I’m a huge fantasy fan— give me a story about a far-off land full of magic, danger, and adventure any day. As an avid fantasy reader, I can say with certainty that the genre’s lack of diversity is deafening and frightening. The fantasy genre is dominated by white authors. They’re great authors, don’t get me wrong, but Black fantasy authors don’t get nearly enough recognition as white authors. More importantly, they don’t get the proper recognition they deserve.
This Black History Month, we’re changing that by highlighting extraordinary Black authors across different genres, starting with fantasy. Each week we’re shining a light on Black authors who are making waves and earning accolades but aren’t getting nearly enough notoriety as other authors in their genre.
In no particular order, here are nine Black fantasy authors and their books you should be adding to your TBR list right now.
1. N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin is a three-time Hugo award winner and is the first writer ever to win the award three consecutive times for science fiction and fantasy. Living and writing in New York, Jemisin is the author of speculative fiction novels, short stories, and award-winning fantasy series.
Growing up in Alabama and New York, Jemisin was an avid reader, especially of sci-fi and fantasy. While she began making up her own stories at the age of eight, she thought the genres weren’t for her because of the lack of Black female writers. Now, she’s one of the most celebrated sci-fi and fantasy writers of her generation.
Jemisin’s fantasy stories are rich in world-building and, of course, the representation of Black and marginalized groups of people. Besides her novels and short stories, you can also read her blog on anti-racism, politics, and feminism.
2. C.L. Polk
C.L. Polk is a Hugo-nominated and World Fantasy Award-winning author of fantasy fiction. Polk’s Kingston Cycle series, beginning with Witchmark, won the World Fantasy Award. Their 2020 fantasy novel, The Midnight Bargain, was a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy Award, Locus, Ignyte, and Canada Reads award finalist.
Before their fantasy writing career, Polk held a variety of jobs, from working as a film extra to identifying exotic insect species for collections of lepidoptera.
Polk’s novels are rich in fantasy world-building that’s infused with history, with books set in worlds reminiscent of Edwardian and Regency England. In other words, they’re incredibly immersive and grounded, but still fantastical and magical.
3. Victor LaValle
Victor LaValle is an accomplished author of fantasy and horror fiction novels, novellas, and short stories. LaValle has been the recipient of multiple literary awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award, American Book Award, and Guggenheim Fellowship.
LaValle’s fantasy works combine classic fantasy elements with present-day socio-economical and political tensions, making for an exciting reading experience. His work also incorporates horror elements, so if you’re a fan of dark fantasy, LaValle is the author you need to be reading right now, especially his Lovecraftian novela, The Ballad of Black Tom.
4. Megan Giddings
Megan Gidding’s work is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Octavia E. Butler, and Shirley Jackson. In other words, a winning combination. Publishing her first novel, Lakewood, in 2020, Giddings quickly became an award-winning author. Lakewood was named one of New York Magazine’s 10 best books of 2020, one of NPR’s best books of 2020, and a finalist for an LA Times Book Prize.
Her writing prowess doesn’t stop there, though. Her second novel, The Women Could Fly (2022), was a New York Times Editor’s Choice book, one of Vulture’s Best Fantasy Books of 2022, and one of The Washington Post’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of 2022.
5. Tracy Deonn
If you haven’t read Tracy Deonn’s work yet, we’ve got four words to convince you to start reading right now: Southern Black Girl Magic. You can find all that and more in Deonn’s Legendborn series, filled with magic, demons, and Arthurian legends.
Deonn is one of us: a fangirl, a geek, a dreamer with a vast imagination— all of it. From a young age, Deonn devoured fantasy and sci-fi novels. Besides writing the Legendborn series, Deonn was a featured expert in SyFy’s Star Wars docuseries, Looking for Leia, and contributed to From a Certain Point of View, the 40th Anniversary Empire Strikes Back anthology.
6. Marlon James
Marlon James is a fantasy writer that doesn’t hold back. James’ writing is brutal, raw, and sometimes shocking. In one review, he was even compared to Quentin Tarantino due to his books’ lack of aversion to violence. He’s jokingly called his Dark Star trilogy the “African Game of Thrones.”
Born in Jamaica, James’ fantasy books are rooted in African mythology, history, and of course, classic fantasy elements. Complete with a diverse cast of characters (like a murderous hyena and shape-shifting leopard), Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a fantasy series you don’t want to sleep on. Actually, scratch that. Marlon James is an author you don’t want to sleep on. Do yourself a favor and go get one of his books right now!
Currently, James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf is set to be adapted to screen by Warner Bros. and Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society.
7. Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American sci-fi and fantasy author of books for adults and children. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Okorafor was raised in Illinois but spent holidays with her extended family in Nigeria. Constantly straddling two worlds, she felt she never quite fit into either. Many of the main characters in her stories reflect this sentiment.
Influenced by authors like Stephen King and Octavia E. Butler, Okorafor’s stories are rooted in africanfuturism and africanjujuism (both terms she’s coined). Specifically, Nigeria became her muse, with her stories deeply rooted in Nigerian myths and legends.
Okorafor’s works have won practically every major sci-fi and fantasy award, including the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. Her novel, Who Fears Death, is set for a series adaptation at HBO, with George R.R. Martin and Tessa Thompson signed on as executive producers.
8. Tomi Adeyemi
Named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020, Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American author and creative writing coach whose debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, won the Nebula and Hugo awards for sci-fi and fantasy.
Adeyemi is a passionately driven and ambitious person. At 23, she began writing Children of Blood and Bone, writing the first draft in just 30 days. In 2018 it was published, spending over 90 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The following year, Children of Virtue and Vengeance was published.
In addition to publishing two bestselling, award-winning YA fantasy books, Adeyemi was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and is currently working with Paramount Pictures on the film adaptation of Children of Blood and Bone.
“I’m ambitious, I’m a Slytherin,” Adeyemi told Marie Claire. “I don’t want things to be really good, I want them to be really great.”
9. L.L. McKinney
Last, but certainly not least, we have L.L. McKinney. If you’ve followed Bookstr for a while, you know we’ve previously raved about her work in the fantasy genre, and even chatted with her!
For those of you that don’t know, L.L. McKinney is the author of A Blade So Black, a series in which a bi Black girl travels between Atlanta and Wonderland slaying monsters. Intrigued yet? The story incorporates themes like generational trauma, fear, and the struggles of being an African American growing up in the American south.
Besides being a fantastic writer, McKinney is a loud and proud advocate of supporting Black and marginalized authors in fantasy.
“A lack of diversity meant I didn’t give myself permission to be the hero of my own story, one I control,” McKinney told us back in 2020. “I think in order for Black fantasy to get the recognition it deserves— and this answer is gonna make some people mad— publishing needs to make [Black] stories a priority.”
This list could go on forever, but alas, we’d keep you here all day. While we’ve highlighted these nine amazing Black fantasy authors, make no mistake, there’re plenty more out there who deserve to be heard and recognized. Most importantly, their stories deserve to be told (and read by you!).
Make sure to stay tuned for the next installment in our Black History Month Genre series. Until next time, happy reading!