As Black History Month comes to a close in the United States, we reiterate that Black history is not static, limited purely to the past — it is made year-round. The Black experience is not monolithic, and each story adds nuance to our collective understanding of it. Whether Black authors are unearthing forgotten stories and calling attention to systemic inequalities or sharing moments of joy and community, they are making history by writing their narratives into being.
In honor of this, here are the Black voices who have shared their personal stories and work with us over the past year. We Need Diverse Books looks forward to all of the new stories and voices we will have an opportunity to uplift in the year to come.
Authors & Books
Picture Books/Early Readers
Tami Charles – ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER [Trailer Reveal + Q&A]- “My hope is that All Because You Matter serves as a go-to book for parents, teachers, and caregivers when their children have difficult questions about current events. This book is meant to uplift and affirm a child’s self-worth, even during times that may show otherwise.”
Ibram X. Kendi – ANTIRACIST BABY [Educational Guide]- As part of WNDB’s 2020 Summer Reading Book Club, the WNDB team assembled an educational guide and other materials for Antiracist Baby.
Nikki Grimes – BEDTIME FOR SWEET CREATURES [Q&A]- “I’ve been looking to create more stories featuring characters of color in everyday, universal situations, stories that are both authentic and joyful. Not everything about our lives is heavy and dark. We know moments of joy, too, and I’m chasing after those moments, beginning with early childhood.”
Angela Joy – BLACK IS A RAINBOW COLOR [Q&A] – “Bringing culture into everyday learning and curriculum normalizes differences and teaches children to accept them, as opposed to viewing them as taboo, exotic, or trivial enough to be confined to certain times of the year.”
Amyra Leon – FREEDOM, WE SING [Q&A] – “Whether it is racism or COVID-19, children are growing up in a world without answers, without teachers, away from their friends. Now is the time to start engaging with our youth and trusting their perspectives, embracing their opinions, and empowering their curiosity.”
Laronda Gardner Middlemiss – I LOVE ME – “Laronda Gardner Middlemiss Writes So Her Son Can See Himself in Books” [Essay] – “Beyond his racial identity, I began to think about my son’s diagnosis and how rare it is to find protagonists with Down syndrome. I realized that, despite all the wonderful, colorful and different stories out there, there is room to make the landscape a bit richer by sharing more stories that feature children from beyond the margins.”
Alice Faye Duncan – JUST LIKE A MAMA – “Celebrating Chosen Parents in JULIST LIKE A MAMA by Alice Faye Duncan” [Essay] – “The word ‘mother’ goes beyond the bloodline. ‘Mother’ is an action verb. To mother well means to serve the constant and ongoing measures of love that meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a dependent child.”
Valerie Bolling – LET’S DANCE [Q&A] – “I believe in being a lifelong learner and am learning so much throughout this process. Just as I want students to be eager and open to learning, I move through life the same way… When I was a classroom teacher, I always emphasized that I was not the only teacher in the classroom and that we would all learn from each other.”
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow – MOMMY’S KHIMAR, YOUR NAME IS A SONG – “The Disappearance of the Black Muslim Author” [Essay] – “I haven’t disappeared yet. I am here writing as a Black person who is visibly Muslim and as a Muslim person who is visibly Black. I write my intersections into your line of vision and into the pages of books. Although the publishing industry coaxes most writers like me to do otherwise, I haven’t had to erase one of these identities from my stories. Not yet.”
Malcolm Mitchell – MY VERY FAVORITE BOOK IN THE WORLD – “How I Fell in Love With Reading” [Essay] – “[The] truth is, this story comes from my own personal experience as a struggling reader who found a path to loving books. Both my story and Henley’s story are examples of the magical power books possess whether you’re the reader or writer.”
Tricia Elam Walker – NANA AKUA GOES TO SCHOOL – “Why Diverse Books Are Important for Everyone—Not Just Marginalized Kids” [Essay] – “[White] people didn’t grow up having to empathize with Black characters but Black people (of a certain age) had no choice because the only images we saw were those of white characters. If that’s true, all the more reason it is important for white parents to buy books with diverse characters and themes.”
Ashley Franklin – NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE – “Making a Joyful Noise Through Writing” [Essay] – “[If] my focus is truly on capturing moments of joy in a Black child’s life, there are numerous opportunities I can explore with both Muslim and non-Muslim characters. This is how I can use my unique voice to share, reflect, and introduce joyous representations for young readers.”
