To kick off this Black History Month, check out five new books by Black authors that include moving explorations of the past, bold visions of the future, and sage advice for the present.

Medgar and Myrlie: Medgar Evers and the Love Story That Awakened America

Joy-Ann Reid. Mariner, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-063-06879-7
MSNBC host Reid (The Man Who Sold America) presents a moving dual biography of civil rights icon Medgar Evers (1925–1963) and his wife, Myrlie, born in 1933. The two met and fell in love in 1950 as college students in Mississippi. They married in 1951, and Myrlie took care of their three children as Medgar became increasingly active in opposing racism; in 1952, he was a founding member of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, and, in 1954, he became the NAACP’s field secretary for Mississippi. Myrlie grew concerned as her husband’s visibility made him a target for racists, and her worst fears were realized when Medgar was gunned down in the family’s driveway in 1963. His murderer, white nationalist Byron De La Beckwith, was quickly arrested, but evaded conviction by two all-white juries. However, Myrlie’s lobbying of the district attorney and collaboration with a local reporter eventually led to a new trial that resulted in De La Beckwith’s conviction in 1994. Along the way, Myrlie became a national civil rights leader herself, serving as the NAACP’s national chair in 1995. Reid’s access to Myrlie and the couple’s two surviving children enables her to make their tragic yet ultimately inspiring story accessible and human, while still firmly conveying Medgar and Myrlie’s courageousness. This is a rousing tribute to a legendary American family. (Feb.)

How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: A Decolonial Memoir

Shayla Lawson. Tiny Reparations, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-47258-3
In this forceful memoir-in-essays, poet Lawson (This Is Major) shares the lessons they’ve learned from their travels across America and abroad. Lawson divides the book into 17 sections—“On Blackness,” “On Privilege,” “On Love,” “On Liberation,” and more—that range from Zimbabwe to Portugal to the American Midwest. The tone is predictably, though not excessively, poetic: “On Firsts” sees Lawson “attending” a Prince concert in Minneapolis from their mother’s womb, “just a thrum under the heartbeat,” witnessing “a black and brilliant world... a promiscuity that understands destruction.” “On Beauty” depicts Lawson’s nervous sexual awakening in Venice, Italy, describing how “having the language of beauty applied to me would leave me so terribly scared” when their gondolier boyfriend sang to them under their window. “On Dancer” is named for the dog who “poured into [Lawson] like no spirit had before,” helping them through their divorce from an unfaithful Dutch husband while they were living in Bloomington, Ind. No matter the setting, Lawson’s sentences astonish, and while the volume lacks a firm narrative through line, the author’s commitment to unsentimental self-examination is inspiring enough to sustain readers’ attention. The final product is both vivid and galvanizing. (Feb.)

Radical Reparations: Healing the Soul of a Nation

Marcus Anthony Hunter. Amistad, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-063-00472-6
Inspired by the work of W.E.B. DuBois, Derrick Bell, and Octavia Butler, sociologist Hunter (Chocolate Cities) offers an imaginative and exhilarating vision of slavery as “a founding premise of the current human condition,” utilizing this idea as a launch point for his argument that “radical reparations” need to extend beyond the merely financial. In between autobiographical chapters in which he lays out his philosophical and sociological framework, Hunter unspools three alternate-history “parables” that demonstrate the broad societal impact of slavery and colonialism. The first takes place in an alternative America in which the fulfillment of Civil War general William T. Sherman’s promise of 40 acres to repay formerly enslaved people has yielded a Black territory in South Carolina on the verge of gaining independence. The second imagines that Zionist plans for a Jewish settlement in Uganda came to fruition and delineates the impact on the local African people as the settlers begin to abandon the area for a newly formed Israel. The third narrates a multi-century family history about the descendants of Nigerians kidnapped into Arab slavery, tracking their escape from India, establishment of successful business ventures in South Africa, and later political struggle against apartheid. Evocatively portraying the unresolved damage that slavery, racism, and displacement have on the descendants of those who first experience it, Hunter’s uncanny parables refract the violent contours of today’s world. Readers will be spellbound. (Feb.)

Imagination: A Manifesto

Ruha Benjamin. Norton, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-1-324-02097-4
Benjamin (Viral Justice) posits in this wide-ranging treatise that “collective imagination” will be a key force behind the creation of an emerging new social order. Arguing that the world is “between stories” (quoting historian Thomas Berry) and thus ready to discard dead ideas of racism and nationalism and dream new social arrangements into being, Benjamin asserts that “it matters whose imaginations get to materialize as our shared future.” She cautions that society is in danger of being ensnared by the quasi-utopias on offer from tech titans, where the well-off escape problems rather than solve them and technology is used to police and surveil regular people. Benjamin goes on to critique other realms of failed imagination, including America’s education system (“a site of spirit murder”) and prison system. She highlights projects that, in her view, direct collective imagination toward more just and humane outcomes, ranging from experiments in data sovereignty in Barcelona to a virtual reality art installation honoring Breonna Taylor’s life. Throughout, Benjamin’s roving narrative moves nimbly between topics to make her case (at one exemplary point she pauses her analysis of a documentary on creative writing programs for prisoners to note how it reminds her of a line from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: “Could a creature without a human spirit create such heart-wrenching paintings?”). It’s a powerful exhortation for society to point its dreams toward the collective good. (Feb.)

Dear Black Girls: How to Be True to You

A’Ja Wilson. Flatiron, $24.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-250-29004-5
Las Vegas Aces star Wilson, two-time winner of the WNBA’s MVP award, debuts with a down-to-earth meditation on the complexities of Black girlhood. Avoiding prescriptive advice in favor of diaristic reflections, Wilson recalls such formative experiences as wrestling with dyslexia in a majority-white private school while dreaming of becoming an author; slowly rising to basketball success with the help of father, who coached her travel team and “told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear,” even when that meant calling her play “trash” (she encourages readers to find their own “gardeners” willing to show them tough love so they can grow); and enduring crushing grief after her grandmother’s death. Pushed by the latter experience to start therapy, Wilson calls for greater openness about mental health in the Black community. She strikes a voluble, friendly tone without pandering to her audience, and avoids sugarcoating the realities facing Black women while making clear that they need not resort to cynicism: “You have a body. You are Black. You are a woman. Whether you like it or not, that’s the first thing people see... but you can accept this reality without letting it steal your joy.” Readers will feel seen and heard. Agent: Byrd Leavell, UTA. (Feb.)