2020 was a year full of reckonings. For the publishing industry, it meant coming face to face with its continued failures to address a lack of diversity in their companies, and in their slates of authors. According to an Opinion column published in the New York Times entitled “Just How White is the Book Industry?” books by writers of color only accounted for 11% of published work in 2018. Such statistics are a sobering reminder of how much further we all have to go in 2021 and beyond. As this month of remembrance and reflection begins, we’ve gathered stories by twenty-eight Black writers that can be read online for free, one for each day in February but available to you any time of year.
“Anything Could Disappear“
By Danielle Evans
Danielle Evans has only released two short story collections in the span of a decade, but she’s proven herself a master of the form and this piece, from her 2020 book The Office of Historical Corrections, will make you want to read everything she’s ever written.
“Drinking Coffee Elsewhere“
By Z.Z. Packer
The New Yorker
A well-known classic by now, the title story from Z.Z. Packer’s stellar debut collection—which follows a young Black girl as she navigates the wealthy white environs of Yale—first appeared in The New Yorker in 2000 and is always worth revisiting.
By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah burst onto the scene in 2018 with his collection Friday Black, lauded for the ways his stories play on dystopian and science-fiction tropes to interrogate the very real horrors of being a minority in America now—perhaps none more so than “The Era,” where Black students must be injected with a drug called Good to behave.
By Nafissa Thompson-Spires
The little comma in the title feels like the key to Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ bracing story “Suicide, Watch,” which appears in her debut collection Heads of Colored People, about a Black teenager who keeps altering her suicide plan to keep up with her social media feed.
By Brandon Taylor
Brandon Taylor’s debut novel Real Life was a 2020 Booker finalist and his collection Filthy Animals, due later this year, is highly anticipated. For those wanting to get a sneak peek at his shorter work, “French Absolutism,” about an exam proctor struggling with a recent betrayal, is a great place to start.
“What’s For Sale“
By Nicole Dennis-Benn
Jamaican-born writer Nicole Dennis-Benn has written two acclaimed novels set in her homeland, reexamining its history from a defiantly queer perspective. Rich with the sultry heat and lively dialects of the island, her short story “What’s For Sale” is the perfect antidote for your winter blues.
By Bryan Washington
Bryan Washington’s 2018 collection Lot—a kaleidoscopic portrait of his hometown of Houston—was a Lambda Award and NYPL Young Lion’s winner. “Sunflowers,” which was part of the Boston Review’s Global Dystopias project, goes a bit further afield, but Washington’s eye for the complicating detail stays intact.
By Sidik Fofana
Sidik Fofana is a relatively new writer on the scene but excitement is already building for his debut collection Our Tenants Downstairs, a set of linked narratives about residents of a low-income housing project in Harlem—to come out from Scribner; get a sneak peek of what’s in store with “Dangerous Deliveries.”
By John Edgar Wideman
An elder statesman of the short story form, John Edgar Wideman has long been one of its most admired practitioners. A beautiful volume of his collected work is forthcoming in April, but for those who want a taste of his preeminent style now, “Williamsburg Bridge” should sate appetites until then.
By Nnedi Okorafor
Well-known to science fiction fans for her Africa-based genre work, which has won the World Fantasy, Hugo, and Nebula Awards, Nnedi Okorafor takes inspiration from real life for this standalone short story. Based on a teenage girl in Nigeria who burned herself alive in 2002, Okorafor rewrites this painful event as a tale of empowerment instead of tragedy.
“Milk Blood Heat“
By Dantiel W. Moniz
Hyped up by everyone from Lauren Groff to Oprah herself, Dantiel W. Moniz is a talent on the rise. Readers wanting to see what all the fuss is about should check out “Milk Blood Heat,” the bewitching title story from her collection coming out this month with Grove Press.
“Bear Bear Harvest“
By Venita Blackburn
Virginia Quarterly Review
Venita Blackburn’s debut collection Black Jesus and Other Superheroes won the 2016 Prairie Schooner Prize and was a finalist for a bunch of other prestigious awards. Her next book is due later in 2021, and if “Bear Bear Harvest” is any indication, it’s sure to be a rip-roaring time.
“Beg Borrow Steal“
By Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Kenyon Review Online
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel We Cast a Shadow was an electrifying satire of American race relations, equally evocative of Ralph Ellison and Franz Kafka. If his upcoming collection wasn’t already on your must read list, “Beg Borrow Steal”—about a son tagging along as his recently incarcerated father looks for work—will put it there.
