2020 WAS LIT

In the most difficult year in recent memory, our Black literati provided much-needed escapes in the form of the written word—from memoirs that made us feel seen to a best-selling romantic novel that reminds us love is never a wasted emotion. Here are our favorite books of 2020.

  1. Before his death in 2019, Elijah Cummings detailed how he became a man deeply committed to community in We’re Better Than This (Harper, $28.99).
  2. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson investigates America’s entrenched, race-based caste system in her deeply researched book, Caste (Random House, $32).
  3. Hugo Award recipient N.K. Jemisin kicks off a new fantasy trilogy with The City We Became (Orbit, $28), set in New York City as it braces to face an attack by an alien force.
  4. In James McBride’s latest work, Deacon King Kong (Riverhead, $28), an ornery old deacon ends up with a target on his back after he shoots a drug dealer.
  5. A woman on the verge of turning 68 is dealt a life-changing blow, and must lean on her sister circle to pull through, in Terry McMillan’s It’s Not All Downhill From Here (Ballantine, $28).
  6. After twin sisters run away from their Southern childhood home at 16, they assume two different racial identities in Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half (Riverhead , $27).
  7. For her sophomore effort, Transcendent Kingdom (Knopf, $27.95), Yaa Gyasi zeroes in on a neuroscience scholar who seeks to understand her family as she studies addiction and depression.
  8. What happens when you notice your Black neighbors disappearing and you don’t think the cause is gentrification? Find out in Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching (William Morrow, $16.99).
  9. Fresh off her Royal Holiday, Jasmine Guillory’s Party of Two (Berkley, $26) follows a Black lawyer about to start her own firm when she meets a handsome junior senator, who just so happens to be White.
  10. U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey recounts the heartbreaking 1985 murder of her mother by her ex-husband in Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (Ecco, $27.99).
  11. The Death of Vivek Oji (Riverhead, $27), by Akwaeke Emezi, explores the life and death of a young Nigerian man who secretly identified as a girl during childhood.
  12. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (Amistad, $25.99), a collection of writings (some previously unpublished) by Zora Neale Hurston, centers mostly on characters in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida.