The Black Lives Matter movement has strong roots in New York City, and with this in mind, 6sqft has put together a list of books about or related to New York City, all by Black authors. Including fiction and nonfiction, our list includes classics like Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to contemporary works like Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age and Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough.
|Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall
Novelist Paule Marshall passed away last year at the age of 90, leaving behind stories of “ethnic identity, race and colonialism,” according to her obituary in the New York Times, that “reflected her upbringing in Brooklyn as a daughter of poor immigrants from Barbados.” Brown Girl, Brownstones, her first novel published in 1959, is a coming-of-age story that takes place in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and World War II.
|Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Author Kiley Reid sets her debut novel in both New York City and Philadelphia. A New York Times bestseller and a Reese’s Book Club pick, the novel is “set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.” The thought-provoking story deals with issues of race, privilege, and growing up.
|Jazz by Toni Morrison
In her 1992 novel Jazz, Toni Morrison brings readers back to 1920s Harlem in a profound story of love and obsession that showcases what life was like for Black New Yorkers during this time.
|Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Set in 2001 in Brooklyn, this novel tells the story of 16-year-old Melody and her mother, who had her at the age of 16. According to a review by NPR, “this book manages to encompass issues of class, education, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual desire and orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss,” all in under 200 pages. Woodson is also the author also of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.
|Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
From Cameroon herself, Imbolo Mbue’s novel tells the story of Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, and how he and his family are personally affected by the Great Recession. Themes of race, the American immigration story, and family are all present.
|Open City by Teju Cole
Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole is also a photographer and art historian, so he’s able to beautifully capture the streets of Manhattan and the themes of “identity, dislocation, and history.” The novel follows Nigerian doctor Julius from New York City to Brussels to Nigeria.
|Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin
Scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin shares the stories of three Black female artists–dancer and choreographer Pearl Primus, composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams, and novelist Ann Petry–all of whom brought their creativity to Harlem during the World War II years, laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement.
|Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day by Alexander Smalls, JJ Johnson, and Veronica Chambers
Restauranteur Alexander Smalls and chef JJ Johnson worked together at Harlem’s The Cecil and Minton’s, where they explored Afro-Asian-American cuisine. Winner of the James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook, Between Harlem and Heaven shares more than 100 recipes, along with essays on the history of Minton’s and Harlem.
|Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but raised by his adopted family in Sweden. These influences led him to open the famed Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem, often attributed to the revitalization of 125th Street and the entire neighborhood. His 2013 memoir recounts his journey that led him to fulfill “his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers,” according to the Amazon description.
|Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Steinr
Kwame Onwuachi was born on Long Island and grew up in the Bronx. At the age of 10, his mother sent him to live in rural Nigeria. After returning, he dealt with behavioral issues and drugs, but it was ultimately the food world that saved him. Kwame went on to open his own catering company, attend the Culinary Institute of America, appear on Top Chef, and last year, to open Kith and Kin in Washington D.C., which serves Afro-Caribbean cuisine and earned him the 2019 Rising Star Chef of the Year James Beard Award.
|The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead wrote this nonfiction book to be a”literary love song” to New York, the city where he was born and raised. Through “a series of vignettes, meditations, and personal memories,” Whitehead captures the feeling of New York for both life-long residents and newcomers alike.
|The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Not an autobiography in the traditional sense, Baldwin’s 1963 work is comprised of two personal essays–one a letter written to his nephew about racism and the other an account of his early life in Harlem. It’s considered one of his greatest works and continues to be an important piece when understanding race in America.
|More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth
When Elaine Welteroth earned the title of editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue in 2016, she became only the second African-American person ever to hold such a title at Condé Nast. In her new memoir, Elaine talks about her journey and what it’s like to often be the only woman or person of color in the room.
|Decoded by Jay-Z
Born as Shawn Corey Carter in Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Projects, Jay-Z tells his story in this 2011 autobiography by unraveling the lyrics of more than two dozen of his rap songs.
|The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley Paperback by Malcolm X, Alex Haley, and Attallah Shabazz
Considered one of the greatest works of nonfiction of our time, this autobiography was written based on interviews between Malcolm X and Alex Haley from 1963 to Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination, all taking place at Haley’s Greenwich Village studio. Revealing Malcolm X’s life journey and philosophies, the book discusses the Black Muslim movement, the American Dream, racism, and more. It also includes an epilogue written by Haley after the civil rights leader’s death.
|My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance Paperback by Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte was known just as much for his beautiful music as he was for his activism, even working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. Born in Harlem and starting his career in New York, Belafonte shares his entire life’s story.
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