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10 Black queer authors you should be reading all year long

· Updated on May 15, 2024

It’s Black History Month, which means there’s no better time to engage with great historical and contemporary Black art. But wait a minute…shouldn’t we be decolonizing our bookshelves all year long? Why, yes! Not only are there so many incredible queer Black writers writing fiction today, new classics from the past are being rediscovered all the time. From modern masterpieces to recently-reprinted gems, here are just a few Black authors whose work will open your eyes, change your life, and keep you turning the pages.

Countee Cullen

Harlem Renaissance poet and later Harlem NAACP President Countee Cullen started publishing at an early age. Encouraged by his mentor, the Black writer and philosopher Alain Locke, to go deeper in his writing, he used poetry and fiction to explore his (at the time) illicit attraction to men. When Cullen’s 1925 poetry collection “Color” came out, critics marveled at Cullen’s ability to capture the joy (and trauma) of the Black American experience, and the collection’s queer themes were noted as well. By 1929, Cullen was manifesting Lil Nas X’s J Christ with his provocative and intense second collection, “The Black Christ.”

Where to start:

“Lines to My Father”

“Saturday’s Child”

Akwaeke Emezi

Nonbinary Nigerian artist and writer Akwaeke Emezi is one of the most talented queer voices of our generation. And because of that—along with their successful novels Pet (2019), Freshwater (2018), and The Death of Vivek Oji (2020), they’ve had to put up with a lot of jealous TERF nonsense. Emezi’s speculative fiction takes on the power of myth, romance, identity, and the Igbo concept of ogbanje, a spirit that exists beyond the boundaries of Western gender constructs. Their 2022 novel, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty, follows a Nigerian artist and widow as she embarks on a new love affair.

Where to start:

Freshwater

The Death of Vivek Oji

Henry Van Dyke

A World War II veteran and Alabama native, Henry Van Dyke remains one of the 20th century’s most overlooked queer Black authors—but hopefully, with the recent reprinting of Van Dyke’s long-out-of-print 1965 debut Ladies of the Rachmaninoff Eyes, that’s about to change. Van Dyke wrote characters like himself: Black, queer, and not necessarily all that tortured about it. His hilarious farces weren’t afraid to be silly, strange, and political, and his writing quickly seduced likeminded writers like Gore Vidal and James Purdy.

Where to start:

Ladies of the Rachmaninoff Eyes

Blood of Strawberries

Claude McKay

We’re spoken before about our love for Harlem Renaissance writer and activist Claude McKay, and for good reason. McKay, a Black socialist, was already hip to the idea that capitalism and white supremacy work hand in hand together to oppress Black folks way before anyone was making TikToks about it. His roman a clef Home to Harlem was held up as one of the most moving accounts of Black city life from the renaissance period, and some of his subsequent novels—including the fantastic Romance in Marseille from 1930—have enjoyed renewed popularity after a few Penguin reprintings.

Where to start:

Romance in Marseille

Amiable with Big Teeth

Mae Virginia Cowdery

When bisexual Black poet Mae Virginia Cowdery put out her 1936 poetry collection We Life Our Voices, she was one of the only Black women poets to do for decades. Cowdery was up against a lot in the publishing world, and although she’d been writing and submitting poems to journals since she was in high school, she wasn’t able to follow up Voices with a second effort before her death in 1950 at 44 years old.

Where to start:

Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance

Black Sister: Poetry by African-American Women 1746-1980

Rasheed Newson

If you don’t know the multi-talented Rasheed Newson from his work on series like Bel-Air and The Chi…what are you doing! The showrunner, producer and writer keeps busy by bringing Black queer stories to life onscreen and on the page. When asked by INTO’s Joshua Mackey about his 2022 debut novel My Government Means to Kill Me, Newson explained that he wanted to use the book to explore his own relationship to queer Black history: “I think probably every Black person has wondered, “What would I do during the Civil Rights Movement? What kind of person would I have been? Would I’ve been on the front lines? Would I have marched?” I applied that to being Black and gay and thought about the height of the AIDS epidemic, the creation of Act Up, and just sort of imagining what it would have been like to be in New York City during that time period.”

Where to start:

My Government Means to Kill Me

Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s 1982 epic The Color Purple gave readers a story of heartache, strife, pain, and ultimate triumph by telling the story of Celie, a young Black girl growing up in Georgia during a time when women were seen as only being fit to raise children and run a house, and wives were only seen as their husband’s property. Celie gets by thanks, in part, to her love for her fellow Black women, and Walker has been open about her own relationships with other Black lesbians, including a highly publicized relationship with the one and only Tracy Chapman.

Where to start:

The Color Purple

The Complete Stories

George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson’s 2020 debut novel All Boys Aren’t Blue is a book so powerful that conservatives still have to go out of their way to try and get it banned from schools. Good luck with that, because everyone who’s read Boys has fallen in love with Black nonbinary author Johnson’s tale of a painful, troubled adolescence. The book’s high-profile fans include legendary author Toni Morrison and actress/producer/supermom/powerhouse Gabrielle Union-Wade, who is currently adapting Boys into a forthcoming TV series.

Where to start:

All Boys Aren’t Blue

We Are Not Broken

Anita Cornwell

One of Philly’s most iconic Black lesbian writers, Anita Cornwell literally wrote the book on intersectional feminism. Her 1980 collection Black Lesbian in White America, while it remains lamentably out of print, stands as a testament to the power of Black women’s stories. Cornwell died last year at the age of 99, but through her stories and essays, readers can take in the radical beauty of a world where Black lesbians create their own communities and find joy without compromise.

Where to start:

Black Lesbian in White America

Samuel R. Delany

Sci-fi titan Samuel R. Delany not only gave us stories about nonbinary aliens and Black gay utopias on other planets, he kept a scintillating diary of his time as a young queer writer in New York with 1988’s The Motion of Light in Water. Delany’s knack for keen observation and pulling apart society’s assumptions of “normal” has made him an influential favorite in the spec fic and sci-fi community for decades.

Where to start:

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

The Motion of Light in Water

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