Four fiction novels, a poetry collection, a play and an autobiography: We’re celebrating an array of Southern literature that portrays the humanity within Black youth, teens and adults.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
Tallie Clark is on her way home from work as a therapist. Through the sheets of rain running down her windshield, she spots a man standing at the edge of a bridge. He looks ready to jump. Tallie immediately pulls over and convinces the man, Emmett, to go out for a cup of coffee. Emmett agrees, and what follows is an emotionally packed weekend filled with stories of grief, anger and recovery as Tallie and Emmett find solace in each other—even though they both have secrets to hide. In a powerful exploration of mental health and suicide, this novel finds hope in life’s darkest moments by one transformative chance encounter.
Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
Endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, Tayari Jones is currently one of the South’s most influential authors. Her debut novel, Leaving Atlanta, marks the beginning of her legacy. The novel follows three Black children, Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia, as they come of age during one of America’s most little-known and awful tragedies: the Atlanta Child Murders. Kids keep coming up missing, panic grips the adults, and their communities despair. Tasha, Rodney and Octavia find comfort in familiar things like skating rinks, candy, friendship and family, but they struggle to make sense of the dangerous world they live in.
The Last Day of Summer by Lamar Giles
Two Virginian boys, Otto and his cousin Sheed, take it upon themselves to investigate the strange occurrences happening in a Logan County town called Fry. Although they’re experts at problem-solving, they’d rather apply their skills to adventurous, fun-filled quests than dreary old homework. But school is coming and summer break is ending—that is until a strange man comes into town. What’s stranger, this man freezes time with a camera. In a wonderful mix of fantasy and science fiction, Otto and Sheed must work together to save their beloved Fry from the threat of an endless summer day.
Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
In a stunning portrayal about ghosts both literal and figurative, this story follows 12-year-old Jojo and his often-absent mother Leonie, a drug addict who sees the ghost of her dead brother whenever she’s high. Jojo lives with his little sister Kayla at their grandparents’ home in an impoverished area of Mississippi. The grandmother is dying from cancer, and the grandfather is trying to teach Jojo adult responsibility. When Jojo’s father is released from prison, Leonie takes him on a harrowing road trip across the state to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. This trip reveals to Jojo the truth behind his biracial identity as he grapples to come to terms with a haunted past.
Counting Descent by Clint Smith
A moving debut poetry collection, Smith reflects on the reality of growing up as a Black boy in America, specifically in New Orleans. This book balances the politics that surround Black boyhood—subjected to a position devalued by society—with the joys of such a childhood. His writing is intimate and tangible. Readers can feel his pain and passion with every sharp turn of phrase and tantalizing form and structure. Blackness, complexity and honesty imbues each line.
Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
Author of Their Eyes Were Watching God and deemed “A Genius of the South” by Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston is a renowned anthropologist and American folklorist. Her autobiography lives up to her name. First published in 1942, it is a witty and brutally honest account of her life, starting from when she escaped childhood poverty to how she landed within Harlem Renaissance intellectual circles. Hurston’s spirited self-portrait is a perfect showcase of the reverence and skill she had for linguistic expressions, especially those belonging to the Black Southern dialect.
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
“The Mountaintop” is a play that ingeniously imagines the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in 1968. Readers are given a glimpse of Dr. King as a man, and not just as a civil rights pioneer—he drinks, smokes, trips over his words and is interested in women other than his wife. Not only does Hall humanize Dr. King in this way, but while the scenes are at times intense, other times comical, she conveys the message that any ordinary individual can achieve great things—any ordinary individual can be a King.