Let’s read books by Black authors!

I made the spur of the moment decision to compile a list of the books I have reviewed by Black authors in a handy masterpost for Black History Month. I have a vague recollection of doing something similar for Pride month years ago when I was still operating primarily on Tumblr, and this seems like as good a time as any to pick that idea up again. The reviews will be (mostly) in order from oldest to newest, with that “mostly” being that I will be lumping reviews together if they’re books by the same author.

1. An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color edited by Ellyn Peña and Jamie Berrout

I first reviewed this book back in April 2016 and fell head over heels in love with it. At the time it was only published as an ebook on Gumroad by the Trans Women Writers Collective. Sadly, the collective is no long active. It was forced to shutter in the middle of publishing an expanded edition of the anthology under the new name “Nameless Women: An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Woman of Color.” Despite the shuttering of the collective you can still find “Nameless Women” in hardcopy through Amazon’s self publishing service. As of November 2018, editor Jamie Berrout reported than any remaining royalties and sales would be donated to organizations supporting trans women of color.

2. Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian writer. I acquired this book as part of a Humble Bundle of LGBTQ fiction, again, back in 2016 and it is honestly one of my favorite books from that collection. A short story anthology, “Falling in Love with Hominids” is a beautiful blend of urban fantasy, queer identity and more. I found it to be an incredibly refreshing read and it definitely revitalized my interest in the fantasy genre. While the aforementioned book bundle has long since ended, you can get a copy of the “Falling in Love with Hominids” here.

3 + 4. StreetSlam: Wishes of a Broken Time and StarLion: Thieves of the Red Night by Leon Langford

“StreetSlam” was the debut novel of author Leon Langford. It is an action packed sci-fi/superhero story with fight scenes right out of a Final Fantasy game. Another review from 2016, it was self published as an ebook, but I’m not sure that it’s available anymore.

We aren’t at too much of a loss however, because “StarLion” came out just last year and it is absolutely riveting. A superhero academy novel, it is the first novel of a series and I, for one, will be watching excitedly for the next book. If you’re looking for a YA novel with a complex and passionate Black protagonist, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. You can find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Bookshop.org.

5. The Opal Charm series by Miri Castor

There are four books in this series so far. I first began reviewing these books with “Path to Dawn” in 2016, followed by “Hope in Nautical Dusk” in 2017; then came the prequel novel, “The Path to Dusk,” in 2019; and, most recently, “Melody of Astronomical Dusk” in 2021. The “Opal Charm” series is a unique take on the “inherited powers emerge at puberty” trope that deals heavily in family legacy and the very real consequences of child heroes through the protagonist’s (our titular Opal) journey to save both her world and the world of her ancestor. The books can be found on Amazon.

6. The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Another review from 2016, this book was brought to my attention during a college course I took on early slave narratives. “The Known World” is a novel set in antebellum Virginia that explores the story of a Black slave owner and the slaves he owns. A beautifully written book, it shows a part of history that isn’t often seen when it comes to popular modern media about the history of slavery. Jones noted, in the Q&A he gave to our class, that he had been inspired by a single footnote about Black slave owners in an old textbook. Definitely worthwhile if this is a time period you are interested in reading about.

7. Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

Now writing for DC, my first introduction to Tee Franklin was through her graphic novel “Bingo Love,” which tells the story of two women of color who fell in love as teenagers, were separated and then reconnected and fell back in love as older women. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt story and, I think, much needed representation for queer individuals who came into their own at an older age. I first reviewed this in 2018 and there are now three editions, with various levels of bonus content. All three editions can be found here.

8. Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

“Black on Both Sides” is an excellent and much needed exploration of how race and transgender identity has overlapped in history. Providing a solid theoretical frame work, the book takes us from mid-nineteenth century slave narratives to present day narratives of race and gender. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the discussions of the Brenden Teena archive and the Christine Jorgensen narrative are some of my absolute favorite. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying the history of gender and queerness. Pick up a copy here.

A few honorable mentions:

The following books are all short story/comic anthologies, which I was able to confirm contain stories by Black creators, though not every story is, for which reason I did not want to put them in the same list as the above books.

