by Dahlia Adler
It goes without saying that Black authors should be read year round, but with Black History Month upon us, there’s no better time to talk about the ones you might be missing. If you’re even a sporadic YA reader, there’s a good chance you need no intro to The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds, Children of Blood and Bone’s Tomi Adeyemi, Versify imprint head Kwame Alexander, Dread Nation author and Star Wars novelist Justina Ireland, The Belles author and Cake Literary co-founder Dhonielle Clayton, YA Romance rock star Nicola Yoon, or Dear Martin’s Nic Stone, but here are 29 other Black YA authors you should know, one for every day of Black History Month 2020.
Name: Lamar Giles
Claim to Fame: Giles quickly made a name for himself as an Edgar-nominated thriller author with his debut, Fake ID. Three more great YA thrillers later (plus a critically acclaimed Middle Grade and a host of anthology credits) he just released his excellent first coming-of-age, Not So Pure and Simple, about a boy who learns all about toxic masculinity when his slightly nefarious plan to woo the girl he’s crushing on goes sideways.
Name: Brandy Colbert
Claim to Fame: Colbert is probably YA’s most consistent author of incredible coming-of-age stories starring Black girls, from her striking debut Pointe to her most recent, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. (Not to mention her contributions to anthologies including Feral Youth, Black Enough, and Three Sides of a Heart.) This year she’s truly taking kidlit by storm with her very first Middle Grade novel, The Only Black Girls in Town, and a romantic, timely new YA, The Voting Booth.
Name: Kacen Callender
Claim to Fame: What isn’t a claim to fame for Callender these days? The Stonewall winner isn’t only publishing their second YA, the Black trans boy-starring Felix Ever After, this year, but has also published adult fantasy and releases their second MG, King and the Dragonflies, this month. I dare you to find an author who nails a unique voice for each category with Callender’s deftness.
Name: Candice Montgomery
Claim to Fame: Montgomery’s got one of my favorite voices in YA right now—clever, irreverent, honest, hilarious, and unafraid to discuss issues like gentrification, homophobia, race, and family secrets. Check out their novels, Home and Away and By Any Means Necessary, while you gear up to devour their 2020 short fiction in anthologies Once Upon an Eid (MG) and Out Now.
Name: Julian Winters
Claim to Fame: Winters is a charming breath of fresh air in YA—one of its few male authors writing gay rom-coms. He burst onto the scene with the adorable sports romance Running With Lions, followed it up with the intersectional ID-centric How to Be Remy Cameron, and will be continuing to charm everyone’s metaphorical pants off this spring and summer with a story in Out Now and his third novel, The Summer of Everything.
Name: Kayla Ancrum
Claim to Fame: Hands-down one of the most interesting and talented writers in YA right now, Ancrum’s gone from extreme intensity in the brilliant The Wicker King to the lovely softness of found family in The Weight of the Stars in the blink of an eye. Next up for her is Darling, a modern-day retelling of Peter Pan set in Chicago and slated for 2021.
Name: Akwaeke Emezi
Claim to Fame: Though Emezi is primarily an adult fiction writer (check out their Freshwater and the upcoming The Death of Vivek Oji), it’s tough to debut in YA with a bigger critical splash than they did, landing a coveted National Book Award finalist spot with Pet, YA’s first novel about a trans Black girl by a Black author.
Name: Kristina Forest
Claim to Fame: Forest adds some much-needed Black-led rom-com goodness to YA, first with her ambitious ballerina-starring debut, I Wanna Be Where You Are, and next up with June’s Now That I’ve Found You.
Name: Jay Coles
Claim to Fame: Coles broke in big with Tyler Johnson Was Here, a deeply affecting debut about #BlackLivesMatter. Then he proved his short fiction chops in the anthologies Black Enough and Hungry Hearts, and when he next returns, it’ll be with his first queer YA, Until You Came Back.
Name: Rebecca Barrow
Claim to Fame: A relatively new contemporary favorite, Barrow’s feminist novels examine friendship, reproductive choices, sexual identity, romance, parenthood, and more in You Don’t Know Me But I Know You and This is What it Feels Like. Keep an eye on her, because rumor has it her next project is to be announced imminently.
