There have been a plethora of distinguished books throughout 2020 (view this year’s reading list here), allowing us to escape to different worlds as we grapple with a pandemic and multiple other crises. Now, we’re looking forward to unearthing even more gems in the forthcoming year, especially as multiple writers of color release their debut works. New voices are among us, fresh perspectives, and engaging stories.
We’ll be introduced to Black female authors such as Dantiel W. Moniz, whose novel Milk Blood Heat is an enthralling collection of tales about race, womanhood, and human connection. And then there’s Nathan Harris, debut author of The Sweetness of Water, a post-civil war historical fiction novel on love and loss.
In this curated list, more seasoned authors and well-known public figures also have anticipated works that will be released in the coming year. There’s Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins, and While Justice Sleeps by politician (and romance novelist) Stacey Abrams, as well as a memoir from the beloved actress Cicely Tyson.
Read on to explore our most awaited works of fiction and non-fiction in the first half of 2021, with more to be added as we learn about new releases in the second half of the year.
Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu (January 12th)
Nadia Owusu’s affecting memoir Aftershocks traces her nomadic childhood, from Europe to Africa and back. She reflects on losing her father, the hero of her life, at thirteen, and having an unreliable mother who drifted in and out. It’s a touching memoir about how she found her own identity as she arrived in New York with an uncertain future ahead of her.
“Aftershocks is the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.”
A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson (January 19th)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson will be available as a book in early 2021. Described as a “metaphysical musical,” A Strange Loop tackles the creative process of a Black queer writer, who is writing an original musical on that very topic. Thus, enter Usher’s “strange loop” as he attempts to process his own inner demons, fears, and insecurities. Watch the trailer for the musical here.
Just as I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson (January 26th)
In this 608 page memoir, Cicely Tyson reveals her truest self––an in-depth meditation on her nine decades of life and how her career and personal life have shaped her into the extraordinary, wise woman that she is today.
“Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” –Cicely Tyson
A Shot in the Moonlight by Ben Montgomery (January 26th)
Bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize nominee Ben Montgomery brings us A Shot in the Moonlight, the true and rare story of freed slave George Dinning, who joined forces with a Confederate war hero-turned-lawyer to seek justice in the Jim Crow south. Montgomery pulls from a copious amount of unpublished material to tell this startling but largely forgotten story.
“After moonrise on the cold night of January 21, 1897, a mob of twenty-five white men gathered in a patch of woods near Big Road in southwestern Simpson County, Kentucky. Half carried rifles and shotguns, and a few tucked pistols in their pants. Their target was George Dinning, a freed slave who’d farmed peacefully in the area for 14 years, and who had been wrongfully accused of stealing livestock from a neighboring farm. When the mob began firing through the doors and windows of Dinning’s home, he fired back in self-defense, shooting and killing the son of a wealthy Kentucky family.
So began one of the strangest legal episodes in American history — one that ended with Dinning becoming the first Black man in America to win damages after a wrongful murder conviction.”
Gutter Child by Gael Richardson (January 26th)
Gael Richardson’s dystopian debut novel Gutter Child is set in a world that is divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. The protagonist, Elimina Dubois, is one of 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of the privileged as part of a social experiment.
“But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all.
Richardson’s Gutter Child reveals one young woman’s journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny.”
No Heaven for Good Boys by Keisha Bush (January 26th)
Described as a contemporary Oliver Twist, Keisha Bush’s No Heaven for Good Boys is set in rural and urban Senegal, pulling from real events. It’s a robust tale of love, hope, and resilience.
“Six-year-old Ibrahimah loves snatching pastries from his mother’s kitchen, harvesting string beans with his father, and searching for sea glass with his sisters. But when he is approached in his rural village one day by Marabout Ahmed, a seemingly kind stranger and highly regarded teacher, the tides of his life turn forever. Ibrahimah is sent to the capital city of Dakar to join his cousin Étienne in studying the Koran under Marabout Ahmed for a year, but instead of the days of learning that Ibrahimah’s parents imagine, the young boys, called Talibé, are forced to beg in the streets in order to line their teacher’s pockets.
To make it back home, Étienne and Ibrahimah must help each other survive both the dangers posed by their Marabout, and the darker sides of Dakar: threats of black-market organ traders, rival packs of Talibé, and mounting student protest on the streets.”
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (February 2nd)
In her debut work of fiction, Dantiel W. Moniz’s Milk Blood Heat paints a dynamic picture of the lives of Floridians in intergenerational stories about womanhood, human connection, race, and the primordial darkness that lingers within us all.
“Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive, Milk Blood Heat forms an ouroboros of stories that bewitch with their truth, announcing the arrival of a bright new literary star.”
