Dana Johnson’s Elsewhere, California is a novel about Avery Arlington, a Black artist who tries to make sense of her familial history and her understanding of the world. Over the course of the book, we witness how Avery negotiates her identity and deepest longings against the backdrop of racial tension, the suburbs, and the 1970s. Below are five titles that pair well with Johnson’s debut novel, showcasing the manifold ways Black women pursue their dreams and contend with perpetual feelings of displacement and loss. Be sure to sign up for Alta Journal’s California Book Club, which will discuss Elsewhere, California with Johnson at its August 19 gathering. To join the California Book Club, click here.
Consider Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, which was a 2016 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, the New York version of Elsewhere, California. Woodson’s novel follows August, an anthropologist who has returned to New York for her father’s funeral. While she is in the city, she begins to reminisce on her past, particularly on what it meant that she and her family had migrated from the Deep South to the East Coast.
Perhaps the most raved-about book of the past year, Raven Leilani’s Luster depicts the relationship between Edie, a Black woman in her early 20s, and Eric, a middle-aged white man who is in an open marriage. Crucially, Edie is an aspiring artist, and during her sojourn in Eric’s home (after she is fired from her publishing job), she begins to return to the source of her artistic impulse—in essence, the practice that makes her feel alive.
Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies maps the complexities of faith, love, and desire in the lives of southern Black women and girls. While Philyaw’s characters struggle to make sense of their environments and social contexts, they still manage to carve out spaces in which they can be truly themselves, in all of their rich multiplicity.
Just as Elsewhere, California charts the legacies of migration in one Black family, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is centered on three generations of a family who embarked on the Great Migration for a better life, detailing their strife, joy, and love.
Traversing millennia and geographic borders, Voyage of the Sable Venus is a collection of poems that interrogate slavery, colonialism, beauty, family, and the lost, obscured, violated, and effaced Black women throughout the Western world.