Born Free: A Renaissance Reading List

By Cierra Bland, Social Media Manager
August 4, 2022

Renaissance, the highly anticipated seventh studio album from Beyoncé, was released on July 29, 2022. One of the most celebrated entertainers of our time, Beyoncé’s work over the last several years has become an avenue to celebrate the artistry of Black women and queer communities. Never has this been as explicit as on Renaissance, which features, samples, and references cultural heavyweights like Grace Jones, Kevin Aviance, Donna Summer, Maya Angelou, and many more. 

To celebrate this joyful, wiggle-inducing album, here are 16 complementary books—one for each song—spanning classic science fiction, literary titans, new releases, and nonfiction cultural histories.

 

I'M THAT GIRL

“I didn't want this power (I ain't want it) / You know love is my weakness"

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

by Gabrielle Zevin

Two friends—often in love, but never lovers—come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

 

COZY

“She's a god (Ah-ooh), she's a hero (Ah-ooh) / She survived (Ah-ooh) all she been through”

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

by Saidiya Hartman

An exploration of the lives of young Black women in the early 20th century. Saidiya Hartman examines the revolution of Black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Free love, common-law and transient marriages, serial partners, cohabitation outside of wedlock, queer relations, and single motherhood were among the sweeping changes that altered the character of everyday life and challenged traditional beliefs. 

ALIEN SUPERSTAR

I'm too classy for this world, forever, I'm that girl / Feed you diamonds and pearls, ooh, baby / I'm too classy to be touched, I paid them all in dust”

Dawn

by Octavia Butler

Lilith lyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth—but for a price.

 

CUFF IT

“I feel like fallin' in love (fallin’ in love)”

Friends and Lovers

by Eric Jerome Dickey

In this sexy, soulful tale of love, betrayal, and friendship set in modern-day Los Angeles, the lives of four young Black people–two men and two women–are chronicled through the love and the laughter, as well as the heartache and pain, of not-so-everyday life. 

 

ENERGY

“All this good energy got you all in your feelings, feelings”

Flaming Iguanas

by Erika Lopez

Tomato Rodriguez hops on her motorcycle and embarks on the ultimate sea-to-shining-sea all-girl adventure—in a story that combines all the best parts of Alice in Wonderland and Easy Rider as Tomato crosses the country in search of the meaning of life, love, and the perfect post office.
 

BREAK MY SOUL

“I'm lookin' for motivation / I'm lookin' for a new foundation, yeah / And I'm on that new vibration"

The Ballad of Perilous Graves

by Alex Jennings

In a fantastical version of New Orleans where music is magic, a battle for the city's soul brews between two young mages, a vengeful wraith, and one powerful song in this vibrant and imaginative debut contemporary fantasy.

 

CHURCH GIRL

“I'm gonna love on me / Nobody can judge me but me / I was born free"

Sula

by Toni Morrison

Nel and Sula's devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the Black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald, and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life.

 

PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA

“Oh, we don't need the world's acceptance, they're too hard on me / They're too hard on you”

Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be

by Nichole Perkins

Combining her sharp wit, stellar pop culture sensibility, and trademark spirited storytelling, Nichole boldly tackles the damage done to women, especially Black women, by society’s failure to confront the myths and misogyny at its heart. By using her own life and loves as a unique vantage point, Nichole humorously and powerfully illuminates how to take the best pop culture has to offer and discard the harmful bits.

 

VIRGO’S GROOVE

“You're the love of my life / You're the love of my life”

Red Island House: A Novel

by Andrea Lee

Gorgeously evocative, Red Island House follows two decades in the life of Shay, an African American professor whose husband Senna, a brash and wealthy Italian businessman, builds her a dream house in Madagascar.

 

MOVE

“When the queen come through, part like the Red Sea / Move out the way”

I'll Never Write My Memoirs

by Grace Jones

Legendary influential performer Grace Jones offers a revealing account of her spectacular career and turbulent life, charting the development of a persona that has made her one of the world’s most recognizable artists.

 

HEATED

“It's been a lot of years, really think you gettin' one past me? / I gotta fan myself off / I gotta fan myself off / I gotta cool it down, heated”

Seven Days in June

by Tia Williams

Running into reclusive author Shane Hall at a literary event, bestselling erotica writer Eva Mercy reconnects with the man who broke her heart 20 years earlier. Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva's not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart.

 

THIQUE

“That's that jelly, baby, champagne and cherry, baby / That's that thick, that's that ball drop / That's that keep going, that's that never stop"

100 Boyfriends

by Brontez Purnell

Transgressive, foulmouthed, and brutally funny, this is a revelatory spiral into the imperfect lives of queer men desperately fighting the urge to self-sabotage. As they tiptoe through minefields of romantic, substance-fueled misadventure—from dirty warehouses and gentrified bars in Oakland to desolate farm towns in Alabama—Purnell’s characters strive for belonging in a world that dismisses them for being Black, broke, and queer. In spite of it—or perhaps because of it—they shine.

 

ALL UP IN YOUR MIND

“I try to get all up in your mind / It stops at a crime that I wanna make you mine”

New People

by Danzy Senna

Working on her dissertation while planning her wedding to her college sweetheart, Maria, a young woman from Brooklyn being featured in a documentary about mixed-heritage couples, risks the life she has worked so hard to achieve by fantasizing about a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria's perfect new life but also her very persona.

 

AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM

“This kind of love, big business”

Sugar: A Novel

by Bernice L. McFadden

In a debut novel that blends the rich, earthy atmosphere of the deep South and a voice imbued with spiritual grace, Bernice L. McFadden tells the story of two women: a modest, churchgoing wife and mother, and the young sex worker she befriends.

 

PURE/HONEY

“It should cost a billion to look this good / But she make it look еasy 'cause she got it (Check my tеchnique)”

And the Category Is…: Inside New York’s Vogue, House, and Ballroom Community

by Ricky Tucker

A love letter to the legendary Black and Latinx LGBTQ underground subculture, uncovering its abundant legacy and influence in popular culture. At the height of public intrigue and awareness about Ballroom, Tucker’s compelling narratives help us understand its relevance in pop culture, dance, public policy with regard to queer communities, and so much more. Welcome to the norm-defying realness of Ballroom.

 

SUMMER RENAISSANCE 

“It's so good, it's so good”

I Feel Love: Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, and How They Reinvented Music

by Dave Thompson

A celebratory look at how the groundbreaking disco hit changed the world and became “one of the most influential records ever made.”

 

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.