Friday, February 19, 2021

24 new and forthcoming historical novels in honor of Black History Month

Looking for some intriguing historical reads to add to your TBR piles?  February is Black History Month, and while many of these books are forthcoming later this spring, summer, or fall, the gallery below should give you reading ideas throughout the rest of the year.  With settings spanning the previous few centuries, these novels center Black voices, present vibrant characters, and reveal many stories previously untold in historical fiction. They're from a mix of established authors and talented newcomers. Links for each novel go to its Goodreads page. Some of these titles have been featured on the blog before but are worth mentioning again.

Nekesa Afia's Dead Dead Girls (Berkley, June) opens a new mystery series set in 1920s Harlem, while WWII fiction fans will want to glom onto Kaia Alderson's Sisters in Arms (William Morrow, Aug.) focuses on members of the "Six Triple Eight," the all-Black battalion of the Women's Army Corps and their notable service overseas. Denny S. Bryce's Wild Women and the Blues (Kensington, March) is an exciting multi-period story set in Jazz Age Chicago and contemporary times, featuring a talented dancer. Artist, novelist, and poet Barbara Chase-Riboud is perhaps best known for her historical novel Sally Hemings, from 1979; her latest, The Great Mrs. Elias (Amistad, Aug.), is the first novel about Hannah Elias, a wealthy Black woman from early 20th-century America. Stacy D. Flood's The Salt Fields (Lanternfish, Mar.), a novella, follows a man on his train journey from South Carolina to a new life up north, and The Conductors (Mariner, Mar.), Nicole Glover's historical fantasy debut, introduces Hetty Rhodes, a former conductor on the Underground Railroad, in her crime-solving career in Philadelphia after the Civil War.

Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie (Algonquin, Mar.), set during Reconstruction, takes as inspiration one of the first Black women physicians in America. Set during the same timeframe in Georgia, The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Little, Brown, July), another debut, centers on two brothers, hoping to earn enough money to head north to find their mother, who are hired to work on a white farmer's land. The Civil Rights movement is the focus of Suzette D. Harrison's The Girl at the Back of the Bus (Bookouture, Feb.), which alternates between 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, and the present. An infant girl's kidnapping in 1930s Harlem prompts an investigation in Karla FC Holloway's historical mystery Gone Missing in Harlem (TriQuarterly, Apr.)  Ladee Hubbard's The Rib King (Amistad, Jan.), set in the early 20th century, incorporates a tale of how racist iconography is used to sell food products, rib sauce in this case, and how this exploitation played out among those affected.  When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown (Thomas Nelson, Apr.) takes us to small-town, Depression-era Georgia with the story of a young Black woman coming of age during a time when the KKK is wreaking havoc in her community.

The debut novel from acclaimed poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois (Harper, May) investigates one family's journey in Georgia across two centuries. From the queen of African American romance, Beverly Jenkins' latest, Wild Rain (Avon, Mar.) is the love story between a female rancher in 19th-century Wyoming and a man slated to interview her for a Black newspaper. Sadeqa Johnson's Yellow Wife (Simon & Schuster, Jan.), set in the mid-19th century, recounts the tale of a young woman hoping to be granted her freedom but who finds herself returned to slavery and working in a notorious Virginia jail (based on a true story). Robert Jones, Jr.'s The Prophets (Putnam, Feb.) is getting a lot of buzz for its lyrical portrait of the love between two enslaved men on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Situated in the same Southern locale as her Mama Ruby series, Mary Monroe's Mrs. Wiggins (Kensington, Mar.) takes place in Depression-era Alabama and follows a determined woman who engineers a supposedly perfect life until secrets start unraveling. Bethany C. Morrow's So Many Beginnings (Feiwel & Friends, Sept.)called "a Little Women remix" in the subtitle, tells the story of four Black sisters — you can guess their names — growing into young women in the Freedmen's Colony of Roanoke Island during the US Civil War. 

Latest in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins historical crime series, Blood Grove (Mulholland, Feb.) takes place in Vietnam-era southern California, circa 1969. In The Personal Librarian (Berkley, June), bestselling novelists Victoria Christopher Murray and Marie Benedict team up to reveal the life of Belle da Costa Greene, librarian for J.P. Morgan in early 20th-century NYC, who passed as white to move up in her career field. Vanessa Riley has two historicals out this year: first Island Queen (William Morrow, July), unveiling the story of Dorothy "Doll" Kirwan Thomas, born into slavery, who became an entrepreneur, major Caribbean landowner, and royal mistress. An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler (Kensington, Apr.) continues her Rogues and Remarkable Woman multicultural Regency romance series. Dawnie Walton debuts with The Final Revival of Opal & Nev (37 Ink, Mar.), described as an oral history of an early '70s rock band featuring a proto-Afro punk female artist and white English folksinger. And Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday, Sept.), by two-time Pulitzer winner Colson Whitehead, focuses on a family man in '60s Harlem who gets pulled into crooked activity and finds himself living a double life.

Which books are on your personal wishlists?  Please leave recommendations for these and any others in the comments.


  1. Thank you for the links and updates on each

  2. Hope you might get to read some of them - thanks for commenting!

  3. Beverly Jenkins and Walter Moseley's names keep showing up again and again, and I need to give them both a try. Alderson's "Sisters in Arms" sounds good too! I'll offer a different type of book, part historical fiction, part fantasy, written with lots of energy for the YA crowd, "Dust Girl" by Sarah Zettel - hard to describe, but fun to read. (Your "Like" button has disappeared!)

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, and for letting me know about the Like button - looks like I'll need to fix the Facebook plugin. Hopefully I can get it working again soon!

  5. I've added almost all of these books to my wishlist! Thanks for the fantastic list.

  6. Wonderful! Glad you liked the list!