Must-read books by Black authors in fall 2020

Adrian Liang on July 10, 2020

12 must-read books by Black authors coming in fall 2020

I never think, “Gosh, I wish autumn were here,” when I’m in the midst of a beautiful summer, but this year… well, I just might. Fall 2020 (and I use that term loosely, since we couldn’t resist including three August titles) has a bunch of great new books by Black authors that are on our must-read lists. This year, autumn can’t come fast enough.

We’ve highlighted a dozen books we’re looking forward to, but this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. Readers should also keep their eyes open in the fall for an awesome young adult fantasy by Tracy Deonn called Legendborn, Ijeoma Oluo’s straight-talking Mediocre, and Tina Turner’s Buddhism-inspired Happiness Becomes You.

And while you enjoy the summer, don’t miss out on the marvelous reads from the first half of the 2020, including Abi Daré’s The Girl with the Louding Voice, James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, and N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, all of which we named as among the Best Books of 2020 So Far.

Happy reading!

Luster by Raven Leilani

There’s something extra exciting when buzz builds around a debut author, and of course the best case scenario is when a book lives up to the hype. I’m here to tell you that Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster (August 4), is just as good as you’ve heard. Edie is a 20-something Black woman working at a publishing house who finds herself in a relationship with Eric, a White man who’s in an open marriage. As Edie’s career falters, she finds herself temporarily living in Eric’s home—at the invitation of his wife. Her relationship with the wife is complicated and compelling, and so is her relationship to their adopted Black daughter, Akila. Luster manages to be sexy, funny, and achingly sad. —Sarah Gelman

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

We were bowled over by Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel, Freshwater, a February 2018 best of the month pick, so we’re especially excited about their follow-up, The Death of Vivek Oji (August 4). Set in Nigeria, this provocative and compassionate coming-of-age story cautions against the perils of living an inauthentic life (while also acknowledging the dangers doing so presents). It also mines the complexities of familial love. In reading this heart-wrenching but hopeful novel, I’m steeling myself to have my heart broken, and cobbled back together again. —Erin Kodicek

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while, and was thrilled that it got moved from September into August. Reed’s debut novel, The Black Kids (August 4), has been getting a ton of buzz, including film rights that were snapped up fast, and I think this could be 2020’s answer to The Hate U Give. This coming-of-age story is set in 1992, when an event that is still all too familiar changed lives in Los Angeles and across the country: the acquittal of four police officers for beating Rodney King, followed by riots. Ashley Bennett is a high school senior, a wealthy black teen with no worries and an easy life before now. In the wake of the riots all of that changes, for herself, and her family. The Black Kids is about race, class, identity, and the paradox that is Los Angeles. —Seira Wilson

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Where do people go when gentrification has pushed them out of their neighborhood? If you're thinking that a thriller which answers that question may not grab you, consider the publisher's elevator pitch for When No One Is Watching: Rear Window meets Get Out. Coincidence and conspiracy do a little dance in this high-anxiety thriller, and romance writer Cole looks set to wow a whole new audience on September 1. —Vannessa Cronin

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s 2016 debut novel, Homegoing, won both acclaim and readers with the story of two sisters in Ghana whose lives and those of their descendants travel very different paths. Now Gyasi delivers her new novel, Transcendent Kingdom (September 1). A PhD candidate at Stanford, Gifty is a studying addiction—a topic that has hit close to home, as family members suffer broken dreams and broken hearts. Gyasi brings an emotional immediacy to every page, evoking the wonder and the pain of living and loving and surviving. —Adrian Liang

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Across these nine stories in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (September 1), Deesha Philyaw wades into the lives of strong southern Black women as they reckon with their love lives and sexuality, the legacy of parents, and the subtle and profound ways church and societal norms dictate their daily experience. Told in short bursts, the stories of these women and their friendships come alive, beating with tenderness and imperfection, and build upon one another to create a beautiful melody of female determination. —Al Woodworth

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

Set in a world being slowly swallowed by a poison desert, Hairston’s Master of Poisons (September 8) is peopled with unruly witch-women, pirates, imperial counselors, and Elders who walk the Smokeland. Gorgeous world building matches with fascinating characters in a unique and compelling adventure in which the fate of a land is at stake. —Adrian Liang

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Like many others this summer, I’ve turned to the words of Claudia Rankine’s award-winning Citizen to bear witness the magnitude of racism in our country. Comprised of poems, essays, and images, Citizen presented a chilling portrait of individual moments of hatred that comprise a black person’s experience in this country. In Just Us, publishing September 8, she continues to examine how race is perceived and experienced, especially by those who are white. Like her previous book, it’s urgent, transformative, and deserves a big audience. —Al Woodworth

The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley

I love how prolific Walter Mosley is. But because he writes so much, I always feel like I am trying to catch up on his work. That’s a big reason why I am looking forward to The Awkward Black Man (September 15), a collection of 17 of his short stories. In a way, I see it as 17 Walter Mosley stories for the price of one. “Pet Fly,” one of the stories from the collection, was published in the New Yorker in 1999—so it looks like The Awkward Black Man will cover a lot of ground. —Chris Schluep

And Now She's Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

Every piece of information PI Grayson Sykes unearths about the woman she's been hired to track down—Isabel Lincoln—leaves Gray less sure about whether Lincoln has been abducted or whether she’s just walked away from her life. Two relatable female characters, an intricate and twist-heavy plot, and a fascinating riff on the nature of secrets make And Now She's Gone (September 22) a deservedly buzzed-about thriller from Rachel Howzell Hall. —Vannessa Cronin

Memorial by Bryan Washington

Bryan Washington’s Memorial will publish on October 27. It’s the story of Mike and Benson, a couple living in Houston. Mike is a Japanese-American chef. Benson is a Black day care teacher. Mike leaves Houston to visit his father, who is dying in Osaka, which causes both partners to start questioning their relationship. The outlook for their partnership appears to have two likely outcomes: either they blow it up, or the time apart makes them stronger. I don’t know how it turns out, but Memorial promises to be one of those books that has both emotional resonance and humor—two things that I could do with right now. I was originally attracted to the novel by the blurbs it’s getting from writers like Ocean Vuong, Jacqueline Woodson, and Tommy Orange. I have a feeling Bryan Washington could assume his rightful place among those great voices. —Chris Schluep

Girl Gurl Grrrl: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic by Kenya Hunt

A Black American living in London and working as a journalist in the fashion industry, Hunt tackles with grace and gusto topics such as the power of the word “girl,” definitions of beauty, motherhood and raising a Black son, and the evolution of #staywoke. Smart, lively, and always willing to dive into deep waters, Girl Gurl Grrrl (December 8) evokes the glory, challenges, and Black Girl Magic that is part of being a Black woman today. —Adrian Liang

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