4 Books That Center Queer, Black Characters, as Recommended by Akwaeke Emezi
There are a lot of Pride Month reading lists out there right nowâand yes, you should absolutely read Giovanni’s Room if you haven’t alreadyâbut we wanted to go beyond the classics, and maybe find some new ones.
So we invited author Akwaeke Emezi to tell us about a few books they love that showcase voices you might not have heard before. But first, we asked them about their new book, Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir.
“It’s a story of a very specific part of my life, but told through the lens of spiritâlike, spirit-first. I wanted to give as much as I could in the book, and there’s a lot in it,” they say. “The parts about the publishing industry are things that I would teach if I taught. I don’t like teaching in general, so I don’t teach workshops. I don’t teach craft. But with Dear Senthuran, I thought, what would I like to teach if I did teach? And it wasn’t, oh, this is how you structure a story, or this is how you structure a novel. It was things like, this is how you finish a novel.
“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘You just force time every day and you sit down and do it.’ There’s a lot more that comes up emotionally and psychologically to be able to finish a book. And so I try to create a balance with that in the memoir, and show while my career looks lovely and shiny on the surface, that these were the things I was dealing with behind the scenes. These were the real costs of being visible and being shiny and being prolific. And it was brutal.”
Emezi’s reading recommendations begin with a coming-of-age novel about a young girl growing up in Nigeria in the 1960s, just after the country gained independence from Britain.
Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
“The thing that made this book so special to me is that it’s set during the Biafran war, which is a seminal moment in Nigerian history, especially for Igbo people. Chinelo’s book stands out because it’s a queer story. And so to see a queer story set during that time places queer Nigerians in our own history. And Chinelo Okparanta is an author I have immense respect for, because now you can see a lot of young Nigerian writers, myself included, writing queer literature. But she was really one of the vanguard for it.”
She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak, edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Rafeeat Aliyu
“To me, it was such a big deal that the editors had curated this space for people to tell their first hand accounts of what they were dealing with, what they were living with. Quite honestly, when we get to hear accounts of what it is to be Black and queer and from Nigeria, it skews towards men. And so having this book that created a space for the women, that was edited by women, I think it’s hugely important. And for a lot of the queer women who live back home, there really isn’t the space to tell these stories. I think it’s crucial to read these accounts, and not just for queer Nigerian women, but I think it’s crucial for queer Black people. We are often very focused on the queer community in the United States, but the larger queer community is… we’re all connected.”
of colour, by Katherine Agyemaa Agard
“It’s written by a queer Black woman from Trinidad and from Ghana. And I love it because Katherine Agyemaa Agard is one of my favorite thinkers and I wanted to recommend it because who we are informs how we think. It informs the work we make; the perspectives we come from as we make that work. Traveling through this book was one of the most surreal, catalyzing experiences I’ve had encountering a book, because it is so many things. And I wanted to recommend it because I think part of me wants people to understand that Black queer literature has a wide spectrum of what it can be.”
How to Find a Princess, by Alyssa Cole
“I adore Alyssa Cole’s work. And I think that, quite honestly, people need to put a bit more respect on the genre of romance. But I chose this particular book, How to Find a Princess, because it’s a Black queer love story. And I think that as the world is continually on fire around us, more and more people are looking for books to give them escape. I love romance because I don’t want to read books and see how terrible the world is reflected in the books. I don’t read the kind of books that I write, because if I was to read the type of books that I write, I would be depressed all the time … You need an escape. You need a soft, safe place to land.”
This story was edited for radio by Avery Keatley and adapted for the web by Petra Mayer
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