Celebrate Juneteenth with 19 Lit Shark Picks for June 19th


Happy Wednesday, readers, writers, and shark fans, and Happy Juneteenth!

On June 19, 1865, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln manumitted all enslaved people in the Confederate states, Union Army general Gordon Granger announced the news of freedom to enslaved people in Texas, making them the last in the formerly Confederate South to get word of emancipation. The next year, beginning in the Black churches of Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth began as an observation and celebration of this belated end to bondage. The fine print: This commemoration of slavery’s end is a lesson in how its power persisted. Two years ago, the Biden administration established the emancipation date as an official holiday in the form of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is an incredible time of year. The bliss of the first days of summer, combined with a holiday that explicitly honors the resilience of Black Americans, creates confidence that collective liberation is possible and stokes a remembrance that radical imagination is essential to our communal liberation!

We’re honored to take part in Juneteenth, so for June 19th, here are 19 reading recommendations: 

Note: There are more “obvious” titles we could have chosen, but we wanted to pick titles that are not so commonly recommended. So while we could talk about Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes FOR DAYS, here are some titles we think deserve more attention than they’re getting and which we think you may have not read or heard about yet. 


First, A Poem!

Admittedly, I’ll be recommending a book by Danez Smith on this list, but I want to get us started with one of his poems, and that is “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” which appeared in his book, Black Movie. Danez Smith has been one of my favorite poets for a long time, and “Dinosaurs in the Hood” is one of my favorite poems and always the first I bring out for Juneteenth, the beginning of Black History Month, and more.


Let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood.
Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.
There should be a scene where a little black boy is playing
with a toy dinosaur on the bus, then looks out the window
& sees the T. Rex, because there has to be a T. Rex. (duh, it’s a dinosaur movie, what d’you think?)
Don’t let Tarantino direct this. In his version, the boy plays
with a gun, the metaphor: black boys toy with their own lives,
the foreshadow to his end, the spitting image of his father.
Fuck that, the kid has a plastic Brontosaurus or Triceratops
& this is his proof of magic or God or Santa. (Dinosaur Santa.) I want a scene
where a cop car gets pooped on by a pterodactyl, a scene
where the corner store turns into a battleground. Don’t let
the Wayans brothers in this movie. I don’t want any racist shit
about Asian people or overused Pan-Latino stereotypes.
This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —
children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors
with the guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. But this can’t be
a black movie. This can’t be a black movie. This movie can’t be dismissed
because of its cast or its audience. This movie can’t be a metaphor
for black people & extinction. This movie can’t be about race.
This movie can’t be about black pain or cause black people pain.
This movie can’t be about a long history of having a long history with hurt.
This movie can’t be about race. Nobody can say [n-word] in this movie
who can’t say it to my face in public. No chicken jokes in this movie.
No bullets in the heroes. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills
the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. (For once, nobody kills the black boy.) Besides, the only reason
I want to make this is for that first scene anyway: the little black boy
on the bus with a toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless
his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.

See Danez Smith Perform “Dinosaurs in the Hood” Here:


5 Nonfiction Books for Juneteenth

Nonfiction, Social Theory, Memoir


Hood Feminism by Mikki KendallHOOD FEMINISM

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot

Written by Mikki Kendall

Penguin Books (February 25, 2020), 287 pages



Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. All too often the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Mikki Kendall asks, when there is a distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others? An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed.

How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. KendiHOW TO BE ANTIRACIST

How to Be Antiracist

Written by Ibram X. Kendi

One World (August 13, 2019), 543 pages

ASIN: B07D2364N5


In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.

I'm Still Here by Austin Channing BrownI’M STILL HERE

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Written by Austin Channing Brown

Convergent Books (May 15, 2018), 175 pages



From a leading voice on racial justice, an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female that exposes how white America’s love affair with “diversity” so often falls short of its ideals. Channing invites readers to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness—if we let it—can save us all.

The Study of Human Life by Joshua BennettTHE STUDY OF HUMAN LIFE

The Study of Human Life

Written by Joshua Bennet

Penguin Books (September 20, 2022), 142 pages



Joshua Bennett further extends his range into the realm of speculative fiction, while addressing issues as varied as abolition, Black ecological consciousness, and the boundless promise of parenthood.

Shoutin' in the Fire by Dante StewartSHOUTIN’ IN THE FIRE

Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle

Written by Danté Stewart

Convergent Books (October 12, 2021), 264 pages



Danté Stewart gives breathtaking language to his reckoning with the legacy of white supremacy—both the kind that hangs over our country and the kind that is internalized on a molecular level. Stewart uses his personal experiences as a vehicle to reclaim and reimagine spiritual virtues like rage, resilience, and remembrance—and explores how these virtues might function as a work of love against an unjust, unloving world.


