62 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2022
An ever-expanding literary landscape offers important, rarely told stories
In early 2016, I started compiling a list of books I was anticipating by women writers of color because, as a reader and occasional critic, I was having trouble finding such titles. If I was coming up short, I thought, then others surely were, too, and maybe it would be useful if I published my findings.
That first list became one of Electric Literature‘s most-shared pieces of 2016, and before long, to my surprise, I heard it was helping inform other publications’ books coverage, teachers’ syllabi, and book prize considerations. Since then, I’ve put together such a list every year with Electric Literature; meanwhile, I continue to hope that publishing and American letters will become so fully inclusive as to render this effort obsolete. We’re not there yet.
About the methodology: these are some of the 2022 books that I, personally, am anticipating, and the list is front-loaded toward the earlier part of the year, as there isn’t as much information yet about books publishing in the fall and later. The term “of color” is a necessarily flawed label with ever-adapting nuances and interpretations. And though I love and require poetry, as a novelist and essayist I’m less aware of what’s to come in poetry, so here I address only books of prose.
If I’ve missed a title you’re excited about, please consider supporting it by preordering it from your local independent bookstore, placing a hold at your library, telling others about it, or all of the above. These are difficult times for so many people, very much including writers, booksellers, librarians, and the bibliophiles who work in publishing.
In a lifetime of loving books, I’ve perhaps never been as thankful as I have in recent years for the light that books can provide. Please join me in celebrating the books coming our way.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades (Jan. 4)
This debut novel about a group of young women of color in Queens is narrated in the bravura, underused first-person plural. Alexandra Kleeman says Brown Girls is “seething with raw, exuberant life,” “an epic told in the register of the yearning, vivid experiences of its characters.”
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (Jan. 4)
Chan’s debut is about a Chinese American mother placed by the state in a government reform program for “bad mothers.” Carmen Maria Machado says it’s a “terrifying novel about mass surveillance, loneliness, and the impossible measurements of motherhood.” I initially heard about this novel in Midtown Scholar, a gorgeous bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and have looked forward to reading it ever since.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez (Jan. 4)
In the months following Hurricane Maria, a Puerto Rican radical who’d left her children to be raised by their Brooklyn grandmother returns to their lives after they’ve become adults: one child a beloved congressman, the other a wedding planner for powerful people in Manhattan. Jaquira Díaz calls Olga Dies Dreaming “an unflinching examination of capitalism, corruption, gentrification, colonialism, and their effects on marginalized people.”
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho (Jan. 4)
I have long maintained that there aren’t nearly enough books centered on the intricate, fascinating complexities of close female friendship, and I’m so glad to learn that Ho’s novel Fiona and Jane follows a deep friendship between two Taiwanese American women. I must read this book. Publishers, please give us more books about friendship.
People Change by Vivek Shraya (Jan. 4)
The author of I’m Afraid of Men, The Subtweet, and God Loves Hair—all three of which are Lambda Literary Award finalists for, respectively, transgender nonfiction, transgender fiction, and children’s books—returns to nonfiction with this meditation on change. Elliot Page praises the book as “a deeply generous and honest gift to the world.”
The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López (Jan. 4)
I’m fairly new to being an aunt, and, unsurprisingly, one of the great pleasures of aunthood has been finding and buying books for my little niece and nephew. This children’s book from the marvelous Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López, is about siblings who, trapped inside on a dreary day, use their imaginations to fly.
This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown by Taylor Harris (Jan. 11)
Harris is another writer whose insightful work I’ve followed for a while, and I’m thrilled that her debut memoir, This Boy We Made, about motherhood, racism, and disability, will be here soon. Nicole Chung says, “My rule to read everything Taylor Harris writes has never failed me.”
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (Jan. 11)
The many admirers of Yanagihara’s previous novel, A Little Life, will be delighted about the advent of this new novel, which Michael Cunningham calls “a transcendent, visionary novel of stunning scope and depth.”
Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo (Jan. 18)
Manifesto is a memoir from the formidable, Booker Prize-winning Evaristo that addresses her childhood as one of eight siblings, experiences with Britain’s first Black women’s theater company, and queer relationships. In The Guardian, Kuba Shand-Baptiste calls the book “a rallying cry.”
Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science by Jessica Hernandez (Jan. 18)
Hernandez is a Maya Ch’orti’ and Zapotec environmental scientist, and in Fresh Banana Leaves she discusses and contextualizes Indigenous environmental knowledge and land stewardship practices, alternatives to the ongoing eco-colonialist destruction of this earth, our only home.
You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays by Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates, & Genevieve West (Jan. 18)
This is the first comprehensive collection of the titanic Hurston’s essays, criticism, and articles—at last and hallelujah!
Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School by Kendra James (Jan. 18)
James, a founding editor of Shondaland.com and a former prep school admissions officer, has written a memoir of her experience as a Black student at a mostly white prep school. R. Eric Thomas calls Admissions “a crucial account for our moment—asking and answering the question of how power is held, shifted, and grasped after by even the youngest in our society.”
For Laika: The Dog Who Learned the Names of the Stars by Kai Cheng Thom, illustrated by Kai Yun Ching (Jan. 18)
Thom’s advice column in Xtra, “Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse,” is rich in grace and wisdom, and now she has a children’s book, For Laika, illustrated by Kai Yun Ching. The picture book is about an orphaned stray dog who ends up traveling toward the stars.
Joan is Okay by Weike Wang (Jan. 18)
When I read Wang’s first novel, Chemistry, I was on a plane ride, sitting in a middle seat, and I had no tissues in my handbag. I remember all this because the book moved me so profoundly that, stuck in that middle seat, lacking tissues, I couldn’t stop crying. Her new novel is about an ICU doctor, and Sigrid Nunez says it’s “incisive yet tender, written with elegant style and delicious verve.”
Violeta by Isabel Allende (Jan. 25)
The exhilarating Allende has written a historical saga in epistolary form, and it takes place during the upheaval of the First World War, the Spanish Flu, and the Great Depression.
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry (Jan. 25)
I fervently love Perry’s writing, and if you’ve had the luck of reading her brilliant work, you probably do, too. If anyone can help us better understand the soul of this heartbreaking nation, it’s Perry, and I can’t wait to read South to America.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu (Feb. 1)
Fu’s fiction is mesmerizing, and her new book is a collection of fantastical tales featuring sea monsters and haunted dolls. Lucy Tan says “each story is spectacularly smart, hybrid in genre, and bold with intention.”
Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda, translated by Sarah Booker (Feb. 8)
Novelist and poet Ojeda’s Jawbone takes place at an elite Catholic high school, and incorporates a secret society, a hostage situation, and dangerous rituals. According to Andrés Barba, Ojeda “has at her disposal the most enviable combination I can imagine, and she has it in spades: a lucid mind, an exacting language, and a wild heart.”
Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space, edited by Zoraida Córdova (Feb. 15)
An anthology of otherworldly, speculative, and ghost-filled stories from Latine writers including Lilliam Rivera, Claribel A. Ortega, Daniel José Older, and David Bowles.
When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry (Feb. 22)
A monk and his twin travel across Mongolia to try to find the reincarnation of a great lama in this new book from the novelist, playwright, and poet Barry.
The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta (Mar. 1)
I first came across Huerta’s writing in 2009, and have since eagerly anticipated her debut book. The Lost Dreamer is a fantasy inspired by Mesoamerica, and is about seers resisting an ancient patriarchal state.
The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard (Mar. 8)
Here is what Toni Morrison said about Hubbard’s previous book, The Talented Ribkins: “for sheer reading pleasure Hubbard’s original and wildly inventive novel is in a class by itself.” I mean, damn. Hubbard is now back with a story collection centered on a Black community in a southern suburb.
Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk by Sasha LaPointe (Mar. 8)
“Red Paint is a miraculous book,” says Elissa Washuta, and Melissa Febos calls it “an ode to healing and to healers, told by someone who intimately knows both.” This autobiography by LaPointe, a Coast Salish author from the Nooksack and Upper Skagit Indian tribes, incorporates punk rock aesthetics, spiritual practices, and a search for home.
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo (Mar. 15)
Robert P. Jones says that this debut, a mythic love story about outsiders who meet in a Trinidadian cemetery, “more than sings, more than beams,” “the kind of story that makes you want to spread your arms open wide, embrace the sky, and take flight in your own little way.”
A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande (Mar. 15)
In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, a Mexican healer named Ximena Salomé finds passion with an Irish immigrant, John Riley, who is fighting on the American side of the conflict. A story of dangerous attraction from the splendid Grande.
Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde (Mar. 15)
Vagabonds! takes place in Lagos, among people and spirits whose existence is outlawed. “A feast of a book, a marvelous ode to spirits and outsiders that is irreverent (and painfully funny) while being serious enough to drill a hole in one’s chest. There is nothing in the world like this book,” says Lesley Nneka Arimah.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou (Mar. 22)
Chou’s campus satire about the misadventures of an anxious Taiwanese American PhD student has been praised by Raven Leilani for addressing “the private absurdities the soul must endure to get free, from tokenism, the quiet exploitation of well-meaning institutions, and the bondage that is self-imposed.” Alexander Chee says, “I often held my breath until I laughed and I wouldn’t dare compare it or Chou to anyone writing now.”