Kirstie Myvett – PRALINE LADY – “I Wrote Praline Lady to Honor the Black People Behind Praline’s History” [Essay] – “I’m drawn to the stories of everyday people that have lived ordinary lives. You don’t have to do something major or be famous to make a difference. Free women of color and enslaved women sold pralines. Some of the enslaved women were able to self-purchase their freedom or that of their loved ones. This candy was so much more than a sweet treat. It changed these women’s lives and allowed them economic independence during a time that was very difficult for Black people.”
Doyin Richards – WATCH ME [Q&A] – “[Being able to tell my father’s story] means everything to me. I always viewed my dad as a superhero who was capable of anything and everything. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how poorly he was treated due to his skin color and West African accent.”
Derrick Barnes – WHO GOT GAME [Excerpt] – “Who Got Game?: Baseball is the first installment in a three-book sports series where I shine some light on a few of the unheralded but extremely important pivotal players, plays, records, sensational stories, radical records, colossal comebacks, and of course unbelievable stats. I’m a big research and history buff, so it was a lot of fun being able to tie in a lot of social and cultural information as it relates to baseball’s place in helping to shape American culture.”
B.B. Alston – AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS [Excerpt] – Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.
Valerie L. Williams-Sanchez – “Celebrating the Anniversary of THE BROWNIES’ BOOK by W.E.B. DuBois” [Profile] – “When W.E.B. DuBois, Augustus Dill, and Jessie Fauset published The Brownies’ Book (TBB) magazine in 1920, they blazed a trail and created a legacy that today, 100 years later, is only now being actualized… the Black children’s magazine by and for people of color distinguished itself to become an archetype of culturally relevant literature.
Lisa Moore Ramée – A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE – “WNDB Summer Reading: Both Pain and Joy Are Part of Kids’ Lives” [Essay] – “Black kids’ lives are particularly complex. And while it’s way past time for people to understand we are more than Black pain (so, so much more), our pain does have a way of vining its way into our stories. It has to. It’s part of our story. So yes, a book about a Black girl that is primarily about friendships shifting, family, and a first crush also has to be about police brutality. Why? Because that’s the truth of being Black in America. Black kids know this; other kids should know it too.”
Lisa Moore Ramée – A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE [Educational guide + intro] – As part of WNDB’s 2020 Summer Reading Book Club, the WNDB team assembled an educational guide and other materials for A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE.
Nikki Grimes – LEGACY – “Meet Ida Rowland, Harlem Renaissance Poet and Children’s Book Publisher” [Essay] – “I set out to write Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance with the clear intention of introducing young readers to some of the unsung female poets of the period… I want all readers, Black readers especially, and Black girls, in particular, to know that the sky is the limit for them.”
Eden Royce – ROOT MAGIC – “We Need to Honor African Traditional Religions on the Page” [Essay] – “The original purpose of rootwork was to make life better for the practitioner and those around them, the earliest examples of which included healing medicine and ways to protect against those with harmful intent… I wanted to read a book that showed the original intent of conjure magic: Protection, fostering community, healing our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.”
Tanita S. Davis – SERENA SAYS [Q&A] – “So much of what we really think is never revealed except in slivers in the performance of life we put on social media, or even on our faces at school. I believe there’s power in the real… real is where it’s at, and speaking our truths, as so many young people are now doing? Is solid, worthy work that we all need to accomplish.”
Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson – THE TALK [Cover reveal + info] – In the powerful follow-up to We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, thirty diverse and award-winning authors and illustrators capture frank discussions about racism, identity, and self-esteem. Here is an invitation to all families to be advocates and allies for change.
Paula Chase – TURNING POINT [Q&A] – “There aren’t necessarily rules to friendship but there is certainly etiquette. And there is no being more particular about friendship etiquette than a middle school girl… It doesn’t take much to unbalance the harmony, on a good day, so I wanted to take the characters on separate journeys of identity that would surely impact that harmony.”
Varian Johnson – TWINS – “The Radical Act of “Normalizing” Black Lives” [Essay] – “[This book sounds very normal, and] that in itself is a radical notion for children’s publishing. These two Black girls aren’t required to lead a revolution, or overcome extraordinary odds, or even teach their naïve white friends valuable lessons on what it means to be Black.”
Marie Arnold – THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY [Profile] – “I really wanted to go against [hatred for immigrants] and reach out to kids—who are listening—to know that being an immigrant isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a plus. I was hoping that if there are any kids like me, I wanted them to read it and feel a little bit less alone.”
Victoria Bond – ZORA AND ME: THE SUMMONER [Q&A] – “For Black people, racism has often reached beyond the grave to touch us. I think middle-grade readers, especially now that as a country we’re grappling with white supremacy and systemic racism, deserve to know that. This history is a way of immediately getting at how [racism] attacks and attempts to erase Black people’s humanity.”