“How to Kill Gra’ Coleman and Live to Tell About It (Vauxhall, NJ, c. 1949)“
By Kim Coleman Foote
There’s nothing more exciting than discovering a writer on the verge, and Kim Coleman Foote certainly qualifies with several awards and fellowships already to her name. “How to Kill Gra’ Coleman” draws on family history to weave a complex American portrait, and proves Foote to be a talent worth keeping on your radar.
By Gabriel Bump
Gabriel Bump burst onto the scene last year with his debut novel Everywhere You Don’t Belong, which was a finalist for the 2020 CHIRBy Award in fiction. This story features much of what makes Bump a joy to read—excellent dialogue, rhythmic and understated prose, and an incredible sense of tenderness. He’s a writer you don’t want to miss.
“Books and Roses“
By Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi is one of Britain’s most prolific young literary stars, blending Borges’s penchant for metatextual gambits with the feminist fairy tales of Angela Carter into something wholly her own. “Books and Roses,” about a very special key, is a standout from her 2016 collection What is Not Yours is Not Yours.
“God’s Gonna Trouble the Water“
By Randall Kenan
The loss of Randall Kenan last year was an immense one, but the gifts of his short stories will always be with readers. His collection If I Had Two Wings was longlisted for the National Book Award last year, and reading “God’s Gonna Trouble the Water,” a deeply moving portrait of a woman surveying a hurricane’s aftermath, it’s not hard to see why.
“What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky“
By Lesley Nneka Arimah
What if it was possible to “fix the equation of a person?” Lesley Nneka Arimah explores that provocative question in the title story from her 2017 collection, where a near-future world riven by class divides and climate disasters is rendered with bone-chilling clarity.
“The City Born Great“
By N.K. Jemisin
Speaking of visions of the future, N.K. Jemisin is one of the most exciting science fiction writers on the scene right now, winning Hugo Awards left and right for her Broken Earth trilogy. This standalone piece, about a midwife who must learn to “birth” New York City, was featured in her first story collection, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month.
By Rion Amilcar Scott
Chess took our quarantined hearts by storm late last year with the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, but Rion Amilcar Scott was already way ahead of the trend with his piercing, intimate story “202 Checkmates,” which appeared in his 2016 collection Insurrections and is set—like much of his work—in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland.
“All This Want and I Can’t Get None“
By Tia Clark
Tia Clark braids humor with humanity to capture the aches of queer adolescence. Their prose is rich with small shocks and big comforts. In this story by the New Orleans-based writer, two young friends lose their innocence but find possibility in the space it leaves behind.
“Wet Paper Grass“
By Jasmon Drain
CHIRBy finalist Jasmon Drain’s short story collection Stateway’s Garden is an instant Chicago classic. Like Dybek or Cisneros, “Wet Paper Grass” lets the reader see the city through the eyes of a young narrator—offering moments of stunning beauty filtered through nostalgia and childlike wonder—while also taking a critical eye at it. If you savor every sentence, you’ll feel the rush of cars on the Dan Ryan and the rumble of the L in his words.
“Emperor of the Universe“
By Kaitlyn Greenidge
Award-winning novelist Kaitlyn Greenidge made a name for herself as a gifted reimaginer of history with her 2016 debut We Love You, Charlie Freeman. But she’s equally adept with the short form, as evidenced by “Emperor of the Universe,” an intimate look at a very unique marriage told in the second person.
“Ark of Light“
By Victor LaValle
A longtime favorite of genre fans and literary fiction readers alike, Victor LaValle is an unsparing social commentator no matter what universe he’s writing in. “Ark of Light,” which originally appeared in the anthology Particulates edited by Nalo Hopkinson, is a speculative story to make you shiver.
By Ladee Hubbard
This story, from an Ernest J. Gaines and Rona Jaffee Award-winning novelist, about how language and grammar can be weaponized against Black students, offers a great preview for Ladee Hubbard’s short story collection Blinking What, set to publish in 2022.
“Whiskey & Ribbons“
By Leesa Cross-Smith
Kentucky-based author Leesa Cross-Smith explores the painful contours of grief in this excerpt from her debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons, a new Southern classic which follows the widow of a police officer killed in the line of duty as she attempts to navigate her anger and desire in the aftermath of tragedy.
“A Selfish Invention“
By Donald Quist
Many of the characters in Donald Quist’s collection For Other Ghosts are haunted, though in the spiritual rather than physical sense. His feel for the connective tissue that binds us all is beautifully present in “A Selfish Invention,” which is paired here on Storychord with an original composition by twenty-three as transporting as Quist’s prose.
By Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay needs no introduction at this point, but if you only know her from her incisive and hilarious Twitter account and/or essay collections, or want to reacquaint yourself with her short fiction, this flash story about what happens when two bodies come together is a quick but memorable starting point.