My Most Anticipated Books of the Year
This year kicked off strongly with a pair of stunning novels, by two young writers of Ghanaian descent, Open Water (Viking) by Caleb Azumah Nelson and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Viking). Though very different novels, both explored the contours of love, grief and loss in heart-wrenchingly beautiful prose. Despite the high standard they set, the rest of the year remains very promising.
Later in March, we have poet and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America (Allen Lane) – an essay collection celebrating the history and legacy of Black performance. It feels like a spiritual companion to his 2019 book Go Ahead in the Rain (Melville House), a biography of hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest and one of my favourite books of recent years. Like Go Ahead this book will meld the author’s historical analysis with meditations on his personal history of love and grief.
In a different vein but on the same wavelength is poet Kayo Chingonyi’s sophomore poetry collection, A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus) which tells a story of inheritance; the people, places, cultures and memories that form us. Later that month, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s novel Libertie (Serpent’s Tail) blends history and myth fictionalising the story of Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York State (only the third in the United States) in Reconstruction Era America.
In May are two debuts, first the wonderfully absurd (yet realistic) satirical novel, Black Buck (John Murray) by Mateo Askaripour. It tells the story of Darren ‘Buck’ Vender, a former Starbucks barista who ascends as a salesman at a New York City start-up and hatches a plan to infiltrate America’s sales force with people of colour. Still in the workplace is The Other Black Girl (Bloomsbury) by Zakiya Dalila Harris, a thriller following a young Black woman at a white-dominated publishing house.
In August, there’s Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You (Faber & Faber). Following the successful TV adaptation of the bestselling Normal People, it follows the lives of young people, Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon, examining their desires and hopes of believing in a beautiful world. Also in August is Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different (Corsair) edited by Maisie Lawrence and Rishi Dastidair. It is an anthology featuring the very best poetry from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, founded two decades ago by influential British-Caribbean poets, Malika Booker and Roger Robinson. It includes breath-taking new poetry by Warsan Shire, Inua Ellams, Kayo Chingonyi, Dean Atta and more.
The double Pulitzer-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys,Colson Whitehead, returns with Harlem Shuffle (Fleet), an intriguing novel about a man who in his attempts to provide for his family is drawn into Harlem’s criminal underbelly in the 1960s. Followed by the first Black Nobel laureate in literature, Wole Soyinka’s long-awaited novel – only his third ever (first since Season of Anomy in 1972) – Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Bloomsbury Circus), a witty and incisive indictment of Nigeria’s political elite.
Finally, The Selfless Act of Breathing (Dialogue Books) by JJ Bola explores masculinity and mental health in the story of protagonist, Michael, a young Londoner who wants to take his own life.