Right now, many Americans are feeling stressed from a fraught presidential election heightened as the final ballots are counted and a potentially devastating third wave of COVID-19 looms over the nation. The basic pillars holding our lives together also appear to be slipping away and opening us to a wave of instability: the lifting of eviction moratoriums; the end of unemployment benefits; and even the uncertainty of American democracy.
During these tumultuous times, we find ourselves relying on each other to escape, inspire, find care, safety and accountability. The 30 books featured in this year’s fall books roundup will guide us through the bumpy road ahead. What some might see as dark corridors of capitalism and societal collapse may also open a new chapter of karmic grace. Take a reprieve— however brief— with these titles knowing that despite all of the confusion and disorder, we exist within multitudes of love and survival.
Activist and historian Stella Dadzie unravels the acts of resistance by enslaved Black Caribbean women in “A Kick in the Belly” (Verso). “Black Lives Matter at School,” (Haymarket) edited by Jesse Hagopian and Denisha Jones, brings together educators, parents and activists who together face racist curriculums and educational practices in our schools. “Waste” (New Press), written by Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, elevates rural American activists fighting for public sanitation in low-income communities of color. Black feminist author, activist and doula adrienne maree brown calls on us to consider the uses and misuses of cancel culture in “We Will Not Cancel Us” (AK Press). Journalist Ruby Hamad’s “White Tears/Brown Scars” (Catapult) lays out the need for white women to confront their longstanding participation in white supremacy.
FICTION & POETRY
In K-Ming Chan’s debut novel, “Bestiary” (One World), three generations of Taiwanese women are haunted by hereditary secrets and traumas embodied in mythical creatures (One World). Racism and the apocalypse collide in an Airbnb on Long Island, in Rumaan Alum’s “Leave the World Behind” (Ecco). Danielle Evans dissects our complicated relationships and attitudes around race in the seven short stories of her novella, “The Office of Historical Corrections” (Riverhead). The poems in “Resistencia” (Tin House), introduced by Dominican-American poet Julia Alvarez, confront imperialism and oppression in English and Spanish. In “Wild Peach”(Futurepoem), s*an d. henry smith melds poems and photographs of the natural world to envision sites of being outside linear time and conventional forms.
HISTORY & POLITICS
Activist and writer Talia Lavin spent a year infiltrating ultra-right and white supremacist digital spaces for “Culture Warlords” (Hachette). “The Dead are Arising” is an unprecedented biography of Malcolm X, reported over the course of three decades by the late award-winning journalist Les Payne, and later completed by his daughter and principal researcher, Tamara Payne (Liveright). Philanthropic Studies Professor Tyrone Freedman documents the philanthropy work of Black women during Jim Crow, most notably Madam C. J. Walker, the first self-made Black woman millionaire, in “Gospel of Giving” (University of Illinois Press). Attorney Gerry Spence sheds light on the criminalization of Indigenous men through the trial of his former client Collins Catch the Bear, a young Lakota man charged with fatally shooting a white man, in “The Martyrdom of Collins Catch the Bear” (Seven Stories Press). Right on time for the election, read how Black women in America won the right to vote, in historian Martha S. Jones’ “Vanguard” (Basic Books).
MEMOIR & REFLECTIONS
Journalist Angela Chen spoke to people around the country who identify as asexual, learning about her own sexuality and the need for more inclusivity in “Ace” (Beacon Press). Journalist and NPR Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa’s memoir, “Once I Was You” (Atria), shares her life growing up Mexican-American and eventually landing on the frontlines of immigration reporting. In “Purpose of Power” (One World), Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza traces her evolution from organizing around police violence to empowering Black people in politics. A new collection of Audre Lorde’s writing is presented in “The Selected Works of Audre Lorde” (W. W. Norton), edited and introduced by Roxane Gay. After growing up surrounded by gang violence in ‘70s and ‘80s San Francisco, Salvadoran-American journalist Roberto Lovato returns to his homeland, where he joins guerrilla fighters against the government’s U.S.-backed dictatorship, as told in “Unforgetting” (Harper).
Haudenosaunee writer Eric Gansworth shares vivid memories from his childhood, and the searing scars of colonialism, in his memoir “Apple (Skin to the Core)” (Levine Querido). “Come On In” (Inkyard Press), edited by young adult author Adi Alsaid, brings together 15 writers, each with their own story of immigration. A young Nigerian-American woman discovers her autonomy and queer identity, from grade school to Howard University, in “Every Body Looking” (Dutton) by Candace Iloh. “The Magic Fish” (Random House Graphic), Trung Le Nguyen’s captivating graphic novel of shared languages, intergenerational memories and fairytale worlds, centers on a gay Vietnamese boy struggles to come out to his non-English speaking family. In Laurel Flores Fauntazzo’s “My Heart Underwater” (Quill Tree/HarperCollins), a queer Filipina-American teen is sent to live in Manila after her father becomes comatose and she is caught in an inappropriate relationship with a teacher, discovering her place in the world along the way.
Teach children Black history through the rhyming alphabet in Rio Cortez’s and Lauren Semmer’s “The ABCs of Black History” (Workman Publishing Company). A Black cisgender mother instills joy and self-expressions in her autistic, transgender daughter in mother-daughter duo Trinity Neal and DeShanna Neal’s picture book, “My Rainbow”. Written and illustrated by authors Keith Egawa and Chenoa Egawa, “The Whale Child” (North Atlantic Books) teaches children about environmental care, Mother Earth and Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures. In Ameya Narvankar’s “Ritu Weds Chandni” (Yali Books), a young girl celebrates her lesbian cousin’s Hindu wedding, sharing unconditional love for each other amidst family homophobia. Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate an all-white elementary school, writes a loving letter to young people, galvanizing them to effect change under love and grace for each other, in “This Is Your Time” (Delacorte).