Staff Picks: Uplifting Black Voices in the Arts

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

To kick off Black History Month and to elevate Black voices and their contributions to humanism, art, science, culture, and philosophy, learn more about our favorite books written by Black authors.

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

I recently finished The Fifth Season, the first book in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. And as someone who rarely enjoys the fantasy genre, I’m thrilled to report that I cannot recommend it enough. Jemisin has an almost hypnotic writing style that makes the usually boring process of worldbuilding into a puzzle, jumping through three time periods within the story and letting readers slowly fill in the gaps as they explore the epic and detailed setting she’s created. Without giving too many spoilers, she intentionally centers characters of color (humans, to be clear) and explores the “otherness” that can come with immense power. I can’t wait to continue on with the series.

The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, making Jemisin only the second black author to win the award at that time. The two sequels in her series also won Hugos, making her the first-ever author in Hugo Award history to win back-to-back awards for every book in a trilogy.

—Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager


Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is an important piece of literature that peels back so many layers for the reader to reflect on and examine. Cross-cultural conflict, colonization, ethnocentrism, ideals about masculinity and family, the arrival of European missionaries to proselytize to ”primitive tribes” — there is a lot to unpack in Achebe’s writing.

I return to this book every few years since I first read it as a teenager. Every time I read it, I glean a new perspective or something that stands out. Maybe it’s because the cultural and political backdrop in our own country has changed each time I read it, or maybe it’s the earnestness of Achebe’s writing; I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

If you’ve never picked up any of Achebe’s work, I’d give this novel a priority spot on your reading list. And if you have read Things Fall Apart in the past, consider this a nudge to give it another go to reflect on how the novel’s themes still resonate so strongly today.

—David Reinbold, Communications Manager


Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

As an avid sci-fi/fantasy reader, these books made my essential reading list because the authors weaved the stories and the worlds that contain them in such profound and unique ways. These books and those like them are much needed as Black people are often left out of sci-fi and fantasy. I often read from many other perspectives, but something special happened the first time I saw myself reflected in these pages. These works are a treat for anyone to enjoy.

—Anna Clay, Development Assistant


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo invites readers to face and discuss race, privilege, micro-aggressions, intersectionality, police brutality, activism, and more. She beautifully blends fact and storytelling to expand our awareness and encourage us to delve further into concepts that impact us all, especially if they make us uncomfortable. Her narrative is clear and funny, aiming to empower people to connect and improve systemic issues. The book is great for personal growth and even better for community discussions to help understand ideas and ideally be accountability partners. Oluo won the AHA’s Feminist Humanist Award in 2018.

—Emily Newman, Senior Education Coordinator


Racism as Zoological Witchcraft by Aph Ko

Racism as Zoological Witchcraft by Aph Ko offers an impactful perspective on anti-racism, veganism, and gender. Humanists seeking a nuanced understanding of our interconnected world will truly appreciate the work Ko has undertaken in this book. Ko breaks down what keeps activists siloed, analyzes ways in which racism is maintained and normalized, and proposes a comprehensive liberation theory that acknowledges the intricate weaving of oppressive systems.

—Meredith Thompson, Development Manager