Name: Tochi Onyebuchi
Claim to Fame: Onyebuchi is completely crushing it in SFF, particularly notably with Nigerian inspiration. You can check him out in his debut YA duology, which kicks off with Beasts Made of Night; his newest YA, War Girls; or his most recent release, the critically acclaimed adult sci-fi Riot Baby. Or, for shorter glimpses, you can find him in Black Enough and 2021’s anthology of Shakespeare reimaginings, That Way Madness Lies.
Name: Ashley Woodfolk
Claim to Fame: Does shattering hearts count as a claim to fame? It certainly does when you do it as beautifully and seamlessly as Woodfolk does in her debut, The Beauty That Remains. She’ll be doing it all over again in her sophomore, a friendship breakup story titled When You Were Everything, out next month.
Name: Justin A. Reynolds
Claim to Fame: Reynolds had one of 2019’s biggest debuts with Opposite of Always, about a boy who meets a girl, falls in love, and then has his romance tragically cut short…until he gets another shot, over and over again. While details are scant, it looks like he’ll be releasing a sophomore called Early Departures this September.
Name: Camryn Garrett
Claim to Fame: It’s hard to catch all debuts who release in a given year, but Full Disclosure was absolutely not the one to miss. Garrett could not have made a bigger splash than she did with this hopeful theatre-centric romance about an HIV-positive bisexual Black girl named Simone who finds love for the first time while her haters fail to bring her down.
Name: Renée Watson
Claim to Fame: Frankly, it feels a little silly to even have to mention Watson here, but I simply can’t take the chance of anyone missing out on her excellent YA novels, especially since I think she’s a little more well-known for her MG. But between This Side of Home, which could easily be a young teen reader’s intro to gentrification, and the nuanced Piecing Me Together, which tackles “well-meaning” but exclusive feminism, she is absolutely required reading. In 2019, she released both a coauthored novel with Ellen Hagan called Watch Us Rise and a story in Black Enough, and also saw the re-release of one of her MGs, What Momma Left Me, as a YA.
Name: Bethany C. Morrow
Claim to Fame: Initially debuting with adult sci-fi MEM, Morrow has since shifted into YA, editing the activism-themed collection Take the Mic. Next up is her first YA novel, A Song Below Water, a fantasy about Black sirens that tackles misogynoir head on.
Name: Dean Atta
Claim to Fame: Before his The Black Flamingo even comes to the U.S., Atta’s making quite a name for himself with his YA debut. The tale of a mixed-race gay teen who struggles to feel both Black enough and Greek enough and ultimately finds his identity through drag took home the Stonewall on the strength of its U.K. release, making it the ultimate in Must Buy when it comes stateside this summer.
Name: Liara Tamani
Claim to Fame: Tamani first showcased her gorgeous writing in the vignette-styled Calling My Name. She then took a brief detour into short stories for her contribution to Black Enough before returning with her romantic sophomore, All the Things We Never Knew, out this June.
Name: Lily Anderson
Claim to Fame: Anderson is a master of the YA retelling rom-com, first taking on Shakespeare with The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You and following up with Oscar Wilde in Not Now, Not Ever, which stars a Black girl at academic decathlon camp. From there, she pivoted to her biggest novel yet—a fabulous take on witchcraft, zombies, and friendship in Undead Girl Gang–but you can find her taking on Shakespeare one more time in 2021’s That Way Madness Lies before she begins her adult rom-com career with The Way Back List.
Name: Charlotte Nicole Davis
Claim to Fame: Billed as Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale, the empowering The Good Luck Girls might be one of the coolest debuts I’ve ever read. Full of revenge, sisterhood, adventure, and even a little romance, it’s a book that demands to be read, and, thankfully, also demanded a not-yet-scheduled sequel.
Name: L.L. McKinney
Claim to Fame: First she made Alice of Wonderland fame Black in her Nightmare-verse series opener A Blade So Black (which is still ongoing—A Crown So Cursed publishes this year), and soon she’ll be doing a reimagining of Jane Eyre with the queer Escaping Mr. Rochester. Until then, you can find even more of her work in anthologies Color Outside the Lines and A Phoenix First Must Burn.
