OPINION: The Magic of Black Stories


Hailey Stessman

As we read more essays and historical nonfiction novels written by Black authors, it is important that we include Black fictional books as well. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

Opening a book for the first time in your hands and gazing upon the words of a story bound between two covers can be a magical moment. The transformation of words on paper to an inner comprehension of ideas to an unfurling of emotions is a special journey. Books, and the stories told within them, can harness a deep power within each of us that we may not have been aware of before; it’s a power that can lift the veil between us and the world around us.

Following the protests and rallies from last summer, which continue to this day, of the violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock and countless others in the Black community, there was a surge in attention toward current and historical literature written by Black authors, particularly on the subject of social injustices and racism in America. Social media profiles and articles were quick to compile diverse anti-racist reading lists for the public to include on their bookshelves with authors such as James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ibram X. Kendi.

Instantaneously, Black owned bookstores across the country saw a swell in orders and sales with some stores like Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago witnessing an increase of 3,000 book sales a week to 50,000 sales a week. At my local library, more and more patrons were checking out book like “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnesss” by Michelle Alexander. It was encouraging to see the efforts of others by diversifying their reading lists to learn about the racial foundations and institutions that build this country.

While it was heartening to see the outflow of anti-racist readings, I noticed the fiction novels written by Black authors continued to sit on the shelves.

It wasn’t until a young Black woman approached me as I shelved the picture books that I understood the magnitude of this realization. The lanyard she wore showed that she worked as a teacher in the local school district. Her beautiful hair was wrapped upon her head and connected to her mask were long pieces of rainbow ribbon that floated behind her as she walked.

With a soft voice, she shared with me how moved she was when looking at our display for new juvenile and children’s books. She expressed how touched she was to see so many stories celebrating Black families, Black love, and Black bodies. Yes, there is an importance attached to books focused on historical Black moments in history, but there is a different sort of magic contained within fictional Black stories.

Although the characters and places in fiction pieces, the emotions are very much real. The joy, the pain, the elation, the grief: they are all authentic and genuine. When we immerse ourselves in these stories, we uncover a connection between us and the characters. We become engrossed in the inner consciousness of the characters and are viscerally affected by the events of the plot.

So, I ask myself as I ask all of you: when was the last time I read a fictional novel by a Black author?

It is crucial that we do not overlook these beautiful and powerful pieces of writing as we check off the books on our to-be-read lists. They carry as much value and importance as the nonfiction books that were sold out in minutes last summer.

I highly recommend you to order from a Black-owned bookstore or to visit your local library for a fictional book written by a Black author. I promise you; the journey will be unforgettable.