By Amy Grief
Jael Richardson is immersed in the world of writing. The Brampton, Ont.-based memoirist, children’s book author, novelist, and public speaker is also the founder and executive director of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). To celebrate Black History Month, Richardson curated a list of 12 incredible books by Black authors—from literary fiction and poetry, to rom-coms and YA titles. Get lost in these works and honour Black voices 365 days a year.
BY CHERIE JONES
In her debut literary fiction novel, author Cherie Jones explores race and class in a rapidly changing resort town.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “This multi-perspective novel tells a story set on a small beach in Barbados after a harrowing crime. The storytelling is unique and beautiful, the characters are unforgettable. I could not put it down.”
BY JANE IGHARO
At age 12, Azere promised her dying father she’d marry a Nigerian man, even after immigrating to Canada. But one night, she meets and falls for a handsome white man, and must choose between love and family.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “I really enjoy romance novels and rom-coms, and this story is full of Nigerian family drama and set in Toronto. It was the perfect book to read over the holidays.”
BY IAN WILLIAMS
Giller Prize-winner Ian Williams takes inspiration from grade school word problems in his inventive new poetry collection, which explores issues of racial inequality.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “Word Problems is the kind of poetry book you want to read bit by bit, that you keep by your bedside, so you can enjoy the words and the way they move in (and around) the page. Williams’ poetry is a phenomenal read and a work of art.”
BY CHERYL THOMPSON
In her forthcoming work of non-fiction, Ryerson University professor Cheryl Thompson looks at how the Uncle Tom character has informed two centuries of racial politics.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a classic I read when I was younger that moved me deeply; reading Thompson’s exploration of the character and the way his story and name have been used since Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was ‘born’ moved me all over again.”
BY DEXTER PALMER
This book about a wife recovering from a major tragedy and her husband’s time machine invention looks at how science and technology impact our lives.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “If you’re a science-fiction lover or if you enjoy the idea and possibility of time travel, Dexter Palmer’s Version Control is an absolute must-read. From online dating to self-driving cars, this book is a mind-bending wonder, and I loved every plot twist and turn.”
BY IMBOLO MBUE
A young Cameroonian couple moves to the United States in search of the American Dream, just as the Great Recession hits.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “One of my all-time favourites, Behold the Dreamers tackles a very particular moment in history—the market crash of 2008. The plot is quick and exciting, and the characters are unforgettable. It’s on my rare and exclusive list of books that I’ve read more than once, that I read and re-read just for fun.”
BY YAA GYASI
Yaa Gyasi’s latest novel is the moving portrayal of a Ghanaian family in Alabama and the impacts of mental illness.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “In Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, she tackled so much time and history. In her latest novel, she centres in on the life of one contemporary family, addressing the complexities of immigrant life in America. It’s a family saga that I will treasure and recommend over and over. It’s just that good.”
BY CICELY BELLE BLAIN
Black, queer, femme writer Cicely Belle Blain is one of the founders of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Their first book of poetry, published by Vivek Shraya’s VS. Books, explores Black identity and history, amidst a constant search for liberation.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “I read each poem over and over—in my head and out loud. And I’ll do it again and again. I feel grateful and blessed every time I read Blain’s poems.”
BY ANTONIO MICHAEL DOWNING
In his memoir, Antonio Michael Downing explores his search for his Black identity throughout childhood and adulthood after immigrating to a small town in Northern Ontario from Trinidad at age 11.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “There is something particularly moving about a Black man who opens his life up so fully, who gives us an inside look at how life in Canada has affected his story. It’s a gift to read that kind of honesty.”
BY RACHEL RICKETTS
Renowned racial justice educator Rachel Ricketts shares practical steps to fighting and dismantling white supremacy in her first-ever book.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “What I love about this book is how she speaks so explicitly about her own experiences and what’s required in order to fight white supremacy. It’s a book I didn’t know I needed to read, but I’m so grateful I found it.”
BY BEN PHILIPPE
Ben Philippe’s latest YA novel follows popular New York City high schooler Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger and the one young woman immune to his charm. It’s a romantic comedy that’ll delight readers of all ages.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “If you don’t know Ben Philippe’s work, you are missing out. He’s as funny on Twitter as he is in his novels, which provide a careful glimpse at race and class from a young man who’s truly gifted with words.”
BY LOUISA ONOMÉ
When it rains, it pours. Chinelo’s beloved neighbourhood is rocked by tragedy, and starts to change. Then, Chinelo’s friends begin moving away, and she starts fighting with her bestie. She needs to figure out how to get everything back to normal before it’s too late.
Why Jael Richardson loves it: “This debut YA novel has everything you look for in the genre—fresh characters and an engaging plot. Chinelo is the kind of protagonist that you don’t easily forget.”