A Book Celebrating Black Joy: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2023

February 24, 2023 | Kasey K

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Black joy is all about inspiring, uplifting and supporting Black culture(s)! It's far past time to move beyond simply rehashing the traumatic history of Blackness in North America, and celebrate the strength, beauty and fullness of Black lives worldwide now and throughout history. 

Here's my recommendation for "a book celebrating Black joy":

It's Not All Downhill From Here

It's Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan

68-year-old Loretha Curry is truly living her best life: she owns a thriving business, has a happy marriage and surrounds herself with loyal friends. But she isn't tragedy-proof and when life throws her an unexpected twist, she will have to muster all her strength and resources to figure out how to move forward and find new kinds of joy.

Other categories:

  • a book about a person over age 65
  • a book about friendship
  • a book about survival

Staff Recommendations

These books were picked by our staff for "a book celebrating Black joy."

The Catch Me If You Can

The Catch Me If You Can: One Woman's Journey to Every Country in the World by Jessica Nabongo

The author and photographer, Jessica Nabongo, is believed to be the first Black woman to visit every country in the world. This book celebrates her adventures and features photography from her travels. As someone who has a very long bucket list of places to go, I found this book very inspiring!

Other categories:

  • a book about a land you would like to explore
  • a book that makes you happy

—Nalini, Senior Services Specialist

'Da Kink in My Hair

'Da Kink in My Hair by Trey Anthony

Anthony's play takes place at Novellette Campbell's hair salon in the Eglinton West neighbourhood of Toronto and centres on the experiences of the Black women who move in and out of Novellette's life and place of business. Featuring music and song, 'Da Kink started out as a Fringe Festival offering in 2001, has won multiple awards, had a brief stint as a TV show and just finished a run at Soulpepper in December 2022.

Other categories:

  • a book by a 2SLGBTQ+ author who is also part of another marginalized group
  • a play or screenplay
  • a book about friendship

—Sarah, Area Manager

Girl Gurl GRRRL

Girl Gurl Grrrl: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic by Kenya Hunt

A series of essays and reminiscences about the special power of feminism and sisterhood of Black women in navigating complex situations and elite institutions while thriving, succeeding and self-affirming.

Other categories:

  • a book with an alliterative title

Wash Day Diaries

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser

Wash Day Diaries is an ode to both Black hair and friendship. The four main characters in this graphic novel are great at lifting each other up and bringing joy into their lives. Like spending time at the salon, reading this book was a little bit of self-care. Highly recommend!

Other categories:

  • a book that makes you happy
  • a book about friendship

—Michael, Digital Content Lead

It's Always Been Ours

It's Always Been Ours: Rewriting the Story of Black Women's Bodies by Jessica Wilson

This book is incredibly smart and full of passion. As a health and wellness blogger, I found this book to be the perfect balance of frustration/analysis with the current belief system around health and wellness and a call to action. Wilson is a clinical dietician who has been investigating and helping black women with disordered eating since 2007. In this book, she uses a mix of her own experiences as a clinician, past and current data, and pop culture references to challenge us as readers: to reconsider what we think is a "good body," and to recognize that Black women’s ability to weaponize joy and build community can be healing.

Other categories:

  • a book by a 2SLGBTQ+ author who is also part of another marginalized group
  • a book about a person living with a non-apparent disability
  • a book about an optimistic future
  • a book you would recommend to your younger self
  • a book published this year

—Reagan, Librarian


To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness by Robin Coste Lewis

This book of poetry and photography is based on a collection of family photographs Lewis discovered following the death of her grandmother. As she puts it, the book is an effort to create an alternative to the usual ways stories about race are framed and looks at Black joy and human migration through the lens of her own family.

Other categories:

  • a book with multiple timelines

—Joel, Librarian


Maame by Jessica George

Smart, funny and deeply affecting, Jessica George's Maame deals with the themes of our time with humour and poignancy: from familial duty and racism to female pleasure, the complexity of love and the life-saving power of friendship. It explores what it feels like to be torn between two homes and cultures―and it celebrates finally being able to find where you belong. In Maame, Maddie attempts to find her own joy, awkwardly steps into the world of dating, fails, fails again, deals with her grief and then slowly through these experiences, finds her own voice and happiness.

Other categories:

  • a book about friendship
  • a book that makes you happy

—Nisha, Librarian

Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2023 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "la joie des Noirs" - there's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!

What would you recommend for "a book celebrating Black joy”? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.