Stealth Isolation: 5 Black fiction books that are great escapes
JORDANNAH ELIZABETH | 4/23/2020, midnight
There’s no shame in feeling a need to escape. When you’re put under a local government-sanctioned lockdown, the entire experience can feel surreal, unfamiliar and uncertain—with all due respect to the millions of Black people who are or have been incarcerated, we respect your struggle.
With this said, now may be a good time to immerse yourself in a few Black fiction novels. Why not experiment and read your first sci-fi book from the visionary writer, N. K. Jemisin, or indulge in reading new fiction from a nostalgic literary friend like Terry McMillan? Black writers have gifts that take us through different worlds colored with imagination and intricately woven stories. The current state of things can make reality feel bleak and all too real, but never forget that we have options and outlets that can keep us creative, open-minded and excited about the future if we engage with Black art and support the artists who provide us with entertainment that heals and inspires.
“It's Not All Downhill From Here” by Terry McMillan (Ballantine Books)
Terry McMillan’s latest book became an instant New York Times best seller. The book follows the life of McMillan’s vivacious character, Loretha Curry, whose life is full and even a bit crowded. On the eve of her 68th birthday, she has a booming beauty-supply empire, a gaggle of lifelong friends, and a husband whose moves still surprise. She’s determined to prove wrong her mother, her twin sister, and everyone else with that outdated view of aging poorly. It’s not all downhill from here. But when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down, Loretha will have to summon all her strength, resourcefulness, and determination to keep on thriving, pursue joy, heal old wounds, and chart new paths—with a little help from her friends, of course.
“Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” by Zora Neale Hurston (Amistad)
In 1925, Barnard student Zora Neale Hurston—the sole Black student at the college—was living in New York, “desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.” During this period, she began writing short works that captured the zeitgeist of African American life and transformed her into one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly a century later, this singular talent is recognized as one of the most influential and revered American artists of the modern period. “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick” is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflects African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satirical humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world.
“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, “Such a Fun Age” is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young Black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young Black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.
“The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” by Anissa Gray (Berkley)
The Butler family has had their share of trials—as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest—but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives. Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband, Proctor, are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened. As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.
“How Long ‘til Black Future Month?” by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories. Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A Black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.