The unsung heroes in U.S. history are Black Americans, who have played a central role in the culture and creation that is America today. No cultural space has gone untouched by either Black labor, creativity or genius, but that substantial impact is rarely highlighted in U.S. schools and media. Thankfully, more and more literature about the Black experience and contribution has emerged over the past few years, with hopefully much more to come. This February, celebrate Black History Month with these semirecently published books about Black lives in America. 

“A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance”

by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House, $18). 

New York Times bestselling author of “Go Ahead in the Rain” lifts the complexity of Blackness in this brilliant collection of essays on what it means to be Black in America and how Black performance is an essential part of the American story. With lyrical and beautiful writing, Abdurraqib weaves history, politics, personal stories and music to create educational content with a stirring memoir feel. “Hanif Abdurraqib has undoubtedly become a part of the history he chronicles in ‘A Little Devil in America,’” writes Washington Independent Review of Books writer Colin Asher, “a Black artist who has revealed himself to a country that has yet to reconcile itself entirely to the fact of his humanity, never mind his talent.”

“The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation”

by Anna Malaika Tubbs (Flatiron Books, $28.99).

The saying goes, “’Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” In this groundbreaking debut from Anna Malaika Tubbs, the scholar celebrates Black motherhood by diving deep into the stories of the women who birthed and raised the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin, some of America’s most pivotal heroes. “Tubbs’s portrait is an intimate narrative that aims to link not only Little, King and Baldwin, but all Black mothers, including herself,” writes New York Times reviewer Kristal Brent Zook.

“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019”

by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World, $20).

For those looking for a comprehensive and in-depth read about Black American history, “Four Hundred Souls,” curated by “How To Be an Antiracist” author Ibram X. Kendi and historian Keisha N. Blain, is an engrossing and essential choice. The pair assembled almost 100 prominent Black writers to create an anthology that examines 400 years of Black U.S. history, starting with the arrival of 20 enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619. (Similarly, also check out Nikole Hannah-Jones’ fall 2021 release, “The 1619 Project.”) Chances are, the experiences and stories in this impressive and illuminating collection are ones never heard of before. Each poem or essay offers information that forces the reader to learn, and possibly unlearn the history taught in the curriculum on race in America. 

“Black Girl, Call Home”

by Jasmine Mans (Berkley, $15).

Jasmine Mans’ raw and relevant poetry collection explores what comes with being a Black, queer woman as a daughter of Newark, New Jersey, and America. From Hollywood to sexual identity, racial inequality, and so much more, Mans’ words are unflinching, rhythmic and lyrical. A Publishers Weekly review called the book timely and powerful, saying, “Mans refuses binary distinctions, revealing that the ways society thinks of masculine power proves as harmful to men as it does to women.”

“Such Color”

by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press, $26). 

How does a history of trauma affect the present? What does hate do to the body and spirit? How does hope transcend? In this retrospective poetry collection from Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, featuring poems from her four previous collections alongside 18 new works, Smith’s signature voice confronts America’s historical and contemporary racism and injustices. “Underscoring both the consistency of her talent and the fine hand in curating this collection, it feels as if it is all one ever-deepening conversation she is having with herself, with the ancestors, with this world, and with us,” Mandana Chaffa writes in the Chicago Review of Books

This story was updated on Feb. 3 at 9:31 a.m. to replace a book that was originally published in this list but did not reflect Black experiences.