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé – ACE OF SPADES [Cover reveal + info] – Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a high-octane YA thriller that serves as a blistering exploration of the barriers that young people of color face when they aspire to things that come easily to their white classmates.
Echo Brown – BLACK GIRL UNLIMITED [Q&A] – “It was never my goal to use magic. It just felt like that’s what was needed for the story. There was this other element of transcendence or supernatural abilities, which is what I think it takes to survive poverty in America, that kept bubbling up as I was writing. I chose not to suppress it and allowed it to emerge in the manuscript as it wanted.”
Christina Hammonds Reed – THE BLACK KIDS [Q&A] – “I really consider this book a love letter to Los Angeles as much as anything… As much as I love this city, I wanted to write a narrative that encompassed everything, the beauty and the pain. And specifically the beauty and the pain of the black experience in Los Angeles.”
Ben Philippe – CHARMING AS A VERB [Q&A] – “I guess I hope that young readers don’t lose too much of themselves in the college-applying process. I say this now that I’m (bravely) in my 30s, but back then I would have overperformed in the Hunger Games for an acceptance letter to my Dream College. President Snow would be blaring the horn telling me to put down the bat because I had won.”
Elizabeth Acevedo – CLAP WHEN YOU LAND, THE POET X, WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH- “Elizabeth Acevedo Writes to Understand the World Better” [Profile] – “I think poetry is about the observation of a moment, of a human interaction and I know few forms of art that push us towards empathy as clearly as poetry… young people especially need to read text that affirms what they feel is valid, and that also pushes them towards an understanding of how others live and think.”
Angie Thomas – CONCRETE ROSE [Profile] – “Maverick is probably my favorite character from The Hate U Give, and I feel bad for saying that because Starr should be… I enjoyed writing him, and every scene he was in, it felt like he became a star on the page. He was the character that everybody asked me about the most.”
Justin A. Reynolds – EARLY DEPARTURES [Q&A] – In [my debut Opposite of Always], I explored the nature of romantic love—and I very much wanted it to feel like an epic love story—but with Early Departures, I was interested in examining the mechanics of other critical relationships, particularly best-friend love and sibling love. I started with the question: Can we ever get back the things we’ve lost?
Kacen Callender – FELIX EVER AFTER [Educational guide + intro] – As part of WNDB’s 2020 Summer Reading Book Club, the WNDB team assembled an educational guide and other materials for Felix Ever After.
Kacen Callender – FELIX EVER AFTER [Q&A] – “I went into Felix Ever After knowing I would want to write about a person like me, someone I had never before seen in books or in any media: A Black, queer, trans masculine person who identifies as a demiboy.”
Camryn Garrett – FULL DISCLOSURE [Q&A] – “I think there’s a lot more room for consensual sex in YA. Books and movies are really where a lot of young people see their first depictions of sex and it shapes how they think about it. They should have access to stories that depict sex happening respectfully and safely between two teens.”
Namina Forna – THE GILDED ONES – Namina Forna’s THE GILDED ONES Is a Feminist Magic Epic [Profile] – “I wanted a book that was like [the movie] 300, but instead of male warriors, it’s female warriors kicking ass and taking names. I wanted the violence to mean something, not just be gratuitous violence. Every single act of violence in my book actually means something and says something about the larger thing.”
Tiffany D. Jackson – GROWN [Q&A] – “The inspiration for Grown came from the stories of the survivors of R. Kelly. It’s about a 17-year-old aspiring singer who is swooned by a legendary yet older R&B superstar with promises of fame, leading her to turn against her family, until his body shows up and all fingers point to her.”
Tracy Deonn – LEGENDBORN [Profile] – “I also very much wanted to explore the idea of legacy and legends from my own experience, from the world of probably our most prominent, long-lived legend, King Arthur, and from the experience of having grown up in the American South where legacies are a constant source of discourse.”
Sharon G. Flake – THE LIFE I’M IN – “Skin Deeper: On Publishing A Sister Novel 20 Years Later” [Essay] – “At nearly sixty-five, I am excited about ushering another novel into the world. Because of my age, perhaps, I am often asked about my legacy. I hope that it is very similar to the legacy of my mom and dad, which is quite simple, as I see it. Do some good in the world. Leave it better than you found it. Help somebody along the way.”
Louisa Onomé – LIKE HOME – “What Naruto Taught Me About History, Community, and a Toronto Suburb” [Essay] – “When I started drafting my contemporary debut Like Home, I thought I was writing a story about friendship, love, and above all, community… as I’ve come to learn, we are reflections of the places we’ve lived, the history that has shaped a community.”
