The African American Experience: Pride Month Reading List for Adults

The African American Experience blog photo

Celebrate Pride Month with these titles by and about Black LGBTQ authors and characters. 

Fiction:

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Caught between his repressed desires and conventional morality, David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night—“the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life.” With sharp, probing insight, Giovanni’s Room tells an impassioned, deeply moving story that lays bare the unspoken complexities of the human heart. 

Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Barnett

Discovering a love for journalism upon stealing a newspaper from her mother’s white employer, precocious Ivoe Williams eventually flees her segregated community to launch a first female-run African-American newspaper at the side of her lover.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Zamiis a fast-moving chronicle. From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her.

Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction

Chronicles one hundred years of African-American homosexual literature, from the turn-of-the-century writings of Alice Dunbar Nelson, to the Harlem Renaissance of Langston Hughes, to the emerging sexual liberation movements of the later postwar era as reflected by James Baldwin. Winner of the 2003 Lambda Literary Award for Fiction Anthology.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Celie is a poor Black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Working as a sex worker near the pristine beaches and turquoise seas of Jamaica to pay for a younger sister’s education, Margot hopes that a new hotel that is reshaping her home will grant her financial independence and allow her to pursue a forbidden affair with another woman.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony — a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney

In the age of Reagan and AIDS in a city on the verge of tearing down its walls, Jed—a young, gay Black man—arrives in Berlin where he, encountering outcasts, expats, intellectuals, artists and misfits on his way to adulthood, hopes to escape what it means to be a Black male in America.

Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Fiction by African-Americans

James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Louis Edwards, Jacqueline Woodson and twenty-eight other black authors from the Harlem Renaissance to the present examine such issues as discrimination against homosexuals, self-acceptance, cross-dressing, and bisexuality.

Bury Me When I’m Dead: A Charlie Mack Motown Mystery by Cheryl A. Head

Charlene “Charlie” Mack is a PI in Detroit. Born and raised in the city that America forgot, Charlie has built a highly respected private investigations firm through hard work, smart choices, and relentless ambition. Her team of investigators are highly skilled and trustworthy, but she secretly struggles with her sexual orientation and a mother with early-onset Alzheimer’s. When Charlie and her crack team head to Birmingham, Alabama following the trail of a missing person, what should be a routine case turns into a complex chase for answers. 

The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

At one time a wild young girl and a brilliant artist, Ava Delaney changes dramatically after a violent event that rocks her entire family. Once loved and respected in their community and in their church, the Delaneys are ostracized by their neighbors, led by their church leader, and a seventeen year feud ensues.

Basketball Jones by E. Lynn Harris

Aldridge James “AJ” Richardson’s comfortable life with his longtime lover, famed NBA star Dray Jones, is threatened by the need to hide their relationship to maintain Dray’s public image and by Dray’s marriage to Judi, a beautiful and ambitious woman.

Just As I Am by E. Lynn Harris

Raymond, a young black lawyer from the South, struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and AIDS, while Nicole, an aspiring actress and singer, attempts to find a genuine love relationship. 

No One in the World by E. Lynn Harris and R. M. Johnson

Cobi Winslow, a handsome, well-educated district attorney, knows nothing about the life of his estranged twin brother, Eric Reed, a career criminal raised in the foster care system. Following their parents’ death, Cobi searches for and finds his brother, hoping to regain lost years. Meanwhile, Cobi navigates the pressures of society as he lives life in the closet. The stress comes to a head when he learns that in order to inherit the wealth of his father’s estate and save the struggling family business, he must marry a woman before he turns thirty-five.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Keeping his head down at a lakeside Midwestern university where the culture is in sharp contrast to his Alabama upbringing, an introverted African-American biochem student endures unexpected encounters that bring his orientation and defenses into question.

 

Poetry:

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we&;ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith

An awarding-poet presents a collection of works that opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police—a place where suspicion, violence and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry and winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection.

Homie: Poems by Danez Smith

Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family—blood and chosen—arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours.

American Dreams by Sapphire

Whether she is writing about an enraged teenager gone “wilding” in Central Park, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins gunned down by a Korean grocer, or a brutalized child who grows up to escape her probable fate through the miracle of art, Sapphire’s vision in this collection of poetry and prose is unswervingly honest.

