After years of being pushed to the margins of the mainstream literary canon, the words of queer writers of color are finally being celebrated and openly uplifted. Following in the footsteps of powerhouses like James Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, Assotto Saint, and June Jordan, contemporary greats like Tommy Pico, VIrgie Tovar, Alexander Chee, and Yrsa Daley Ward are at the forefront of literature’s evolution not only in terms of form but also in regards to craft. Each of the books on this list are meant to be read, cherished, and reread again. The authors listed below why queer voices of color are vital year round.
Whiting Award winner Tommy Pico’s poems are immediate, lush, and compelling. Every line volleys between frank brevity and an unabashed yearning to be fully seen and heard. Whether critiquing colonialism, white supremacy, former lovers, or capitalism, Pico’s poetics shine an unblinking light on what it means to find and lose love in a world rooted in erasures and fractures. In his latest book Junk, Pico revitalizes the couplet, expanding the potential of an age-old form into a palpable and evocative commentary on modern desire. The third installment in the Teebs trilogy, Pico’s latest investigates the intersection between heartbreak, grief, and growth in the wake of a waning romance. His poetics aren’t just gripping because of their honesty but because of their ability to be real without pretense. His words go for the jugular, but feel like a kiss.
Britteney Black Rose Kapri
The opening of Britteney Black Rose Kapri’s collection is an shameless proclamation brilliantly conveyed through a screenshot of a tweet. Fusing the ephemeral nature of the digital world with the visceral complexity of embodied experience, Kapri’s poetry is equally political and personal as Black Queer Hoe‘s beginning suggests. Her voice is unapologetically “Pro Black. Pro Queer. Pro Hoe.” Part thesis, part invocation, the first page of Kapri’s debut sets the tone for the rest of the collection without hesitation, urging readers to feel rather than merely consume the testimony of a woman at the intersection of many identities. As mesmerizing as a spell or a psalm, Kapri’s stanzas are undeniably and refreshingly bold. Black Queer Hoe is the feminist gospel that so many have been waiting for.
Coming of Age Black and Free in America
Darnell L Moore
In the prologue to his memoir, Darnell L. Moore writes, “We are the everyday, ordinary magicians who learn to create life amid death-dealing cultures of hatred and lies… we birth freedom.” A deservedly anticipated debut, No Ashes in the Fire documents Moore’s coming of age during the ’80s in Camden, New Jersey. An examination of race, class, gender, and sexuality, No Ashes in the Fire follows in the footsteps of Audre Lorde’s Zami and James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, giving voice to the experiences that sparked the political awakening of a Black queer feminist. What makes this memoir so remarkable is Moore’s ability to examine his trauma alongside moments of love and joy. Inarguably profound, No Ashes in the Fire is an astonishing story of survival, hope, and strength.
Edited by Jennifer Baker
Edited by Electric Literature‘s Jennifer Baker, Everyday People is a vibrant and timely anthology that centers the multiplicity of writers of color. Thematically captivating and inventive, this noteworthy collection of diverse narratives includes a dazzling selection of short stories by award-winners like Alexander Chee and rising stars like soon-to-be-novelist Brandon Taylor and Food 4 Thot‘s Dennis Norris II. Whether it be the story of a young man navigating the complexities of his relationship with his immigrant parents in “Mine,” the protagonist’s adolescent sexual awakening in “Boy/Gamin,” or the transformative impact of loss and grief in “Last Rites,” Everyday People offers readers an extraordinary portrait of what it means to be human.
Carmen Maria Machado
National Book Award finalist Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties skillfully teases the line between speculative fiction, sci-fi, and horror. Her stories flawlessly intertwine suspense, lore, and politics, revealing our culture’s violations against women and the intricacies of sexuality and gender in an unexpected yet meaningful way. Contemporary touchstones like Law and Order: SVU, rites of passage like prom, and supernatural beings like doppelgängers become the perfect metaphor for postmodernity’s failures. Hypnotic and powerful, Machado’s fictive visions are irresistibly haunting. Each story will make you grapple with the contradictions that define the world you live in.