Pamela Varnado – LOOKING FOR GRACE [Cover reveal + info] – My brother is gone. My mom is too stuck in her own grief to see me, and my dad thinks pain isn’t something to ever be discussed. Even my boyfriend has let me down over and over again. It feels like there is only one way forward, only one way out.
Emery Lee – MEET CUTE DIARY [Cover reveal + info + Q&A] – Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.
Tami Charles – MUTED [Q&A] – “In Muted, I wanted to depict an Americanized teen with a (sometimes strict) Haitian American father and an (often busy but loving) Black American mother. The ideals of being dedicated to school and home are there, but so is that sense of independence.”
Maika & Marika Moulite – ONE OF THE GOOD ONES [Q&A] – “So often we’ll get caught up in respectability politics when we know that doesn’t save anyone from harm. A person’s life shouldn’t matter more because they ‘speak well,’ have lots of money, or anything along those lines. Being a human being should be more than enough to be able to live your life with dignity.”
Ibi Zoboi & Yusuf Salaam – PUNCHING THE AIR – “Why Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi Collaborated on Punching the Air” [Essay] – “I wanted to be one of the few college reporters to investigate the truth about the “Central Park jogger” case, because so many of us believed those five teens were innocent. By sharing [Yusef’s] story, I had hoped to expose the ongoing disparities in the criminal justice system and how the media continually portrays an imbalanced view of Black children.”
Jordan Ifueko – RAYBEARER [Q&A] – “Raybearer is set in a world with 13 culturally distinct realms based on real-world cultures, and I wanted to honor those cultures faithfully with a fantasy twist. Research on pre-colonial West Africa was difficult because a lot of sources are buried beneath colonial, rather than African, voices. But the hunt was fun, and my Yoruba and Bini relatives were more than happy to help!”
Dana L. Davis – ROMAN JEWEL – “I Wrote a Dark-Skinned Black Girl Like Me Into a Musical Theater Story” [Essay] – “Though Hollywood is currently evolving and growing and doing much better with people of color in leads and non-stereotypical roles, it continues to be challenging for the non-famous actors of color like me… Becoming an author helped me to take back my power. Women of color, even darker-skinned women, can be the girl the boy pines after.”
Roxane Gay & Tracy Lynne Oliver – THE SACRIFICE OF DARKNESS [Excerpt] – Follow one woman’s powerful journey through this new landscape as she discovers love, family, and the true light in a world seemingly robbed of any. As she challenges notions of identity, guilt, and survival she’ll find that no matter the darkness, there remains sources of hope that can pierce the veil.
Bethany C. Morrow – A SONG BELOW WATER [Q&A] – “I was looking at the internet’s response to Black women sharing any opinion or insight whatsoever, and I dm’d my sister, ‘My voice is power,’ in response to that. Because we’re supposed to believe we’re insignificant while at the same time our mere existence results in an often frothing anger. The truth is, we’re powerful… So the line, ‘My voice is power,’ came first, and then immediately I knew the girl who said it was a siren.”
Julian Winters – THE SUMMER OF EVERYTHING [Q&A] – “Every time I entered a coffee shop or a mall or walk around a shopping center, there were teens, young adults, college-age people wearing their Pride shirts or watching LGBTQIA+ content on social media or being their authentic-selves… I knew I needed to write something like that not only for those teens but for the ones who don’t have that kind of community just yet.”
Kim Johnson – THIS IS MY AMERICA – “Writing for the Next Generation of Activists” [Essay] – “Through my own stories, I realized I could interweave the ecosystem of race in America with how the flaws in our criminal justice system go well beyond acts of police brutality. The targeting, profiling, over-sentencing, unfair legal processes, as well as lack of rehabilitation and support disproportionately impact Black, Brown, and poor communities. I wanted to share an experience that impacts millions of people in our criminal justice system and to plant a seed of inspiration for our future lawmakers and changemakers.”
Brandy Colbert – THE VOTING BOOTH [Q&A] – “As someone whose parents hail from the American South and grew up there during the tail end of Jim Crow laws, I’ve always been interested in the difficulties of voting, particularly as it pertains to Black Americans in the South. The fight for voting rights was long, incredibly hard, and sometimes fatal; I’ve always felt one of the greatest things I can do to honor my ancestors is to use my voice through voting, which many were not allowed to do for decades.”
