Black Writers Share Their Favorite Books to Honor Black History Month

Roxane Gay is a New York Times bestselling author and educator, with her work focusing on the intersections of womanhood, queer identity, Blackness and more. For Gay, Black History Month has long been a contentious commemoration of sorts, celebrating the duality that exists in the Black cultural zeitgeist. 

“It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of Black people that have long been overlooked or ignored or diminished, a reminder that we have always been here and we have always contributed to the robustness of not only this country, but the world,” Gay said. “It’s a reminder of actually how we came to be here in the first place, which is through enslavement and the Middle Passage.”

She added, “ We have to celebrate both the good and the unacceptable, and Black History Month allows us to do that.”

Black literature has meant “everything” to Gay, who grew up without access to it. One of the first Black authors she ever read was Toni Morrison, who showed her how “expansive” Black imagination can be and what it means to be a Black woman writing fiction.

“I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, with immigrant parents, and so I didn’t really have a lot of exposure to Black [American] literature … until high school,” Gay said. “It opened up the whole world to me to recognize that Black women were writers, and that we could write our way into the world in very unique ways.”

Gay is continuing in the legacy of Black literature by not only writing at the table, but inviting others to pull up a seat. In 2022, she started a $25,000 fellowship for Substacks, and regularly publishes emerging writers on her own Substack.

“One of the more important things I feel like I do is not my writing, but creating opportunities for other writers and in particularly marginalized writers, starting with Black women, but certainly extending to really anyone who would not ordinarily have equal access to certain avenues in publishing, to create those opportunities to make sure that they are whenever possible, well funded. That feels like an important thing to contribute to the legacy of Black women and literature,” Gay said.

Gay’s top pick:

  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison: “It’s just audacious and painful. On a sentence level, it’s exquisite, and I really admire that.”