A Storyteller's Memoir
Yrsa Daley Ward’s memoir begins with a memory about her little brother and his ability to decipher “why adults said the things they said. And why they didn’t mean the things they said and even less what they did.” Lyrically striking, The Terrible feels like an immersive epilogue to The Bone that delves deep into the formative moments–good and bad–that shaped Ward’s identity. The Terrible‘s episodic and unconventional structure makes each remembrance breathtaking and deeply intimate. Ward sifts through her past with courage and a tenderness that makes each page shine. The story of an unapologetic queer Black woman finding her voice, The Terrible is a reminder of why honoring and telling your story is necessary.
In the introduction to You Have the Right to Remain Fat, Virgie Tovar combats fatphobia and confronts the way “unresolved racism, white supremacy, classism, and misogyny” has been weaponized against “our own experience of the truth.” Written with fierce urgency, Tovar’s book boldly dismantles our culture’s grip on our bodies and scrutinizes how fatness and deviations from cultural beauty standards are unjustly vilified. In an era where body positivity and self care have been co opted and monetized by corporations, You Have the Right to Remain Fat is an authentic call to arms that compels us to “free ourselves from the fears that have burrowed into our psyches.” Tovar encourages us to challenge the myth of a singular definition of beauty.
Fatimah Asghar’s debut collection is a fearless meditation on the way history, faith, and family can shape an individual’s identity and their sense of home. Cinematic like the short stories of Kathleen Collins, the power of Asghar’s stanzas bring to mind the work of poets like Ghadah Al-Samman, Margaret Atwood, and Pat Parker. When Asghar confesses, “I whisper my country my country my country / & my hands stay empty” in “When the Orders Came,” the limits of the American dream are confronted with an unblinking eye alongwith the dangers of existing in a nation where “the cost / of looking the other way” can be fatal. Urgent and illuminating, If They Come For Us is a memorable salve for times like these.
In his recent essay collection Alexander Chee says, “Something new is made from my memories and yours as you read this.” Much like Chee’s award-winning novel The Queen of the Night, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is expressive and courageously honest. Seamlessly vivid and arresting, Chee’s prose examines the life of not only a writer, but of a man who believes in the power of words and redemption, whether it be found in a tarot deck, the pages of a Stephen King novel, or a semester spent abroad. His essays hum with truth and every page urges readers to listen with an open heart.
Filled with humor and heart, Meaty is the sort of essay collection best devoured in one sitting. Beginning with a list of shortcomings, needs, and wants, Meaty wastes no time before candidly diving into the deepest depths of Irby’s psyche, her relationships, and an array of her frustrations and struggles. From the pain of racism, to the gritty complications of Crohn’s Disease, and the memory of her childhood habit of sucking her thumb, Irby’s dynamic musings prove that she’s a masterful storyteller who knows how to pull at her audience’s heartstrings while also making them laugh.
In Akwaeke Emezi’s praiseworthy debut, a young Nigerian woman named Ada grapples with the multifaceted fragments of her identity while coping with the expectations of being a college student in America. Freshwater unfolds like a lucid dream, pulling readers into Ada’s embodied reality and the many selves that exist within her. Simultaneously plural and singular, Emezi’s heroine struggles with mental illness, failed relationships, and the oppressive constraints of societal norms even when in pain. A divine commentary on embodiment and the limitless nature of the human soul, Freshwater is an epic unlike any other. Its pages teem with light.
Tanwi Nandini Islam
A multi-generational narrative about family, love, and belonging, Bright Lines by Tanaïs (aka Tanwi Nandini Islam) follows Ella as she wrestles with the aftermath of her parents’ murder and the tumultuous atmosphere of post-9/11 New York. In addition to grief and political tension, Ella is forced to reckon with family secrets that challenge her understanding of the past and her definition of devotion and love. A daring depiction of desire and identity, Bright Lines‘s pages prove the necessity and power of Tanaïs’s voice. A vital addition to the contemporary canon, this novel is a diasporic narrative not to be missed.