Ronnie Davis – WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU [Profile] – “I wanted people to not feel so alone. I wanted people to feel like [mental illness] is a thing and to show that nothing’s wrong with you, you just have this thing that you’re dealing with and it could happen to anybody, and it’s okay, you’re okay.”
J. Elle – WINGS OF EBONY [Profile] – “When you set the bar high and let [kids] know that they can meet that bar, they can surpass that bar, it will blow you away what they are capable of and what they will do. I wanted to speak to that child. My teacher heart wanted to echo that message that they are magic. They can alter the circumstances around them for the better.”
Desmond Hall – YOUR CORNER DARK [Excerpt] – American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.
Desmond Hall – “The Night Before” [Essay] – “I understood that my kids would never know what I knew, experience what I’d experienced… They wouldn’t run freely across the hills with cousins, avoiding cow lice, or chasing each other with the switch without worrying about real danger… The thought saddened me, as the land of my childhood seemed like it was a world well lost. Still, I knew that this type of surrender wasn’t the Jamaican way.”
Leah Johnson – YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN [Q&A] – “I knew what it is I wanted to accomplish and what Scholastic wanted me to accomplish, and we wanted a Black girl love story with a happy ending. But in order to write a book like that, it would have been dishonest for me to write that story without also talking about classism, racism, and homophobia.”
Further Reading & Resources
Resources for Race, Equity, Anti-Racism, and Inclusion – Includes Black-Owned Bookstores, Black-led organizations, & book lists
The Black Creatives Fund – Run by WNDB Program Manager Breanna J. McDaniel – The Black Creatives Fund is an initiative with a mission of supporting new and existing Black writers and illustrators. It will feature three initiatives in 2021, including a Revisions Workshop (which is currently accepting applications!), a mentorship program, and a marketing symposia in partnership with the Brown Bookshelf.
The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later – Featuring a Black creative (authors and illustrators both) every day for the month of February!
J. Nailah Avery – “Black-Owned Independent Bookstores Face Unique Challenges” [Article] – “Black-owned bookstores, like all Black businesses and communities across the board, have regularly faced the persistent challenge of corporate and individual performative activism.”
“The Free Black Women’s Library Celebrates Black Authors and Readers” [Profile] – Founded by Ola Ronke Akinmowo: “[The Free Black Women’s Library] of 2000-odd books, all written by black women, tell stories of love, hope, trauma and most importantly, resilience.”
Kaya Thomas Created We Read Too for Readers of Color [Essay] – Thomas, who developed the We Read Too app to help readers find books by people of color, talks about her journey to building and launching the app: “Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code [said that] it was important for Black girls not only to be consumers of technology but to be able to create the technology themselves. This set a lightbulb off in my head… I decided to learn how to code.”
Arriel Vinson, Walter Grant Winner & Blog Contributor
“Stop Calling Popular Tropes in YA Novels ‘Overused’” [Article] – “Tropes, it seems, have only just become overused, though many different types have been in novels and series throughout time. However, there is just now more space for writers of color in the publishing world to play around with tropes.”
“How Children’s Authors Create Change Outside of Their Books” [Article] – “Black authors are doing more than addressing issues on the page. For marginalized communities, the art can’t be all that is done. Black authors are also volunteering for or working in the communities they tell stories about.”
Jas Perry, Literary Agent & WNDB Internship Grant Winner [Q&A] – “it’s a joy to hear from my clients that I understand their stories and visions. This seems fairly simple, I know, but writers with identities largely underrepresented in publishing are frequently turned away with the vague hand-wave of “not relatable,” or they’re otherwise expected to educate their audiences.”
Autumn Allen – “Three Keys to Writing a Novel From a Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence” [Article] – “Looking back on the past three years, including a research fellowship and my current Writer-in-Residence position sponsored by the Associates of the Boston Public Library, I have identified three necessary ingredients in my pursuit of writing.”
Deadline City Podcast – Co-hosted by WNDB COO Dhonielle Clayton: “Publishing is a big scary world to many of us, and our goal is to pull back the curtain on some of the mystery by simply talking about it.”
Minorities in Publishing Podcast – Hosted by former WNDB team member Jennifer Baker: “An interview-format podcast where Jennifer discusses the lack of diversity in the book publishing industry with other underrepresented professionals working in/associated with the literary scene. Featured guests include VPs and executive editors, literary agents, marketers, authors, illustrators, and more.”
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JoAnn Yao is the Social Media Manager for We Need Diverse Books. Among other things, she has conducted research for the American Film Institute, provided book and script coverage for a Hollywood agency, designed an online narrative game, and written a comic for a New Frontiers anthology. She lives in New York City with her dragon’s hoard of books. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.