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones (February 2nd)
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a tale that is set in Baxter’s Beach, Barbados. As a young girl, Lala’s grandmother would tell her a cautionary story about a one-armed sister, revealing what happens to girls who disobey their mothers and go into the Baxter’s Tunnels.
“When she’s grown, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men driven into the Tunnels by desperation and greed who attempt a crime that will risk their freedom – and their lives.”
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith (February 2nd)
Leesa Cross-Smith’s upcoming novel This Close to Okay is a heartfelt story about how the fated meeting of therapist Tallie Clark and a tormented, suicidal man named Emmett alters the course of both their lives.
“Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s perspectives as they inch closer to the truth of what brought Emmett to the bridge, This Close to Okay is an uplifting, powerful story of two strangers brought together by wild chance at the moment they need it the most.”
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson (February 2nd)
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson is a stunning exploration of motherhood in contemporary America, racial injustices, and the power of unexpected connections.
“Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.”
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster (March 2nd)
Naima Coster, author of the 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist Halsey Street, brings readers another novel that focuses on familial ties. What’s Mine and Yours explores the ways in which race affects intimate relationships, centering on two seemingly disassociated families whose paths collide.
“As love is built and lost, and the past never too far behind, What’s Mine and Yours is an expansive, vibrant tapestry that moves between the years, from the foothills of North Carolina, to Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Paris. It explores the unique organism that is every family: what breaks them apart and how they come back together.”
Red Island House by Andrea Lee (March 23rd)
From National Book Award-nominated novelist Andrea Lee, Red Island House is an enchanting book about love, identity, and freedom. Taking place on the enigmatic island of Madagascar, it follows the 20 years of marriage between an African American professor and her affluent Italian husband.
“Shay is surprised when her husband Senna declares his intention to build her a spectacular dream house on an idyllic beach in the tropical island nation of Madagascar.
But the Red Island House casts a spell from the moment she sees it, and before she knows it Shay has become the somewhat reluctant mistress of a sprawling household, caught between her privileged American upbringing and education, and her connection to the continent of her ancestors.
At first, she’s content to be an observer of the passionate affairs and fierce ambitions and rivalries around her. But as she and her husband raise children and establish their own rituals on the island, Shay finds herself drawn ever deeper into an extraordinary place with its own laws and logic, a provocative paradise full of magic and myth whose fraught colonial legacy continues to reverberate. Soon the collision of cultures comes right to Shay’s door, forcing her to make a life-altering decision.”
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (March 30th)
A gripping story about the meaning of freedom, Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge follows free-born Libertie Simpson and her life in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. Her mother, a physician, yearned for Libertie to follow in her footsteps. But she’s more drawn to music than science, and wishes to construct a different life for herself. It’s a tale inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, exuding historical details.
“Pure brilliance. So much will be written about Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Libertie—how it blends history and magic into a new kind of telling, how it spins the past to draw deft circles around our present—but none of it will measure up to the singular joy of reading this book.” —Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk
Wild Women and the Blues by Denny Bryce (March 30th)
Denny Bryce’s upcoming historical fiction novel Wild Woman and the Blues intertwines the stories of a grieving film student in 2015 and a determined chorus girl in 1925. What follows are tales of love and secrets among the musical landscape of Chicago.
Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins (April 6th)
In her fiction debut, New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins has crafted Caul Baby, a novel laced with magic, secrets, and betrayal.
“Engrossing, unique, and page-turning, Caul Baby illuminates the search for familial connection, the enduring power of tradition, and the dark corners of the human heart.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton (April 20th)
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is Dawnie Walton’s fictional story about Opal, a young independent woman who believes she can be a star. When she meets aspiring singer and songwriter Neville Charles, Opal accepts his promising offer to make music together. “A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.”
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams (May 11th)
Celebrated politician and romance novelist Stacey Abrams is venturing into a new genre that she certainly has first-hand experience in with While Justice Sleeps. The political thriller is layered with twists and turns, featuring electrifying characters.
“Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.”
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (June 1st)
Zakiya Dalila Harris’s debut The Other Black Girl is a compelling thriller about the tension and hostility that arises when twenty-six year old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is plotted against by Hazel, the only other Black woman in their inordinately white workplace.
“A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.”
Revival Season by Monica West (June 15th)
Monica West’s breathtaking debut explores the ways in which faith can be shaken and the reprehensible secrets that lie behind the doors of a Black Southern church and its community.
“Celebrating both feminism and faith, Revival Season is a story of spiritual awakening and disillusionment in a Southern, black, Evangelical community. Monica West’s transporting coming-of-age novel explores complicated family and what it means to live among the community of the faithful.”
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (July 6th)
In his first novel The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris writes a profound story about the bond between two freedmen who are brothers, and a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers.
“With candor and sympathy, debut novelist Nathan Harris creates an unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction. Equal parts beauty and terror, as gripping as it is moving, The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing circumstances.”