Black Wings and Blind Angels by Sapphire

From the city streets to the rich landscape of dreams, each of these poems holds out the “black wings of expectation” offering the chance to emerge from the pain of the past and arrive at “the day you have been waiting for/when you would finally begin to live.” At turns alarming and inspiring, the raw lyrics and piercing wisdom of Black Wings and Blind Angels remind us of Sapphire’s place as a unique and fearless voice.

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones

With rootless cosmopolitanism, formal rigor, and the fluidity of slam, Jones explores questions of sexuality, race, and shifting identity.

Soul Make a Path Through Shouting by Cyrus Cassells

Drawing from Greek mythology, children’s rhymes, and African-American oral traditions, the author of Mud Actor brings his poetry inward, searching the voices of Guernica, Auschwitz, and Terezin to find evidence of probity and persistence. 

Bestiary by Donika Kelly

 Donika Kelly’s Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures–from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from “Out West” to “Back East.” Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. 

Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed

 In these poems, Justin Phillip Reed experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice and to critique and lament the culture of white supremacy and the dominant social order. Political and personal, tender, daring, and insightful—the author unpacks his intimacies, weaponizing poetry to take on masculinity, sexuality, exploitation, and the prison industrial complex and unmask all the failures of the structures into which society sorts us. Winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry.

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde

Every poem ever published by the late poet, who is noted for the passion and vision of her poems about being African American, a lesbian, a mother, and a daughter, is collected in a definitive anthology of her work.

Reconnaissance: Poems by Carl Phillips

A collection of poems focuses on transforming truth from a captured entity to something free.

Wild is the Wind by Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips reflects on love as depicted in the jazz standard for which the book is named—love at once restless, reckless, and yet desired for its potential to bring stability. In the process, he pitches estrangement against communion, examines the past as history versus the past as memory, and reflects on the past’s capacity both to teach and to mislead us—also to make us hesitate in the face of love, given the loss and damage that are, often enough, love’s fallout. Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

 

Memoir: 

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir. Jones tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence, into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another – and to one another – as we fight to become ourselves.Winner of the 2019 Kirkus Prize In Nonfiction and the 2020 Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award.

Brown, White, Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

Essays describe how the author’s experiences as an Indian American, the wife of a white Christian woman, and the mother of an adopted black son have been challenged by rigid cultural family norms.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

A journalist and activist who was profiled in a 2011 Marie Claire feature outlines bold perspectives on the realities of being young, multi-racial, economically challenged and transgender in today’s America, recounting her disadvantaged youth and decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery at the age of 18 before pursuing a career and falling in love.

The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson

A respected activist, entrepreneur and writer draws on inspiration from her 10-year-old transgender child in an exploration of identity, gender, authenticity and race as they have shaped generations of her African-American family.

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell L. Moore

The editor-at-large of CASSIUS and original Black Lives Matter organizer describes his own direct experiences with prejudice, violence and repression; his search for intimacy in the gay neighborhoods of his youth and his participation in key civil movements where he found his calling as an advocate on behalf of society’s marginalized people.

What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A Memoir by E. Lynn Harris

Lynn Harris writes the memoir of his life–from his childhood in Arkansas as a closeted gay boy through his struggling days as a self-published author to his rise as a New York Times bestselling author. In What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, E. Lynn Harris shares an extraordinary life touched by loneliness and depression, but more important, he reveals the triumphant life of a small-town dreamer who was able through writing to make his dreams–and more–come true.

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas reexamines what it means to be an  “other”  through the lens of his own life experience. He explores the two worlds of his childhood: the barren urban landscape where his parents’ house was an anomalous bright spot, and the Eden-like school they sent him to in white suburbia. He writes about struggling to reconcile his Christian identity with his sexuality, the exhaustion of code-switching in college, accidentally getting famous on the internet (for the wrong reason), and the surreal experience of covering the 2016 election for Elle online, and the seismic changes that came thereafter. Ultimately, Thomas seeks the answer to these ever more relevant questions: Is the future worth it? Why do we bother when everything seems to be getting worse? As the world continues to shift in unpredictable ways, Thomas finds the answers to these questions by reenvisioning what “normal” means and in the powerful alchemy that occurs when you at last place yourself at the center of your own story.

 

Nonfiction:

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.

