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5 Environmental Books by Black Authors

What environmental books written by black authors do you have on your bookshelf? Check out these five great books, some fiction and others nonfiction, all with a focus on environmental justice or climate change and written by great Black authors. Request them from your library or purchase them from your local bookshop and add them to your bookshelf.

How many environmental books have you read, both fiction and non-fiction? Of those books, how many were written by White authors, Black authors, Indigenous authors, or others? With the call to Blackout Our Bookshelves this week, I made a concerted effort to find environmental books written by Black voices. 

Not surprisingly, I had a pretty hard time finding them. Black authors have historically been underrepresented in publishing and underrepresented in environmental arenas. Thus, the lack of representation in the area where these spaces meet is particularly limited. 

To create more space for Black authors on the environmental literature and non-fiction bookstore shelves, we can start by reading their books in greater numbers. Buy the books from independent bookstores if it’s in your budget. Request them from your library and let you know librarians know you want to read them if they aren’t already on the shelves. Librarians pay great attention to circulation frequency and requests when determining what books to add and keep on their shelves. 

5 Environmental Books by Black Authors

To get you (and me) started on incorporating more Black authors on our environmental bookshelves, here are five books written by Black authors about environmental matters, sustainability, and climate change to considering adding your collection. They run the gamut from dystopian climate fiction to deep and technical research, and they all have something to offer as we broaden our environmental literacy. 

A Terrible Thing To Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington

From injuries caused by lead poisoning to the devastating effects of atmospheric pollution, infectious disease, and industrial waste, Americans of color are harmed by environmental hazards in staggeringly disproportionate numbers. This systemic onslaught of toxic exposure and institutional negligence causes irreparable physical harm to millions of people across the country-cutting lives tragically short and needlessly burdening our health care system. But these deadly environments create another insidious and often overlooked consequence: robbing communities of color, and America as a whole, of intellectual power.

Washington takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism – a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services.

I read this book a month or so ago and shared a full review of the book here

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman

In 1920, 14 percent of all land-owning US farmers were black. Today less than 2 percent of farms are controlled by black people–a loss of over 14 million acres and the result of discrimination and dispossession. While farm management is among the whitest of professions, farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited, and people of color disproportionately live in “food apartheid” neighborhoods and suffer from diet-related illness. The system is built on stolen land and stolen labor and needs a redesign.

As noted in my review from earlier this year, this book seems to have two main intentions. First, the book offers technical skills to educate Black people about how to start their own farms, though this guide is very detailed and can be used by anyone interested in starting their own sustainable farm or garden.

Second, the book strives to uplift stories of African-heritage people who have advocated for and advanced sustainable agriculture throughout history. Various sections throughout the book discuss how African-heritage cultural and ethnic groups from around the globe, and especially the Caribbean and Africa, have used sustainable habits to foster farming and food production success in their communities for centuries.

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

This book is a dystopian climate fiction novel looking ahead to what might become of the coastal areas, like New Orleans and the Louisiana Delta, that are drowning in rising sea levels as a result of global warming. We don’t know what the future of climate change will bring for sure, but this fictional account offers one perspective of what might come to be. 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Dark and complex, what if climate change brings the end of the world as we know it? This is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy that has won the Hugo Award. 

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

A vivid reminder that the people most impacted by climate change are often the most vulnerable, with the least access to political power, Okorafor’s novel set in post-apocalypse Africa is a gorgeous mix of politics and poetry, cli-fi and fantasy. The title character, Onyesonwu, whose name means “Who Fears Death,” comes into her own powers in an annihilated world, while seeking to solve the mystery of who, or what, is trying to destroy her. This novel has been optioned to become an HBO series, so it might be coming from the book to television soon as well. 

Do you have any environmental or climate change books written by Black authors? If so, please share them in the comments! I would love to add more to my reading list and share the titles with others. 

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