The best poetry books that explore communities of color

Monique "Nikki" Murphy Author Of Home for Hurricanes: A Memoir of Resilience in Poetry and Prose
By Monique "Nikki" Murphy

The Books I Picked & Why

When We Make It

By Elisabet Velasquez

Book cover of When We Make It

Why this book?

This coming-of-age novel-in-verse beautifully captures the dynamics of survival in tough neighborhoods in a way that honors the humanity and nuance of the community—details that are too often lost in media and forgotten by the people that “make it out.” Through the lens of the Puerto Rican-American protagonist, Sarai, her family, and the neighborhood characters that are all too familiar, I was brought into the heart of pre-gentrified Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Puerto Rican culture to go on Sarai’s journey of self-discovery. We are sitting on the stoop, at the foot of the bed, in the back pew in conversation with Sarai. We see her, we hear her, we love her. And won’t ever forget her. We are left to reflect on what it really means to “make it.”

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Long Way Down

By Jason Reynolds

Book cover of Long Way Down

Why this book?

I absolutely loved this book! As an author of a memoir-in-verse, I am so impressed with how he chose to structure this story. Will, a fifteen-year-old Black boy with a gun in tow looks to avenge his brother’s murder but encounters several characters on the elevator ride that unlock a series of reflections, questions, and revelations. The creativity is mind-blowing! The poems had all the punch of a gangster and the tenderness of the boys that live within those tough exteriors. It captured the complicated nature of revenge, street life, and the seemingly endless and inescapable cycle of violence, while also letting us into the loving relationship of brotherhood with powerful emotion and imagery. It tore my heart up! I love these characters and this story.

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By Yrsa Daley-Ward

Book cover of Bone

Why this book?

Yrsa-Daley Ward is a complete sentence. Her work is everything and even Beyonce took note, bringing her on to write for Black Is King. Her debut poetry collection, Bone, introduced me to a perspective that I had not explored: that of a first-generation black British queer woman. Yet and still, her experience and words resonated so deeply, highlighting the interconnectivity of the African diaspora, and particularly, Black women. It shined a light on issues of sexual assault, religion, and society’s expectations of women, which are some of the same issues that I write about. And despite the trauma captured in the poems, it has an overarching inspirational message for all of us:

You will come away bruised. 

You will come away bruised 

but this will give you poetry.” 

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If They Come for Us: Poems

By Fatimah Asghar

Book cover of If They Come for Us: Poems

Why this book?

This book brought me into yet another new world. Fatimah Asghar is a Pakistani, Kashmiri, Muslim-American who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was orphaned as a child. The layers to her lived experience and perspective are so rich! If They Come For Us is an exploration of identity and coming of age in the absence of parental guidance. She exposed me to how issues of race, gender, sexuality, and violence manifest in other cultures and how it is so closely intertwined and reflective of the experiences of all marginalized people. It reinforced my understanding that we are truly more alike than we are different. The poems are beautifully written and have staying power.

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Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

Book cover of Clap When You Land

Why this book?

This novel-in-verse taught me about a significant historical event—the deadly plane crash, on which this story is based around. Elizabeth Acevedo was able to elevate that news story and make me think about the way media does not center the stories that deeply and almost exclusively impact immigrants. Though this is a fictitious tale of two half-sisters living in two different countries, it is written in the most truthful way. Acevedo’s detailed writing ensured I could just as vividly imagine the scenes, scenarios, and characters set in the Dominican Republic as the ones set in New York. Acevedo is able to maintain a sense of hope, love, and wonder while grounding the story in gritty and sometimes shitty reality—a hallmark of the books I fall in love with.

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