Black authors. They have provided a rich literary history for people of all races to read, educate themselves, challenge themselves, and inspire creativity. Yet the publishing industry historically has underrepresentedauthors of color, especially in the young adult market.
That’s why this week at Whole Champion Foundation, during the first week of Black History Month, we are celebrating Black authors of young adult (often referred to as YA books). We applaud them for the timely topics they cover, the gripping stories they tell, and for making us fall in love with well-phrased prose and sensuous similes in lyrical lines.
These authors are in alphabetical order. And we hope you read at least one work by all twelve of them during 2023.
12 Black Authors Every High Schooler (and Adult) Should Read
Kacen Callender has published six books in the space of two years for readers from middle grades to adult. They received the Lambda Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award. And their novel King and the Dragonflies won the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Check out their YA books This Kind of an Epic Love Story and the award-wining Felix Ever After.
Jerry Craft has won the prestigious Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Kirkus Prize, plus he is a New York Times best-selling author. His series starting with New Kid he says were the books he wished he had as a kid.
Tracy Deonn is known most for her science-fiction and fantasy writing. Her novel Legendborn (a Southern Black Girl Magic story) won the ALA-Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2021. It’s sequel Bloodmarked became a New York Times bestseller.
Akwaeke Emezi has been honored by the National Book Foundation and their YA novel Pet was a Stonewall Book Award winner, a Walter Dean Myers Honor Book, and a National Book Award finalist. The book explores the themes of identity and justice and the author’s website says the book “asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.”
Sharon G. Flake has won the Coretta Scott King Award three times, including for The Skin I’m In. Her companion to this book, The Life I’m In, is about a young woman trapped in human trafficking. She’s also authored the YA books Money Hungry, Begging for Change, Bang!, Who Am I Without Him, Pinned, and You Don’t Even Know Me.
Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books. He has written Edgar Award winning thriller books such as Fake ID and Endangered, as well as Overturned, Spin, and Not So Pure and Simple, also for young adults.
Nikki Grimes is the author of more than 50 books, including ones she’s penned for Disney. She writes for all ages, but her YA titles include A Girl Named Mister, Bronx Masquerade, and Between the Lines.
Candice Iloh writes poems and essays, and is a dancer, but their debut novel Every Body Looking was a finalist for the National Book Award and a Michael L. Printz Award honoree. The novel is about a freshman at a historically Black college and explores choices we make and our places in the world. Iloh’s second novel, Break This House, came out last May.
Tiffany D. Jackson was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Allegedly, and she won a Coretta Scott King/Steptoe Award for Monday’s Not Coming. She also participated with a dozen other YA authors in a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous tale, in a book called His Hideous Heart.
Angela Johnson has written more than 40 books for children and young adults and in 2003, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. Her award-winning book The First Part Last is about a 16-year-old who finds out he’s about to become a father. Toning the Sweep, The Other Side, and Heaven won Coretta Scott King Awards or Honors.
Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown was named one of TIME’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time; it also was a Stonewall Honor Book and the inaugural Reese’s Book Club YA pick.
Kekla Magoon wrote The Rock and the River (won the Coretta Scott King Award), Fire in the Streets, 37 Things I Love in No Particular Order, and Light It Up. She also co-authored X: A Novel, with Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, about his teenage years.
These twelve Black authors you may or may not have heard of and this list clearly is not exhaustive. But these Black authors are all award-wining and they tell astounding stories worth a read or a re-read.