The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad (Apr. 5)
A father calls his son to Lahore to cover up the violent death of a girl, but the son finds he can’t obey his orders. “Ahmad has managed to meld fast-paced, intelligent noir with a devastating portrait of the true costs of ambition and desire,” says Maaza Mengiste.
Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson (Apr. 5)
A Métis woman adopted by white parents goes in search of her history and birth family. “Probably Ruby reminds us that our stories are acts of survival,” says Kelli Jo Ford, and that “grief, too, can be a gift.”
Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson (Apr. 5)
Vivian, a lawyer who advocates for mentally ill patients in a psychiatric hospital, starts unraveling after a family reunion. The novel is “violently funny,” according to Myriam Gurba, and Deesha Philyaw says it’s a “raw, brilliant, and unforgettable” debut from a Center for Fiction Emerging Writers Fellow.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga (Apr. 5)
Winner of the Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English takes place between an Egyptian American woman and a man from the village of Shobrakheit. They meet at a Cairo café and fall in love, and then violence irrupts into their romance.
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang (Apr. 5)
A Chinese girl named Daiyu is kidnapped and smuggled across the ocean to the American West of the 1880s. Anti-Chinese hatred is sweeping the country, and she has to learn how to survive.
A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn (Apr. 12)
A young woman named Marina Salles wakes up dead, transformed into an aswang, a creature of myth out of her Filipina grandmother’s old stories. This cast-off woman can now access the hearts and memories of the people she’s known, in a debut that, according to Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, is “fueled by a wild, jagged energy and an exuberant mixing of cultures and a narrator whose frank, poignant voice will keep echoing in your head.”
Take My Hand is the third novel from the New York Times-bestselling Perkins-Valdez, and it begins in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973 with a nurse who works at a family-planning clinic. Celeste Ng says the book “is an unforgettable exploration of responsibility and redemption, the dangers of good intentions, and the folly of believing anyone can decide what’s best for another’s life.”
Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua (Apr. 19)
I’ve waited impatiently for this novel since hearing Hua read from it more than a decade ago. A village girl named Mei who becomes Mao Zedong’s confidante and lover finds herself playing the role of a Cultural Revolution hero. “How to negotiate the maze of the Forbidden City? How to escape? An intriguing and suspenseful story,” says Maxine Hong Kingston.
Happy for You by Claire Stanford (Apr. 19)
A biracial philosophy student reluctantly takes a job at an internet company in Silicon Valley. I’ve been curious about this book for years, and Rachel Khong praises it as “the optimal novel for the strange times we find ourselves in … droll, incisive, and moving.”
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith (Apr. 19)
A history of Black women’s music as the foundational story of American pop, starting with Phillis Wheatley and continuing through Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, and other musical luminaries.
By the Book: A Meant to Be Novel by Jasmine Guillory (May 3)
Guillory, whose books are unfailingly a delight, has reimagined a tale as old as time, in this case with a novel about an overworked junior employee in publishing who travels to the house of a prominent, jaded writer—a beastly writer, one might say—to convince him to deliver his long-delayed manuscript. Difficulties ensue, then comes an unexpected love.
Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej (May 3)
A queer woman writer meets an older man, a loud, domineering choreographer, at an artists’ retreat in Maine and has sex with him. She keeps seeing him, and her desire intensifies, perhaps to excess. A debut exploring questions of agency, lust, power, selfhood, and art. (Alyssa Songsiridej is the current managing editor for Electric Literature.)
The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara (May 3)
This is another novel I’ve awaited a long time, and it is indelible, a brilliant epic about a Dalit immigrant who becomes terribly, unimaginably powerful, and about what happens to his child. The Immortal King Rao is something new, and it astonished me.
Bitter Orange Tree by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth (May 10)
In Bitter Orange Tree, Man Booker International Prize–winning author Alharthi alternates between the life of Zuhour, an Omani student at a British university, and Bint Amir, the woman Zuhour has thought of as her grandmother, and who has recently died. James Wood says Alharthi has “constructed her own novelistic form.”
Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes (May 10)
Essential Labor is a manifesto and reflection on the emergency conditions of caregiving in America, an emergency whose magnitude and importance should be, but isn’t yet, plain to every person in this country. Garbes, author of the excellent Like a Mother, interrogates and reports on what mothering is and what it could be.
A Down Home Meal For These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero (May 10)
This debut story collection about immigrants and refugees includes stories that have received a Caine Prize for African Writing and appeared in Best American Short Stories, McSweeney’s, and Zyzzyva.
Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester (May 10)
Verónica, a high school student with hip dysplasia, auditions to work at the Mermaid Cove, a kitschy attraction where mermaids perform in giant tanks. Her plans change when she learns what her parents have been hiding from her about her body. Sylvester has deservedly received an International Latino Book Award for her previous work.
Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera (May 17)
Natera’s debut follows a Dominican family in New York City contending with the gentrification encroaching on their neighborhood of twenty years. Angie Cruz says, “Neruda on the Park is the book we need and the reason I read.”
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley (May 24)
From a previous Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, a first novel about a Black woman who stumbles into a scandal in the Oakland police department. According to Ayana Mathis, the book is “fierce and devastating, rendered with electrifying urgency by this colossal young talent.”
The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee (May 24)
For fifty years, Dr. Kwak, an obstetrician and Korean immigrant, has worked at a hospital in a small Minnesota town. One day, a letter arrives that upends his entire life. From the trailblazing author of Finding My Voice and Saving Goodbye, among other books.
Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen (June 7)
A pair of old friends, both Asian American women, turn a counterfeit luxury handbag scheme into a spectacularly successful global business, a success threatened when one of the two women vanishes. Longstanding friendship, fake luxury, and elaborate theft, in a novel Claire Messud calls “sly and thoroughly compelling,” and from a writer whose previous novels have been utterly captivating—yes, please.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (June 7)
A novel with vast reach, spanning five generations of a family living in the American West, from the acclaimed Fajardo-Anstine. Emma Straub says, “this indelible novel shines its big light on the Lopez family so brightly that I could draw a map of their breath.”
Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro (June 28)
Three formerly tight-knit college friends reunite in Lagos for an important wedding. In the intervening years, there have been ruptures, distances, and other significant changes, and the days before the wedding build to a crisis. “The bonds between women—as friends, and across the generations—are the jewels that make this story shine,” says Tayari Jones. I would like to read this immediately.
The Leaving by Jumi Bello (July 12)
Having read an early excerpt of The Leaving, I found Bello’s writing to be lyrical and potent, a feat. In this novel about a legacy of trauma and mental illness, a woman records messages for her unborn child.
Body Language: Writers on Identity, Physicality, and Making Space for Ourselves, edited by Nicole Chung & Matt Ortile (July 12)
Chung’s writing and editing are a great gift to us all, and in Body Language she teams up with the also wonderful Matt Ortile to edit an anthology about embodiment, race, desire, illness, and more, with essays from some of the most exciting writers publishing nowadays.
The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (July 12)
Of the books mentioned here, The Man Who Could Move Clouds is the only one I’ve already had the great luck of reading twice. This is a virtuosic, groundbreaking memoir of Rojas Contreras’ tremendous family history of curanderos, ghosts, powerful women, and healing abilities, and it has shifted my understanding of perception and loss. It is also often wildly hilarious.
Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez (July 12)
From the bestselling writer of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, a memoir of growing up as the daughter of immigrants in Chicago, and about everything from a childhood as a pariah to white feminism to loving comedy.
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo (July 26)
The author of the magnificent America Is Not the Heart has written an exploration of the ethics and politics, especially the racial politics, of our reading cultures. I want to know everything Castillo has to say about this, and her wide-ranging book includes deep reads of anime, Peter Handke, and the art of the mixtape.
Animal Joy: A Book of Laughter and Resuscitation by Nuar Alsadir (Aug. 2)
Subtitled as a book of laughter and resuscitation, this associative book has at its center the author’s relationship with her daughters, in a debut described by the publisher as an ode to spontaneity and feeling alive.
The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings (Aug. 9)
The Women Could Fly is a dystopian novel in which women, especially Black women, can be tried for witchcraft and must either marry by the age of 30 or sign up to be officially monitored. A book with echoes of Octavia Butler and Shirley Jackson.
Year of the Tiger by Alice Wong (Sep. 6)
A memoir from the phenomenal Wong, a disabled activist and director of the online community Disability Visibility Project. The book will be a collage of essays, conversations, graphics, and commissioned art by disabled and Asian American artists.
The Furrows by Namwali Serpell (Sep. 6)
During her childhood, Cassandra Williams’ little brother disappears in an accident, and as she grows older she starts seeing her brother in her everyday life. I’ll jump to read anything Serpell writes, and all the more so with a novel about grief and memory and longing.
On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Sep. 6)
I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Sexton’s intricately nuanced, large-hearted work, and this National Book Award-nominated, NAACP Image Award-winning writer is back with her third book, this time a retelling of Fiddler on the Roof. Having had the chance to see part of it in advance, I’m deeply excited to read the rest of it.
Forgive Me Not by Jennifer Baker (Oct. 4)
Baker has been named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch “Superstar” because of her extraordinarily generous work “championing diversity in publishing.” She has also edited Everyday People: The Color of Life, a short story anthology, hosts the podcast Minorities in Publishing, and edits for Amistad Books. In August, she will publish a debut novel that takes place set in an alternate version of Queens, where the fate of juvenile offenders is decided by their victims and survivors.