Yes: Black Lives Matter (2)


“The actions we need to collectively take

to support the Black community.”

I live in the publishing community. My publisher is the biggest gorilla on the street, and I am actively involved in Mystery Writers of America, both of whom have come out with public statement on the #BLM movement (here and here.)  And though we all know that the larger the organization, the more glacial the institutional racism can be, many of us are pledged to making sure real change does happen.

But on a more personal level, which Black writers do I recommend?

I thought you’d never ask.

Black Writers matter

There are a lot of Black mystery writers, and I imagine that we all (especially if we don’t have a hardback with an author photo) already read Black writers without realizing it. There are good places to begin with long and enticing lists that lead into the world of Black Mystery fiction. But let’s start with five authors I particularly enjoy. (Each has a link to Indiebound, to take you to your local bookshop, but you can get them anywhere.)

Barbara Neely (or BarbaraNeely) is this year’s MWA Grand Master, based on four delicious books about a Black cleaning woman ironically named Blanche White. They’re funny and moving and deal with all the issues you’d expect a working-class woman of color to encounter. Just too terribly sad that Barbara died before she held the plaque in her hand. Meet Ms. White in Blanche on the Lam.


Paula Woods also had a four-novel career, starting in 1999 with Inner City Blues. The name of her cop protagonist is Charlotte Justice, and I do not know why she stopped writing because they are good, solid crime fiction with a distinctive and compelling voice.

(Although: hmm.  Two women, both Black, both fine writers, both with four-novel careers. So how much did their race—and particularly, the race of their characters—affect their publishing success?)

More recently, my friend Rachel Howzell Hall.  She has a great series with police detective Lou Norton, starting with Land of Shadows, and a nice, creepy, alt-Agatha Christie thriller They All Fall Down. (Rachel has four in her series, but also the same number of standalones, so she’s well past the four-novel career curse.)

Attica Locke won the Edgar Award a couple years back for Bluebird, Bluebird, a thought-provoking tale of Black Texas life and the pulls when a Black man is also in law enforcement. I don’t know much about Texas, but Locke makes it sing.

The other writer I can’t recommend highly enough is sci-fi writer N. K. Jemison, the only author to have won the Hugo award three years running, for all three books in her Broken Earth trilogy. But her new one, The City We Became, is absolutely stunning. If you know China Mièville’s work, it’s a little like some of his, but if you don’t, I can’t think how to describe it except in superlatives. Rich, sharp, complicated. Amazing, fantastic, enthralling. Utterly unexpected and original.  And so incredibly present, it might have been written last week.

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  1. La Donna Weber on June 23, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I knew of Barbara Neely as an activist but didn’t know she wrote mysteries! And didn’t know that she had died. Her website has been disabled but there is a Wikipedia article about her. (ugh … I know … Wikipedia. But I’m a librarian, trust me.)

    • Laurie King on June 24, 2020 at 11:25 pm

      Her books are a delight–both witty and with depth to them. Hope you enjoy them.

  2. Elisabeth on June 23, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    “The City We Became” is the most amazing book I’ve ever read. Jemisin is unmatched in any genre.

    • TheMadLibrarian on June 24, 2020 at 2:23 am

      Oh yes! Jemisin is one of my automatic purchases when I have a book budget. It made me think of ‘A Winter’s Tale’ crossed with ‘The City and the City’ and garnished with Armstead Maupin. Lovely stuff.

  3. Karen B. on June 24, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I loved Barbara Neely’s books when I first discovered them, miraculously my library had them as new books. I was sorry she hadn’t written more.

    N. K. Jemisin is an astonishing writer. Like The Mad Librarian, she is on my automatic buy list. Her book of short stories, How Long Til Black Future Month, is excellent, full of sly humor, subtle – and not so subtle – commentary, and fully realized worlds in only a few pages each.

    • Laurie King on June 24, 2020 at 11:25 pm

      I wish she had written more, too.

  4. Reen on June 24, 2020 at 10:36 am

    Okay, looks like one of my actions is going to have to be requesting my library get some of these books. Other than N. K. Jemisin, they only have one book by any of the others!

    • Laurie King on June 24, 2020 at 11:26 pm

      Good for you–libraries should have them all!

  5. janet on June 28, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations. I checked out several e-books by these authors.


    • Laurie King on June 29, 2020 at 8:20 pm

      Hope you enjoy them!

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