7 Poetry Books for Juneteenth

Contemporary, Young Adult/Hybrid, Spoken Word


American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance HayesAMERICAN SONNETS FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin: Poems

Written by Terrance Hayes

Penguin Books (June 19, 2018), 101 pages



Finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; One of the New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2018

In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares. Inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered–the wonders of this new collection are irreducible and stunning.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBROWN GIRL DREAMING

Brown Girl Dreaming

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books; 1st edition (August 28, 2014), 365 pages



New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Winner

Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of Red at the Bone, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda GormanCALL US WHAT WE CARRY

Call Us What We Carry

Written by Amanda Gorman

Viking Books (December 7, 2021), 256 pages



The instant #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller. The breakout poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

Don't Call Us Dead by Danez SmithDON’T CALL US DEAD

Don’t Call Us Dead

Written by Danez Smith

Graywolf Press (September 5, 2017), 101 pages



Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, Winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection

“[Smith’s] poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy.”—The New Yorker

Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America—“Dear White America”—where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

Forest Primeval by Vievee FrancisFOREST PRIMEVAL

Forest Primeval: Poems

Written by Vievee Francis

TriQuarterly (November 30, 2015), 104 pages



Winner 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and Winner 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the Poetry category

Finalist 2015 Balcones Poetry Prize and Shortlist finalist 2015 PEN Open Book Award for an exceptional book by an author of color

“Another Anti-Pastoral,” the opening poem of Forest Primeval, confesses that sometimes “words fail.” With a “bleat in [her] throat,” the poet identifies with the voiceless and wild things in the composed, imposed peace of the Romantic poets with whom she is in dialogue. Vievee Francis’s poems engage many of the same concerns as her poetic predecessors—faith in a secular age, the city and nature, aging, and beauty. Words certainly do not fail as Francis sets off into the wild world promised in the title. The wild here is not chaotic but rather free and finely attuned to its surroundings. The reader who joins her will emerge sensitized and changed by the enduring power of her work.

Plantains and Our Becoming by Melania Luisa MartePLANTAINS AND OUR BECOMING

Plantains and Our Becoming: Poems

Written by Melania Luisa Marte

Tiny Reparations Books (August 22, 2023), 160 pages



In this imaginative, blistering poetry collection, poet and musician Melania Luisa Marte looks at the identities and histories of the Dominican Republic and Haiti to celebrate and center the Black diasporic experience. Through the exploration of themes like self-love, nationalism, displacement, generational trauma, and ancestral knowledge, this collection uproots stereotypes while creating a new joyous vision for Black identity and personhood. Plantains and Our Becoming is “a full-throated war cry; both a request for anointment and the responding bendición” (Elizabeth Acevedo).

Walking Gentry Home by Alora YoungWALKING GENTRY HOME

Walking Gentry Home: A Memoir of My Foremothers in Verse

Written by Alora Young

Hogarth (August 2, 2022), 209 pages



“Through verse, Young . . . reclaim[s] ownership of her own legacy, and future. If, as the spiritualist Ram Dass said, ‘we’re all just walking each other home,’ then Young has taken her ancestors’ hands, the ones who lived and died without the right to their full humanity, and walks them as far as she can down their own paths.”—Ashley C. Ford, The New York Times Book Review

Walking Gentry Home tells the story of Alora Young’s ancestors. The lives of these girls and women come together to form a unique American epic in verse, one that speaks of generational curses, coming of age, homes and small towns, fleeting loves and lasting consequences, and the brutal and ever-present legacy of slavery in our nation’s psyche. Together they form a heart-wrenching and inspiring family saga of girls and women connected through blood and history.


7 Fiction Books for Juneteenth

Contemporary, Historical, Theoretical, Literary, Suspense


Conjure Women by Afia AtakoraCONJURE WOMEN

Conjure Women: A Novel

Written by Afia Atakora

Random House (April 7, 2020), 417 pages



Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their enslaver’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Hell of a Book by Jason MottHELL OF A BOOK

Hell of a Book

Written by Jason Mott

Dutton (June 29, 2021), 333 pages



An astounding work of fiction from New York Times bestselling author Jason Mott, always deeply honest, at times electrically funny, that goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans and America as a whole. In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

As these characters’ stories build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America. Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?  Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years. And in its final twists, it truly becomes its title.

Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi


Homegoing: A Novel

Written by Yaa Gyasi

Vintage (June 7, 2016), 313 pages



Ghana, 18th century: two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem.

