HBW Reading Recommendations

[By: Kai Hansen]

Hello everyone, and happy New Year! I hope you’re all well and have had a good holiday season.

There’s a certain chill in the air that seems to make the world around us slow down a bit, which makes this the perfect time of year to relax and curl up with a good book. Whether you’re a college student searching for something to occupy your time over break, or just someone looking to enter another world to escape the cold for a while, we have some fantastic Black-authored books recommended by the staff here at HBW that are sure to be a great start to the new year. 

Graphic credit: Kai Hansen

Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, recommended by Victoria Garcia Unzueta:

This fantasy novel tells the story of Zélie Adebola as she tries to rise up against the monarchy, bring magic back to the land, and most of all, control her own powers. 

When asked why she recommended this book, Victoria responded: “This is a wonderful fantasy book that offers both a new world and a new way to see our current one. The variety of perspectives allows you to see all sides of the story and gain a better depth to the story.” 


Daddy was a Number Runner

Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether, recommended by Dr. Maryemma Graham:

Daddy Was a Number Runner follows a year in the life of 12-year-old Francie Coffin living in Depression-era Harlem as she faces racism, poverty, and violence. 

Dr. Graham said “The book offers a multifaced view of black life during the Depression and brings a more holistic view of people. Black victimhood is a major focus in our culture, but it often leaves us without an understanding of survival and agency. This means that we must continue to fight against the repressive conditions and systematic racism, but also respect the way people ‘make a way out of no way.’”

Bonus from Dr. Graham: “We can honor [Louise Meriwether] by reading all of her work, especially Fragments of the Ark (1994) and Shadow Dancing (2000), two other books of hers that are among my favorites.”


Lakewood by Megan Giddings, recommended by Brendan Williams-Childs

Lakewood is the story of a girl named Lena Johnson who gets involved in a high-paying medical experiment to pay off her family’s debt but discovers that the experimentation being done could be devastating for the test subjects.

Brendan describes this book as “a disturbing and especially timely novel about human experimentation in medicine.”

Bonus from Brendan: “(I) also just read some essays from Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work – a classic memoir/criticism hybrid, and an especially good pairing with the latest BLS roundtable.”


Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, recommended by Jade Harrison:

Salvage the Bones follows a Black family in Mississippi as they prepare for and deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

When asked about this book Jade said “I read this novel during the COVID-19 quarantine April 2020, and ever since then it has become one of my favorite novels. I really love Ward’s use of language in this novel and how the narrative’s plot unravels in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.”

Bonus from Jade: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur “I was introduced to Shakur’s autobiography in my Civil Rights/Black Power Movement literature course I took this semester. I love how Assata serves as a coming of age narrative for a Black female revolutionary icon. Also, the language Shakur uses throughout the narrative is reminiscent of the BAM (Black Arts Movement) aesthetic.”


The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, recommended by Andi Kerbs: 

The Sun is Also A Star tells the story of Daniel and Natasha-two teenagers who end up crossing paths in New York City and falling in love over the course of a day.

When asked why they recommended this book, Andi responded, “I enjoy this book because not only is it a cheesy romance (I’m a sucker for a cheesy romance) it’s diverse. Seeing different kinds of people represented in YA fiction is so important and this book does that perfectly.”

Bonus from Andi: “She (Nicola Yoon) also wrote Everything, Everything which is an equally great book and both are movies now!”


Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, recommended by Sarah Arbuthnot:

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford and her personal growth as she moves through three different marriages. 

When asked about this work, Sarah responded “I’m currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in preparation for our upcoming NEH Summer Institute (learn more here!) that will examine much of Hurston’s work. While the dialect has taken some getting used to, I’m very much enjoying the novel and looking forward to the rich discussions to come.”


Finally, my recommendation is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. 

We Need New Names follows the early life of a girl named Darling, the first half of the book focusing on her life in Zimbabwe and the second half following her move to The United States. 

I first read this novel in a freshman English class and was amazed by just how much Bulawayo works into this book. By telling the story of Darling both in Zimbabwe and in the U.S., Bulawayo is able to compare the two and provide commentary on Zimbabwean culture, American culture, and immigrant identity.

As a bonus for those interested in queer history and identity, I would like to reccomend Black On Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton. This book dives into queer history and discusses the intersections between what it means to be Black and what it means to be trans.

I hope you like our selections and that you’re able to find something that fits your interests. 

Happy reading!



Kai Hansen is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, double majoring in English & Biology with a minor in Dance. A member of the University Honors Program with plans to become an English professor, Kai is actively engaged in the study of  Black and queer literature.