12 Books Celebrating Black Excellence

Though Black history is certainly too vast to cover in a mere month, these 12 books are a great addition to your reading list in February and beyond. From memoirs and historic texts, to cookbooks and lookbooks, each of these must-reads offers a unique celebration of Black joy, success and creative pursuits.

“Just as I Am” by Cicely Tyson | HarperCollins Publishers
Published just days before her death, this memoir covers the life of Cicely Tyson and her career that spanned over seven decades. Tyson said of the book, “Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside.”

“Wild Interiors” by Hilton Carter | CICO books
Bestselling author Hilton Carter brings his unique eye and love of plants to show you how to create luscious interiors that not only look amazing but are good for your well-being, too.

“The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women” by Catherine E. McKinley | Bloomsbury Publishing
Curator Catherine E. McKinley draws on her extensive collection of historical and contemporary photos to present a visual history spanning a hundred-year arc (1870–1970) of what is among the earliest photography on the continent. These images tell a different story of African women than the purely anthropological one we’re used to: how deeply cosmopolitan and modern they are in their style; how they were able to reclaim the tools of the colonial oppression that threatened their selfhood and livelihoods.

“Black Futures,” by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham | One World
What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham have brought together this collection of images, photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets, poetry, and more, to tell the story of the radical, imaginative, provocative, and gorgeous world that Black creators are bringing forth today.

“Ebony: Covering Black America” By: Lavaille Lavette | Rizzoli
In 1945, Ebony’s legendary founder John H. Johnson set out to create a magazine for Black America much like that of the trailblazing Life Magazine, and that he did. “Ebony: Covering Black America” is a celebration of the treasure trove of the magazine’s rich history, glamorous covers, groundbreaking cultural impact, and authentic coverage of Black American life from the magazine’s inception to the present.

“In Bibi’s Kitchen” by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen | Ten Speed Press
In this incredible volume, Somali chef Hawa Hassan and food writer Julia Turshen present 75 recipes and stories gathered from bibis (or grandmothers) from eight African nations: South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea.

“What Color Is My World: The Lost History of African-American Inventors” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld | Candlewick
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball legend and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, champions a lineup of little-known African-American inventors in this lively, kid-friendly book. Offering profiles with fast facts and framed by a funny contemporary story featuring two feisty twins, here is a tribute to black inventors whose ingenuity and perseverance against great odds made our world safer, better, and brighter.

“Theaster Gates” Survey by Lisa Lee, Interview by Carol Becker, Focus by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Artist’s Writings by Theaster Gates | Phaidon
Few artists understand the history contained in objects better than Theaster Gates. The Chicago artist has created abstract tapestries from the old fire hoses used to subdue civil rights protestors; he converted a derelict, Black-owned bank into a thriving arts center, and he’s preserved everything from DJ Frankie Knuckles’ record collection through to the editorial archive of Jet and Ebony magazines. In every instance, Gates thinks about how these old things can lead to renewal.

“Finish the Fight!: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote,” by Veronica Chambers and the staff of The New York Times | Versify
Published in 2020 on the hundredth anniversary of the historic win for women’s rights, “Finish the Fight” celebrates the names and stories of the women whose stories have yet to be told. Gorgeous portraits accompany biographies of such fierce but forgotten women as Yankton Dakota Sioux writer and advocate Zitkála-Šá, Mary Eliza Church Terrell, who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, who, at just sixteen years old, helped lead the biggest parade in history to promote the cause of suffrage.

“Macbeth in Harlem” by Clifford Mason | Rutgers University Press
In 1936 Orson Welles directed a celebrated all-black production of Macbeth that was hailed as a breakthrough for African Americans in the theater. “Macbeth in Harlem,” tells the story of these actors and their fellow black theatrical artists, from the early nineteenth century to the dawn of the civil rights era.

“Restoration House” by Kennesha Buycks | Zondervan
Restore peace and joy to your home as you create a space that gives your loved ones a comfortable place to connect. In Restoration House, designer and lifestyle guide Kennesha Buycks shows you how to curate and decorate your home (even on a small budget!) and create mindful spaces that give life to all who enter.

“Tina Turner: That’s My Life” by Tina Turner | Rizzoli
The first authorized pictorial autobiography for the trade by the legendary Tina Turner, containing iconic as well as never-before-seen candid photos, letters, and other personal items of The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, from her early career to today.

Be sure to check out more of ASPIRE’s recommended page-turners here for more design, art and cookbook recommendations!

Cover photo art by Steffi Walthall, 2020.

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