Juneteenth by Ralph EllisonJUNETEENTH

Juneteenth: A Novel

Written by Ralph Ellison

Vintage (June 1, 2011), 413 pages

ASIN: B004XW49D0


“Tell me what happened while there’s still time,” demands the dying Senator Adam Sunraider to the itinerate Negro preacher whom he calls Daddy Hickman. As a young man, Sunraider was Bliss, an orphan taken in by Hickman and raised to be a preacher like himself. Bliss’s history encompasses the joys of young southern boyhood; bucolic days as a filmmaker, lovemaking in a field in the Oklahoma sun. And behind it all lies a mystery: how did this chosen child become the man who would deny everything to achieve his goals? Brilliantly crafted, moving, wise, Juneteenth is the work of an American master.

Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth, published posthumously in 1999, was a novel in progress when Ellison died in 1994. His editor, believing he’d want it to see the light of day, condensed nearly 2,000 pages into a 368-page novel.

Liberte by Kaitlyn GreenidgeLIBERTE

Liberte: A Novel

Written by Kaitlyn Greenridge

Algonquin Books (March 30, 2021), 332 pages



Set in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, this an unforgettable story about one young Black girl’s attempt to find a place where she can be fully, and only, herself. Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, this novel presents a deep, moving, and lyrical dive into our past.

The Underground Railroad by Colson WhiteheadTHE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

The Underground Railroad: A Novel

Written by Colson Whitehead

Anchor (August 2, 2016), 300 pages



Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him. In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop.

The Water Dancer by Ta Nehisi CoatesTHE WATER DANCER

The Water Dancer: A Novel

Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates

One World (September 24, 2019), 417 pages



In his boldly imagined first novel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Mebrings home the most intimate evil of enslavement: the cleaving and separation of families. This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.


Bonus: 1 Juneteenth-Worthy Title Coming Out This September

Futuristic, Dystopian, Satirical


Sky Full of Elephants by Cebo CampbellSKY FULL OF ELEPHANTS

I had the wonderful privilege of sitting in on a fall preview panel for highly anticipated books coming out in Fall and Winter 2024-2025, and one of the titles that was discussed was Cebo Campbell’s Sky Full of Elephants, which is a futuristic, dystopian, and smartly satirical story in which white people do not exist, and Black people are working through what it means to be Black, realizing how little progress has been made for Black people, and being confronted with how little they’ve been educated/educated themselves on these issues. Literary agent Olivia Taylor Smith loved the book for its power to encourage empathy, and the plot and writing style call up the works of Jericho Brown and Colson Whitehead, as well as The Poisons We Drink by Bethany Baptiste and The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid for me. I cannot wait for everyone to have a chance to read this book.

Sky Full of Elephants, Available on September 10, 2024

Written by Cebo Campbell

Represented by Olivia Taylor Smith

Simon & Schuster (September 10, 2024)



In a world without white people, what does it mean to be black?

One day, a cataclysmic event occurs: all of the white people in America walk into the nearest body of water. A year later, Charlie Brunton is a Black man living in an entirely new world. Having served time in prison for a wrongful conviction, he’s now a professor of electric and solar power systems at Howard University when he receives a call from someone he wasn’t even sure existed: his daughter Sidney, a nineteen-year-old left behind by her white mother and step-family.

Traumatized by the event, and terrified of the outside world, Sidney has spent a year in isolation in Wisconsin. Desperate for help, she turns to the father she never met, a man she has always resented. Sidney and Charlie meet for the first time as they embark on a journey across a truly “post-racial” America in search for answers. But neither of them are prepared for this new world and how they see themselves in it.

Heading south toward what is now called the Kingdom of Alabama, everything Charlie and Sidney thought they knew about themselves, and the world, will be turned upside down. Brimming with heart and humor, Cebo Campbell’s astonishing debut novel is about the power of community and connection, about healing and self-actualization, and a reckoning with what it means to be Black in America, in both their world and ours.



“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglass

Happy Reading and Happy Celebrating, Readers, Writers, and Shark Fans

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. You will not be charged extra, but a portion of your purchase will help support Lit Shark’s causes in inclusive and accessible literature and writing resources, as well as our growing movement in conversation education, rescue, and revitalization.

Related Posts

Written By McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan (she/her/hers) lives and writes in Europe with her family (originally from the Midwest). In addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of Lit Shark Magazine and the Banned Book Review, she is a novelist, poet, and book reviewer. She received her MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan University and her BA in English/BS in Education from Indiana University South Bend, where she began her work in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, Young Ravens Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Encore Magazine, among others; and her book reviews and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Green Mountains Review, Memoir Mixtapes, The Life Collective, Her Journal, Motherly, and more. When not writing, she enjoys reading, appreciating nature, and spending time with her husband and three children.




Submit a Comment