Published February 16, 2022

In anticipation of the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book, we scoured the “Best of 2021” reading lists of awards, recognitions, and assorted praise for authors and books published in 2021. We were thrilled to see so many 2022 Festival speakers on lists from The New York Times to Virginia Living.

Further, as we celebrate Black History Month in February, we would like to draw attention to a handful of these highly-recognized authors, whose work also prompts readers to learn about and honor Black history and the contributions and lives of African Americans, directly or obliquely. Keep reading to learn about these Festival books…

S. A. Cosby, Razorblade Tears

About the book: Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.

NPR Best Books of 2021 ▴ New York Times Notable Books of 2021 ▴ Washington Post’s Best Thriller and Mystery Books of the Year ▴ TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2021 ▴ New York Public Library’s Best Books of the Year ▴ Goodreads Choice Award Nominee ▴ Book of the Month’s Book of the Year Finalist

Don’t miss S.A. Cosby at Thrillers for a Wild Ride on Saturday, March 19

Rita Dove, Playlist for the Apocalypse

About the book: Rita Dove investigates the vacillating moral compass guiding America’s, and the world’s, experiments in democracy. Whether depicting the first Jewish ghetto in sixteenth-century Venice or the contemporary efforts of Black Lives Matter, a girls’ night clubbing in the shadow of World War II or the doomed nobility of Muhammad Ali’s conscious objector stance, this extraordinary poet never fails to connect history’s grand exploits to the triumphs and tragedies of individual lives. At turns audaciously playful and grave, alternating poignant meditations on mortality and acerbic observations of injustice, Playlist for the Apocalypse takes us from the smallest moments of redemption to catastrophic failures of the human soul.

NPR Best Books of 2021 ▴ New York Times Notable Books of 2021 ▴ BookMarks Reviews Best Reviewed Books of 2021: Poetry ▴ Finalist for the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work: Poetry

Don’t miss Rita Dove at Poetry for Today: Readings by Victoria Chang and Rita Dove on Sunday, March 20

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, My Monticello

About the book: A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe. Tough-minded, vulnerable, and brave, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s precisely imagined debut explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging. 

Longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction ▴ #3 on TIME Magazine’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2021 ▴ A New York Times Notable Book of the Year ▴ One of The Washington Post’s 50 Notable Works of Fiction ▴ NPR: Books We Love 2021 ▴ Christian Science Monitor: Best Reads of 2021 ▴ Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Top 10 Southern Books of 2021 ▴ Kirkus Best Books of 2021: Best Debut and Best Short Fiction ▴ Kirkus Reviews’s “11 Great Fiction Writers Who Made Debuts in 2021″ ▴ A Bookforum Best Book of the Year ▴ Washington Independent Review of Books: Our 51 Favorite Books of 2021 ▴ One of New York Public Library’s Best Books for Adults ▴ LitHub: The Best Reviewed Short Story Collections of 2021 ▴ One of Virginia Living’s Favorite Books of 2021 ▴ A 2021 favorite book of Roxane Gay on Goodreads

Don’t miss Jocelyn Nicole Johnson in two festival events: My Monticello with Jocelyn Nicole Johnson on Friday, March 18 and Southern Landscapes: Real and Imagined on Saturday, March 19

Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets

About the book: Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.

Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award ▴ Best Book of the Year: NPRThe Washington PostBoston GlobeTIMEUSA TodayEntertainment WeeklyReal SimpleParadeBuzzfeedElectric LiteratureLitHubBookRiotPopSugarGoopLibrary JournalBookBub ▴ KCRW ▴ One of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year ▴ One of the New York Times Best Historical Fiction of the Year

Don’t miss Robert Jones, Jr. at NBF Presents: An Afternoon with the National Book Awards on Saturday, March 19

Amber McBride, Me(Moth)

About the book: Moth has lost her family in an accident. Though she lives with her aunt, she feels alone and uprooted. Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover the history she carries in her bones.

Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature ▴ A 2022 Willam C. Morris Award Finalist ▴ A BookPage Best Book of 2021 ▴ A Best Book of 2021, Shelf AwarenessNPR Best Book of the Year, 2021 ▴ A School Library Journal Best Book of 2021 ▴ A TIME Magazine Best Children’s Book of 2021 ▴ People‘s Best Children’s Books of 2021

Don’t miss Amber McBride in two Festival events on Saturday, March 19: Family, Friends and First Love: Young Adult Fiction and NBF Presents: An Afternoon with the National Book Awards

Reuben Jonathan Miller, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration

About the book: Reuben Jonathan Miller, a chaplain at the Cook County Jail in Chicago and is now a sociologist studying mass incarceration, spent years alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, their friends, and their families to understand the lifelong burden that even a single arrest can entail. What his work revealed is a simple, if overlooked truth: life after incarceration is its own form of prison. The idea that one can serve their debt and return to life as a full-fledge member of society is one of America’s most nefarious myths. Recently released individuals are faced with jobs that are off-limits, apartments that cannot be occupied and votes that cannot be cast.

PEN America 2022 John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist 2022 ▴ 2022 PROSE Awards Finalist ▴ 2022 PROSE Awards Category Winner for Cultural Anthropology and Sociology ▴ NPR: Books We Love 2021

Don’t miss Reuben Jonathan Miller at Halfway Home: A Conversation with Reuben Jonathan Miller on March 16

Jason Mott, Hell of a Book

About the book: 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.

2021 National Book Award Winner ▴ Winner of the 2021 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction ▴ Long-listed for the 2022 Carnegie Medal Fiction ▴ 2021 Joyce Carol Oates Prize ▴ 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize ▴ A Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick! ▴ An Ebony Magazine Publishing Book Club Pick! ▴ Washington Post‘s 50 Notable Works of Fiction ▴ Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Best Books of 2021 ▴ Shelf Awareness’s Top Ten Fiction Titles of the Year ▴ TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books ▴ NPR: Books We Love 2021 ▴ EW’s “Guide to the Biggest and Buzziest Books of 2021” ▴ New York Public Library’s Best Books for Adults ▴ Atlanta Journal Constitution—Top 10 Southern Books of the Year ▴ One of the Guardian‘s (UK) Best Ten 21st Century Comic Novels ▴ One of USA Today‘s 5 Books Not to Miss and more…

Don’t miss Jason Mott at NBF Presents: An Afternoon with the National Book Awards on Saturday, March 19

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The Changing Tides of Appalachia

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