The Stonewall Reader

Presents a collection of first accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles from LGBTQ magazines, and newspapers chronicling the years leading up to and the years following the Stonewall uprising.

Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin ed. By Donald Weise and Devon W. Carbado

The writings of the openly gay advisor to Martin Luther King cover five decades of insights into Ghandi’s influence on African Americans, white supremacists in Congress, the anti-war movement, and the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg

Throughout her prodigious life, activist and lawyer Pauli Murray systematically fought against all arbitrary distinctions in society, channeling her outrage at the discrimination she faced to make America a more democratic country. In this definitive biography, Rosalind Rosenberg offers a poignant portrait of a figure who played pivotal roles in both the modern civil rights and women’s movements. Murray accomplished all this while struggling with issues of identity. She believed from childhood she was male and tried unsuccessfully to persuade doctors to give her testosterone. While she would today be identified as transgender, during her lifetime no social movement existed to support this identity. She ultimately used her private feelings of being “in-between” to publicly contend that identities are not fixed, an idea that has powered campaigns for equal rights in the United States for the past half-century.

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Our Movement by Charlene A. Carruthers

Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, including the Haitian Revolution, the US civil rights movement, and LGBTQ rights and feminist movements, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist. This book provides a vision for how social justice movements can become sharper and more effective through principled struggle, healing justice, and leadership development. It also offers a flexible model of what deeply effective organizing can be, anchored in the Chicago model of activism, which features long-term commitment, cultural sensitivity, creative strategizing, and multiple cross-group alliances. And Unapologetic provides a clear framework for activists committed to building transformative power, encouraging young people to see themselves as visionaries and leaders.

Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh by Thomas Glave

Thomas Glave has been admired for his unique style and exploration of taboo, politically volatile topics. The award-winning author’s new collection, Among the Bloodpeople, contains all the power and daring of his earlier writing but ventures even further into the political, the personal, and the secret. Each essay in the volume reveals a passionate commitment to social justice and human truth. Whether confronting Jamaica’s prime minister on antigay bigotry, contemplating the risks and seductions of “outlawed” sex, exploring a world of octopuses and men performing somersaults in the Caribbean Sea, or challenging repressive tactics employed at the University of Cambridge, Glave expresses the observations of a global citizen with the voice of a poet.

Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS by Martin Duberman

Meticulously researched and evocatively told, Hold Tight Gently is the celebrated historian Martin Duberman’s poignant memorial to those lost to AIDS and to two of the great unsung heroes of the early years of the epidemic. Callen, a white gay Midwesterner who had moved to New York, became a leading figure in the movement to increase awareness of AIDS in the face of willful and homophobic denial under the Reagan administration; Hemphill, an African American gay man, contributed to the black gay and lesbian scene in Washington, D.C., with poetry of searing intensity and introspection. A profound exploration of the intersection of race, sexuality, class, identity, and the politics of AIDS activism beyond ACT UP, Hold Tight Gently captures both a generation struggling to cope with the deadly disease and the extraordinary refusal of two men to give in to despair.

Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989

Poets Audre Lorde and Pat Parker first met in 1969; they began exchanging letters regularly five years later. Over the next fifteen years, Lorde and Parker shared ideas, advice, and confidences through the mail. They sent each other handwritten and typewritten letters and postcards often with inserted items including articles, money, and video tapes. Sister Love: The Letters Of Audre Lorde And Pat Parker 1974-1989 gathers this correspondence for readers to eavesdrop on Lorde and Parker. They discuss their work as writers as well as intimate details of their lives, including periods when each lived with cancer. Sister Love is a rare opportunity to glimpse inside the minds and friendship of two great twentieth century poets.

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Puth My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

With the characteristic wit and candor that have made him one of today’s boldest writers on social issues, I Can’t Date Jesus is Michael Arceneaux’s impassioned, forthright, and refreshing look at minority life in today’s America. Leaving no bigoted or ignorant stone unturned, he describes his journey in learning to embrace his identity when the world told him to do the opposite. He eloquently writes about coming out to his mother; growing up in Houston, Texas; being approached for the priesthood; his obstacles in embracing intimacy that occasionally led to unfortunate fights with fire ants and maybe fleas; and the persistent challenges of young people who feel marginalized and denied the chance to pursue their dreams.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Use What Do I Read Next? to receive personal recommendations from JMRL librarians.

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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