an anthology of children’s stories from across Nations and generations (Heartdrum). Joanna Ho and Dung Ho’s “Eyes That Kiss in the Corner” is a love letter for Asian-American children to discover their beauty and self-acceptance (Harper/HarperCollins). “Jump at the Sun,” written by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, introduces children to luminary writer Zora Neale Hurston (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum). From Cuban singer Celia Cruz to U.S. Olympic gymnast Lauren Zoe Hernandez, Juliet Menéndez’s “Latinitas” shares portraits and mini-biographies of inspiring Latinas across the U.S. and the Americas (Godwin Books/Henry Holt). Children discover 25 distinct protest movements for Black and Indigenous people, women, immigrants and queer and trans communities in Leah Henderson and Tyler Feder’s “Together We March” (Atheneum).
Catherine is a writer from Miami living in New York and a former editorial assistant at Colorlines.