In writing for the last 14 months or so almost solely on literary releases at the start of the new year, there’s been an intuitive progression of the books that I’ve chosen to highlight. Lately, there has been an invigorating and inspiring mix of classic Black literature ranging from debuts to widely published authors who have written extensive collections of work. For all of Toni Morrison’s brightness and international acclaim, particularly within the Black culture and lexicon, there are still works to be discovered: “Recitatif” is Morrison’s only short story, an outlier of her poignant expression that should be remembered and read, as the 1983 piece ages beautifully. “Five Sorrowful Mysteries,” an Observer Best Debut Novelist for 2023 by author Stephen Buoro, and “Black Earth Wisdom,” the third book from Black environmentalist Leah Penniman, are new releases that bring new dimensions of understanding, whether through the craft of fresh literary storytelling or the hyper-awareness of rarely explored Black voices in the environmental and climate change realm.
Recitatif by Toni Morrison (Published in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, 1983)
Zadie Smith writes in the New Yorker in January 2023: “Not the familiar one that divides black and white, but the one between those who live within the system—whatever their position may be within it—and those who are cast far outside of it,” of Morrison’s written experiment where she gave herself the task of writing a short story about race and the racial divide without noting race in way shape or form; yet in the context of a story where she felt this detail was crucial. Though this is a shorter piece, the enigmatic spark of Morrison’s style—vivacious, intelligent, and colorful—she tells the story of two orphans placed in room 406 in St. Bonaventure’s children’s shelter, whose adventures and friendship are humorous and starkly complex.
Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists by Leah Penniman (Harper Collins)
The African American Book Club writes: “Leah Penniman reminds us that ecological humility is an intrinsic part of Black cultural heritage. While racial capitalism has attempted to sever our connection to the sacred earth for 400 years, Black people have long seen the land and water as family and treating the Earth as a home essential.” Black Earth Wisdom is a unique collection of interviews and essays highlighting the voices of prominent Black voices in environmentalism including Awise Agbaye Wande Abimbola, Savonella Horne Esq, and T. Morgan Dixon. This book is an enlightening work for all interested in climate justice and land preservation.
Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro (Bloomsbury Circus)
Kuhelika Ghosh writes of “Five Sorrowful Mysteries” in Brittle Paper: “Growing up in the shadow of colonialism and communal violence in Nigeria, the main character Andrew Aziza has a hard time balancing his math classes, personal life, and larger political events taking place. According to the publisher, Buoro’s tragicomic novel provides a lens into ‘contemporary African life, the complicity of the West, and the impossible challenges of coming of age in a turbulent world,’” and tells the story of a teenager whose trials and tribulations he must traverse throughout the crux of adolescents, love, and civil unrest. “Five Sorrowful Mysteries” is a harrowing tale of youthful resilience and survival.