Name: Elizabeth Acevedo
Claim to Fame: If there’s anything Acevedo’s done that isn’t a smash success, I haven’t heard about it. “Critically acclaimed” doesn’t do justice to the reception of The Poet X, her debut novel-in-verse which also has a slam poet narrating the audiobook. Then there was the fabulous With the Fire on High, about a teen mom named Emoni who has grand plans to become a chef, if only she can figure out how to work them around having a toddler. Next she’ll be appearing with a contribution in A Phoenix First Must Burn before the spring release of her third novel, Clap When You Land, which by premise alone promises to be another winner.
Name: Brittney Morris
Claim to Fame: If you’ve been living under a rock, I suppose you might’ve missed the powerful and original Slay, a debut novel about a girl named Kiera who secretly runs a Black Panther-inspired video game that lets Black kids have a safe space to enjoy gaming. While it does have its haters, the game is largely beloved…until it sparks a teen’s murder and leads to discussion of whether or not the game is exclusionary and racist, a discussion Morris handles with the utmost skill.
Name: Somaiya Daud
Claim to Fame: Daud’s science fantasy debut, Mirage, based on her Amazigh heritage, is a wildly smart take on colonialism, set in space and playing with doppelgangers, royalty, and rebellion. You can catch its sequel, Court of Lions, out this summer, and find an essay from her in the 2018 collection Our Stories, Our Voices.
Name: Junauda Petrus
Claim to Fame: Petrus brought a much-needed addition to queer YA with her lovely f/f romance, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, bringing together two Black girls, one of whom has just been forced to move to the States from Trinidad. Though it’s currently the only title of hers in the public sphere, a Coretta Scott King honor ensures it definitely won’t be her last.
Name: Stephanie Kuehn
Claim to Fame: If you’re a psychological thriller fan, you absolutely must be in the know about this brilliant mind, who took the Morris with her mindblowing debut Charm & Strange back in 2014. She’s since released four more novels (most recently the chilling When I Am Through With You) and published short stories in the anthologies Feral Youth and His Hideous Heart.
Name: Ashia Monet
Claim to Fame: Indie authors are doing some of the most unique and inventive work out there, and that’s definitely true of the author of The Black Veins, a queer adventure story starring a girl named Blythe who leads a crew of powerful strangers on a quest to save her kidnapped family.
Name: Tiffany D. Jackson
Claim to Fame: One of the biggest names in YA mystery right now, Jackson pulls absolutely zero punches with her ripped-from-the-headlines novels. Her entire catalog is Must Read, from her haunting debut Allegedly to her searing sophomore Monday’s Not Coming to her Weekend at Bernie’s ode to hip hop, Let Me Hear a Rhyme to her contemporary Carnival-set take on “The Cask of Amontillado” in His Hideous Heart. Next up is the equally unmissable Grown, out in September, followed a month later by The Awakening of Malcolm X, a biography coauthored with the man himself’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz.
Name: Ibi Zoboi
Claim to Fame: When you land on the National Book Award longlist as a debut, you might think there’s no way to go up, but Zoboi has been continuing to crush it well past American Street. Her follow-up, Pride, proved there’s still definitely room to do great takes on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and then she went on to edit the fabulous Black Enough anthology and to debut with an MG that landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
For even more great Black YA authors with books, stories, and essays to keep on your radar, take note of Ronni Davis (When the Stars Lead to You), Ben Philippe (Field Guide to the North American Teenager), Morgan Parker (Who Put This Song On?), Rena Barron (Kingdom of Souls), Amanda Joy (A River of Royal Blood), Adrianne Russell (“From Your Fat Future” in The Other F-Word), Rebecca Roanhorse (“The Missing Ingredient” in Hungry Hearts), Karuna Riazi (“Hearts a la Carte” in Hungry Hearts), Patrice Caldwell (A Phoenix First Must Burn, March 10, 2020), Jordan Ifueko (The Raybearer, April 14, 2020), (The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, May 26, 2020), Kosoko Jackson (“A Pound of Flesh” by Kosoko Jackson in Out Now, May 26, 2020), Leah Johnson (You Should See Me in a Crown, June 2, 2020), Roseanne A. Brown (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, June 2, 2020), Kalynn Bayron (Cinderella is Dead, July 7, 2020), Ryan Douglass (Jake in the Box, Fall 2020), and B.B. Alston (Amari and the Night Brothers, January 2021)!