In honor of Black History Month, or more like using it as a good excuse, I’ve put together a list of black authors writing books that pagans should read. You should read them, but not just because they’re Black authors, and not just because these are all wonderful stories. Each of the these authors have written novels where they are thinking deeply about theology, deity, magic, and spirits. In my experience some of the most profoundly moving books people read are fiction. The highest expression of the modern philosopher is found in the novel. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did.
Kai Ashante Wilson is an emerging, award winning voice writing fantasy from a black perspective. I loved his book The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and how he interacts with the idea of deity and demigods. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a strong thread of LGBT woven through the book either, though I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-Canadian author who writes urban fantasy. Her work is so fun you forget to notice how profound it is. My favorite so far is Sister Mine, which features some amazing thread magic. I love how she writes and how she conceptualizes spirit and deity. If you liked Charles de Lint I’d highly recommend her to you.
Nnedi Okorafor’s work is beautiful and profound. I’ve avidly read her YA series Binti, and it’s well worth the read just for the math magic alone. That’s right, people: math magic. It’s so much more that that, and the way she flows between traditional science fiction tropes and more magical tropes reminds me of Dune. I also really loved her book Who Fears Death.
Octavia Butler is one of the greats. When she passed in 2006 I mourned. Her work was amazing and has profoundly influenced my thought. I know the book she is best known for is Kindred, but I would suggest any one interested in religion to read Parable of the Sower. In the tradition of Heinlein’s Valentine in A Stranger in a Strange Land she creates a character that is a messiah for a new age. Heinlein’s ideas were the basis of the Church of All Worlds, which is not mentioned much these days, except within Margot Adler’s history of paganism. When I was a baby pagan I knew people who were part of nests and many who had been influenced by Heinlein’s ideas. In Parable of the Sower, Butler presents the idea that God is Change. This rooting of deity in physics and the material world is something I think any pantheist should consider.
Toni Morrison should be a name everyone knows. I hope you know her name. She is one of the great writers of our time. If ancestor worship is a part of your spiritual practice, I highly recommend reading Beloved. It is an incredibly powerful book. I read it in my college Women’s Lit course and it transformed me. She forces us to confront our our own history and the idea of personal history, while taking the ghost story in a completely non-standard direction. I have seen how almost everyone can resonate with the veneration of the dead and how for many pagans, ancestor worship has become their primary practice. It’s not always an easy practice, and much of what needs to be done is healing work. Healing our ties to the dead is a life changing experience and one that Morrison captures so well.
This is only a short list, and certainly not complete. Feel free to comment with other authors you’d recommend. I’m always looking for a good book.
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