Book Corner: Immersive African American Fiction

Fiction is a powerful tool to gain new perspectives and see the world outside of your own personal lens. It broadens your thinking and helps you appreciate others’ experiences, and it can also reflect your own self back to you, making you feel less alone. Either way, fiction inspires a sense of shared humanity and helps us become more empathetic. Here are some immersive, thought-provoking novels written by African American authors in honor of African American History Month (and beyond). 

The New Naturals, opens a new window by Gabriel Bump
Grieving a lost child and tired of a society in decline, Rio and Gibraltar escape academia to build a utopian haven in a Massachusetts mountain. Funded by a mysterious benefactor, their "New Naturals" attracts diverse souls seeking refuge from a world on fire. But simmering tensions, both internally and with the outside community, threaten their vision. With humor and insight, Bump paints a vivid picture of humanity and its foibles as the New Naturals navigate life in their so-called paradise.

The Blackwoods, opens a new window by Brandy Colbert
This juicy but substantial novel about a famous African American Hollywood family centers on the death of film star Blossom Blackwood. Told from three perspectives, the story alternates between Blossom’s rise to fame in 1942 and the modern-day perspectives of Ardith and Hollis, two of Blossom’s great-granddaughters. Hollis wants only privacy, while Ardith is eager to follow in her famous great-grandmother’s footsteps. Regardless, the entire Blackwood family must grapple with life in the public eye, which becomes even more challenging when the girls’ personal secrets are leaked to the press.

James, opens a new window by Percival Everett
Pulitzer Prize finalist Everett’s reimagining of Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is perhaps even more thrilling than the original and substitutes humor for sentimentality. Many elements of the original novel are preserved, including Jim’s escape from slavery and the faking of Huck’s death to escape his violent father, with some suspenseful additions. But in Everett’s version, Jim is the narrator, so we experience the harrowing journey down the Mississippi from a fresh perspective.

The American Queen, opens a new window by Vanessa Miller
Louella, enslaved for all of her 24 years, finds both freedom and unbearable loss at the Civil War's end. After her father is lynched, Loella leaves her past behind and embarks on a dream: Happy Land, a utopian haven for African American people "free from fear." With her new husband, William, and others, Louella carves this refuge in the Appalachian mountains. Though challenges arise, Louella's fierce spirit and unwavering optimism guide the community, which crowns Louella and William queen and king of their hidden paradise. Miller breathes life into this remarkable novel based on a true story, showcasing Louella's gumption and a bright spark in American history.

Symphony of Secrets, opens a new window by Brendan Slocumb
Professor Bern Hendricks, an expert on famed composer Frederick Delaney, stumbles upon a shocking truth: Delaney's music may be stolen from a forgotten African American prodigy, Josephine Reed. Determined to expose the injustice and give Josephine her due, Bern delves into the past, aided by tech-savvy Eboni. In 1920s Manhattan, they discover the brilliant, streetwise Josephine, whose talent silently fuels Delaney's rise to fame. As Bern and Eboni uncover the truth in the present, they face powerful forces determined to bury the secret. Can they expose the theft and rewrite history for Josephine?

Ours, opens a new window by Phillip B. Williams
Unlike “The New Naturals” and “The American Queen,” Williams’ novel of a created community is steeped in African American mythology and spirituality. In the 1830s, a mysterious African American sorceress named Saint obliterates plantations all over the South to free enslaved people. She brings these people to a magically concealed community of her own creation, called “Ours.” Over the decades, Saint tries her best to protect the people of Ours, but eventually her conjuring abilities start breaking down, leaving the town vulnerable to strangers with their own powers. The question becomes whether the safety of Ours is just another form of enslavement.

Attend the annual African American Read-In at the Fredericksburg Branch of Central Rappahannock Regional Library on Saturday, February 10, from 2:00-3:30. Visit, opens a new window for more events and reading recommendations.

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.