  1. The Dates anthologies, edited by Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra
    • Of Arms and the Man I Sing written by Paige S. Allen
    • Lulu and Diana by Joamette Gil
  2. Wayward Sisters: An Anthology of Monstrous Women, edited by Allison O’Toole
    • Solid Shadows written by Rachel Simon with art by K. Guillory
    • Cold Call written and illustrated by Xia Gordon
  3. 99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Hope and Strength for Transgender Kids from Heartspark Press
    • The Sisters from the Stars and Melody Song & the Hymns of the Infinate Sadness written by Amy Heart and illustrated by Wriply M. Bennet

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

The first thing I learned reading this was that I’m very out of practice when it comes to reading academic theory. The second was that I need to broaden the academic theory I read. Thankfully, “Black on Both Sides” has a deliciously robust bibliography which I have marked up for future reading. 

Now I will say, this may be a somewhat challenging read for those who don’t have a background in academic theory, but I think it’s doable if you’re willing to stop and google things, which I still had to do myself despite my academic background. Regardless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in gender studies, even if you haven’t delved into much theory yet. C. Riley Snorton has done an incredible job of pulling together a wide range of theories to curate his discussion of race and gender, and moreover, he explains those theories well.

Quotation:  Heeding her call, my analysis here is particularly attentive to the possibilities of valorizing--without necessarily redeeming--different ways of knowing and being, as it is also invested in reviving and inventing strategies for inhabiting unlivable worlds. It is an attempt to think more precisely about the connections within blackness and transness in the midst of ongoing black and trans death and against the backdrop  of the rapid institutionalization of trans studies.

Snapchat caption: Nothing grabs my attention faster than reference to "different ways of knowing."

As you may have already guessed, “Black on Both Sides” is not your run of the mill history book. It is a history, certainly, but one that goes one step deeper than just telling history. It asks questions about and provides an analysis of the history of Black gendered experience and how that has developed from slavery through to today. 

The first chapter begins with a discussion of the Black female body as an object in the historical context of the origins of the medical field of gynecology. Major warning in this chapter for discussions of unethical experimentation and medical abuse. 

"Relaying another variation of the experimental trials, Sims tells his readers that he 'was fortunate in having three young healthy colored girls given to me by their owners,' while also noting that he performed 'no operation without the full consent of the patients."

Snapchat caption: Spot the contradiction.

The second chapter follows this, with a discussion of how “ungendering blackness” provided ways for fugitive slaves to use crossing gender boundaries in their movement toward freedom. This chapter uses two early slave narratives as examples of this and continues with a discussion of literature into chapter three, where Snorton moves on to discuss the female presence in post Reconstruction narratives of Black individuals.

Chapter four delves into the lives of several Black trans individuals and how the media portrayed their gender and transitions in the years surrounding Christine Jorgensen’s rise to fame. Snorton hits, quite early on, one of the major problems I have with the Jorgensen narrative, namely that it plays heavily into the tropes of the “good trans” who upholds white heterosexuality. 

Lastly, chapter five discusses the the Humboldt killings and the Brenden Teena archive, the tragedy behind the documentary “The Brenden Teena Story” and the feature film “Boys Don’t Cry.” 

I was particularly excited for these final two chapters, 1) because they brushed up with things that I’ve studied more in depth, and 2) because they offered different perspectives to the dominant narratives surrounding both Christine Jorgensen and the Brandon Teena archive. For the latter in particular I have gotten rather sick of cis feminists touting “Boys Don’t Cry” as The Best Trans Expression In Film as if it isn’t about the rape and murder of a trans man. Snorton’s look into the Humboldt killings prioritizes Philip DeVine, the Black disabled man who was murdered alongside Teena and Lisa Lambert, and who notably was removed wholesale from the narrative of “Boys Don’t Cry.”

I could go on and on about everything I loved about this book. It’s a very careful and detailed breakdown of queer theory as it pertains to Black and trans history. But as I do have to end this review, I will direct you to where you can get this book so you can experience it for yourselves.

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