Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more Booklist Backlist
The Booklist Backlist celebrates Black historical fiction, an essential facet of American literature that confronts the defining injustices and traumas of America’s past in counterpoint to individuals who embody what Albert Murray describes as “affirmation in the face of adversity, and improvisation in situations of disruption and discontinuity.” These clarion works by African American writers offer profound immersions in times, places, and conflicts that continue to shape our society and our lives.
American Histories. By John Edgar Wideman. 2018. Scribner, $26 (9781501178344).
Wideman’s short stories tackle race, family, and art, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, form and function, and history and autobiography, and including an array of true-life figures from John Brown and Frederick Douglass to Romare Bearden and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Black Bottom Saints. By Alice Randall. 2020. Amistad, $26.99 (9780062968623).
Ziggy Johnson, Randall’s narrator, based on a real-life dance teacher, club emcee, and entertainment columnist, recalls, at the close of his life, the vibrancy of Detroit’s Black Bottom district, dropping names like Dinah Washington, Bobby Short, Count Basie, Joe Louis, Josephine Baker, and Bricktop while telling the story of one of his most promising students.
The Book of Harlan. By Bernice L. McFadden. 2016. Akashic, $16.95 (9781617754463).
McFadden keys into both world wars, the Great Depression, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration as she tells the story of a Black boy who grows up to be a musician in Harlem and is invited to perform in Paris, where he and his friend Leo Benjamin Rubenstein witness the Nazis’ brutality.
Book of the Little Axe. By Lauren Francis-Sharma. 2020. Atlantic, $26 (9780802129369).
Francis-Sharma’s strikingly original historical novel encompasses conquest, racism, slavery, war, and displacement through the story of Rosa Rendón, who, from her girlhood in 1790s Trinidad to her life as the wife of a chief of the Crow Nation of Montana and mother to mixed-race children, refuses to comply with the restraints decreed by gender or race.
Deacon King Kong. By James McBride. 2020. Riverhead, $28 (9780735216723).
McBride’s deacon, Cuffy “Sportcoat” Lambkin, is the least likely of heroes in a raucous, multicultural 1969 Brooklyn neighborhood as he drinks to “clear his thoughts,” shoots a young man he coached in baseball who has become a drug dealer, and tries to reckon with his past and bring some stability to his community. Winner of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Home. By Toni Morrison. 2012. Vintage, $14.95 (9780307740915).
Morrison’s taut, lacerating novel portrays an African American Korean War veteran suffering from PTSD who lands in a mental ward, then embarks on an arduous emotional and literal journey back to his Georgia hometown to care for his gravely ill sister, an odyssey through the horrors of racism and war.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. By Stephen L. Carter. 2012. Vintage, $15.95 (9780307474483).
What if Abraham Lincoln had survived John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt only to face Republican Radicals calling for his impeachment? And what if a young Black woman had worked as a clerk for the law firm defending him?
The Known World. By Edward P. Jones. 2003. Amistad, $16.99 (9780061159176).
Henry Townsend, born enslaved but purchased and freed by his father, becomes a slave owner and one of many deftly portrayed characters in Jones’ elegantly written and reverberating tale of the complexities of human nature and the barbarities of Southern life just before the Civil War.
Lazaretto. By Diane McKinney-Whetstone. 2016. Harper, $15.99 (9780062126979).
Opening in Philadelphia on the eve of Lincoln’s assassination and shifting to Lazaretto, a hospital on a nearby island in which immigrants are quarantined, McKinney-Whetstone’s vibrant historical novel traces the lives of several intertwined families in a unique blend of poetic language and graphic depictions of the struggles of African Americans during the post–Civil War period.
The Nickel Boys. By Colson Whitehead. 2019. Doubleday, $24.95 (9780385537070).
Whitehead’s factually inspired, tautly focused, and gripping portrait of two African American teens incarcerated in Nickel Academy, a grim Florida reform school, during the last vicious years of Jim Crow dramatizes brazenly racist and sadistic crimes against the Nickel Boys, who exemplify stoicism, courage, and resistance.
Song of the Shank. By Jeffery Renard Allen. 2014. Graywolf, $18 (9781555976804).
Now a fairly obscure historical figure, Tom Wiggins, born enslaved, became an international sensation as a pianist. Allen envisions Tom as a mysterious and compelling figure, an autistic savant and a blind Black boy, in this deep exploration of the complex interior lives and relationships of diverse nineteenth-century characters.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe