First Lines for Black History Month

To celebrate black history month, I am sharing first lines from fantasy and science fiction stories by black authors from the 1800s to the 2020s.

First Line Friday

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of the month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


1850s

the cover of Blake: or, The Huts of America by Martin R Delany shows a black man on the wooden deck of a ship dressed in a loin cloth with a broken chain dangling from his foot. He has a stick in his hands swung over head like a baseball bat.

On one of those exciting occasions, during a contest for the presidency of the United States, a number of gentlemen met in the city of Baltimore.”

Blake: or, The Huts of America
by Martin R. Delany © 1859 

1920s

He stood a moment on the steps of the bank, watching the human river that swirled down Broadway.”

The Comet by W.E.B. Du Bois © 1920 

1950s

At the same time as I entered into the bush I could not stop in one place as the noises of the guns were driving me farther and farther until I travelled about sixteen miles away from the road on which my brother left me.”

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
by Amos Tutuola © 1954 

1960s

Prologue:

The waves flung up against the purple glow of double sleeplessness. Along the piers the ships return; but sailing I would go through double rings of fire, double fears.”

 The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany ©1962

1970s

The cover of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a solid blue with Yellow script spelling out the title on a slant.

The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison ©1977

Prologue:

I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler ©1979 

1980s

One long time ago, Pretty Pearl yearned to come down from on high.

The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl
by Virginia Hamilton ©1986 

Willow Springs. Everybody knows but nobody talks about the legend of Sapphire Wade.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor ©1988 

1990s

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, “We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast.” 

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nail Hopkinson ©1998 

2000s

In the verdant grasslands a brisk hour’s run from the coast, close enough for to spice the air with the ocean foam, thirteen solemn men sat circle, speaking of death.”

Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes ©2003

A mudslide on Walnut Lane last Saturday, brought about by heavy rains, has left eight families without homes as a “river of mud” swept whole houses from their foundations and smashed them to bits at midnight.”

The Good House by Tananarive Due ©2003 

2010s

My life fell apart when I was sixteen. Papa died.”

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor ©2010

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart.”

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms 
by N.K. Jemisin ©2010 

2020s

The cover of the lesson has a black background. Behind the title which has red letters, there is a teal colored shell with multiple curvy lines coming out from it and twining over and through the letters of the title and the author's name.

Fifteen days before

After school, Patrice and Derrick rushed to beat mid-afternoon traffic.”

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull ©2020

My name doesn’t matter. All you  need to know is that I’m a phantom, a figment, a man who was mistaken for wait-staff twice that night—odd, given my outfit.”

We Cast a Shadow 
By Maurice Carlos Ruffin 2020

Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Many thanks to Nisi Shawl, author and teacher, for posting her research into the history of science fiction written by people of color where I found many of these titles. I could not find the first lines of some books on her list and couldn’t list them here. Read her history and commentary about her complete list of books on her site

Do You Want to Read More?

If you enjoyed this, you might like previous First Line Friday posts.

Please take a moment to share in the comments below. Which ones spoke to you? Did you buy it? If you’ve already read it, did you like it?

First Lines by Nebula Nominees

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These first lines by Nebula nominees represent the books and authors who are up for the 57th Annual Nebula Award® for best novel. The awards ceremony will be held later this month. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


The first book cover representing the first  lines by Nebula nominees is the Cover of the Unbroken with is in tones of brown, a person with a sword in its scabbard stands in an archway arms stretched out, each braced on pillar with some tall dark non-organic form behind them.

A sandstorm brewed dark and menacing against the Qazali horizon as Lieutenant Touraine and the rest of the Balladairian Colonial Brigade sailed into El-Wast, capital city of Qazali, foremost of Balladaire’s southern colonies.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book 1) by Cherae Clark

Second book cover representing the first lines by nebula nominees is A Master of Djinn with steampunk gears overhead beyond which is blue sky. Below is a lone figure walking up an opulent and middle eastern looking staircase.

Archibald James Portendorf disliked stairs. With their ludicrous lengths, ever leading up, as if in some jest.”

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark 

Third book cover for first lines by nebula nominees is the cover for Machinehood. with a bluish silver background with gears and lines as if it's a computer chip, in the fore ground is a white hairless humanoid robot with a feminine waist.

Welga stared a coffee the color of mud and contemplated the irony of the word smart.”

Machinehood by S.B. Divya 

The cover of A desolation called peace shows a massive triangular window with a diamond shaped framework and a lone man stading in the center looking out at a planet surrounded by a man-made space station-like structure

To think—not language. To not think language. To think we, and not have a  tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths.

A Desolation called Peace by Arkady Martine

The world fell flat. The world fell exhausted. The world fell to rainbow-colored static, which rang through Derena’s mind as she ran from her death.

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Miranda Clarke guided her yacht, Lady Angelfish, alias Serenity, down the Illinois River, desperate to deliver the package on time.

If I Should Die by Lynette M. Burrows 

Pre-order now at your favorite online book seller.


Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Do You Want to Read More?

Check out a previous First Line Fridays featuring science fiction books.

What do you think of these first lines by Nebula nominees? You’ll put an enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below—

Have you read any of these books? Which first lines spoke to you? Which ones are now on your TBR list? 

First Lines from Other Worlds

I changed things up a bit for this First Line Friday post. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. For these first lines from other worlds I include the first 45-55 words of each novel. When you read these first words, do you want to read more?


The cover of The City in the Middle of night is mostly black silhouette of city buildings against pink silhouettes of buildings against a yellow sky running perpendicularly down the open edge of the book.

Bianca walks toward me, under too much sky. The white-hot twilight makes a halo out of loose strands of her fine black hair. She looks down and fidgets, as though she’s trying to settle an argument with herself, but then she looks up and sees me and a smile starts …

The City in the Middle of the Night  by Charlie Jane Ander

The cover of Machine has a dark blue to black background with a lighter blue to white tree like structure dotted with lights--possibly representing neurons in the white space of your brain--definitely other worlds

I stood in the door and looked down.

Down wasn’t the right word, exactly. But it also wasn’t the wrong word. All directions were down from where I stood, and almost all of them were an infinitely long fall.

Machine: A White Space Novel By Elizabeth Bear

The cover of Tiger Honor shows the white outlines of a tiger againsg a blue star field with two planets in the background. In the foreground a young man kneels on one knee and looks up into the heavens and other worlds.

When the mail arrived, it should have been the best day of my life.

Mail—physical mail—came once a week at best. The Juhwang Clan of tiger spirits made our home on the world of Yonggi for the past several centuries. Our ties to the land dated back…

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee 

The cover of The Light Brigade has large typeface so the author's name and the title fill the cover's foreground, behind the letters is the non-gender specific soldier in armor standing in a white light that fades to a dark blue a symbol for other worlds

They said the war would turn us into light.

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world. That’s what I told the recruiter. That’s what I told my first squad leader. It’s what I told every CO, and there were … a couple. And that’s what I’d tell myself, when …

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Cover of Afterland has the Author's name at the top in the center is a twig with four green leaves hanging down from it and continuing to end in a pink flower against a blue sky with white fluffy clouds a story from other worlds here on earth.

Look at me,” Cole says. “Hey.” Checking Miles’s pupils, which are still huge. Shock and fear and the drugs working their way of of his system. Scrambling to remember her first-aid training. Checklist as life buoy. He’s able to focus, to speak without slurring. He was groggy in the car, getting away. …

Afterland by Lauren Beukes 

A Reminder

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Cover of the Book Fellowship, a companion to the Fellowship Dystopia, has a deep brown background with rust brown Fellowship shield over which there is a yellow and orange 2-D church spire, in front of which the silhouette of a young man runs toward the camera. Other worlds sometimes happen on earth.

Fellowship.

One word and Ian Hobart’s world teetered into not safe.  The reporters’ voices fell, the remainder of their conversation now muted by the clack and ratchet and ding of their typewriters. 

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia Series
by Lynette M. Burrows

Don’t forget, book two in the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die, will be on preorder next month. Read book one before then. And watch this space for a sneak peek or two into the action-packed story of book two.

Other Worlds on Your TBR?

Did you enjoy these first lines from other worlds? You may also enjoy previous First Line Fridays.

Which of these books is now on your TBR list?

First Lines from Women’s Fiction

Let’s celebrate women’s history month with first lines from women’s fiction. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


The cover of A Train to Moscow has a graphic of yellow corners and a red pair of red triangles with the tops meeting in the middle form two triangles revealing the profile of a young woman looking  pensive. Its the first book in the first lines from women's fiction blog post.

She immediately knows something is wrong. The door to Marik’s house is ajar, and there is a black car blocking the street just a few meters away.

A Train to Moscow by Elena Gorokhova

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, The Jewish Spy, shows a young woman in a red dress and carrying luggage walk away from the camera down a city street, the buildings are unfamiliar and have Nazi banners hanging at intervals. Two bombers fly overhead in a smoky sky.

Rivka’s whole body ached with nostalgia, even though her husband and children were with her in her home town of Nadvorna to celebrate her forty-second birthday.

The Jewish Spy (World War II Brave Women Fiction)  by Hayuta Katzenelson 

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, These Tangled Vines, shows large stone home on a hilltop in the distance.

The telephone rang and woke me from a dream. I must have been deep in the REM cycle, because I was cognizant of the ringing, but I believed it was part of the dream, so I chose to ignore it.

These Tangled Vines by Julianne MacLean

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, The Woman in the WIndow,has a graphic representing venitian blinds in the foreground with the book title in red behind the blinds.

 Her husband’s almost home. He’ll catch her this time.

The Woman in the Window  by A. J. Finn  

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, The Four winds, shows golden ripe wheat stalks against a black background.

Elsa Wolcott had spent years in enforced solitude, reading fictional adventures and imagining other lives.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, Will Women and the Blues, shows a young woman's plunging v neckline in the back of her green dress.

On the fifth floor of the Bronzeville Senior Living Facility, I stand outside the smallest room in the world, doing my best to ignore the dropped ceiling and square linoleum tiles, stoking my claustrophobia.

Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, The Vanishing half shows vibrant colors in the shapes of overlapping female faces.

The morning one of the lost twins returned to Mallard, Lou LeBon ran to the diner to break the news, and even now, many years later, everyone remembers the shock of sweaty Lou pushing through the glass doors, chest heaving, neckline darkened with his own efforts. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

The first lines from women's fiction cover of the book, The last flight, is a red and black photo looking down an escalator to the silhouette of a woman at the bottom.

Prologue:Terminal 4 swarms with people, the smell of wet wool and jet fuel thick around me. I wait for her, just inside the glass sliding doors, the frigid winter wind slamming into me whenever they open, and instead force myself to visualize a balmy Puerto Rican breeze, laced with the scent of hibiscus and sea salt.  

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Line Fridays. You’ll put an enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below—

What’s your favorite first line?

First Lines for Black History Month

This is a special edition of First Lines Friday for black history month. These titles are a sampling of the list given by Nisi Shawl in her “annotated list of 40 black science fiction works that are important to your understanding of its history”

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Blake by Martin R Delany on a black background shades of orange creates a woodcut-like print of a man with a gun over jungle style leaves.

On one of those exciting occasions during a contest for the presidency of the United States, a number of gentlemen met in the city of Baltimore.

Blake: or; The Huts of America (1862) by Martin R. Delany 

For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Of One Blood by Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins and is a photo portrait of a black woman with a tall hat adorned with feathers and wearing a high collar dress.

The recitations were over for the day. It was the first week in November and it had rained about every day for the entire week; now freezing temperature added to the discomforture of the dismal season.

Of One Blood, or The Hidden Self (1903) by Pauline Elizabeth

This is the cover of Babel-17. Mostly black it has geometric maze-like designs in orange and yellow over the black on the lower half of the cover

It’s a port city.

Here fumes rust the sky, the General thought. Industrial gases flushed the evening with oranges, salmons, purples with too much red.

Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany 

Cover of Mumbo Jumbo is an orange background with the title and author name in large, bold block letters that are on different colored blacks

A true sport, the Mayor of New Orleans, spiffy in his patent-leather brown and white shoes, his plaid suit, the Rudolph Valentino parted-down-the-middle hair style, sits in his office. 

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) by Ishmael Reed

Sold, to Mister Bascombe Wade of Willow Springs, one negress answering to the name Sapphira.

Mama Day (1988) by Gloria Naylor

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, “We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast.”

Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson 

I awoke to darkness.

I was hungry—starving!—and in pain.

Fledgling (2005) by Octavia E. Butler

When I was eight, my papai took me to the part to watch a king die.

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I sang a song as I sprang from the womb—which is not unusual. 

The Record Keeper (2019) by Agnes Gomillion  

Lisette Toutournier sighed. She breathed in again, out, in, the marvelous air smelling of crushed stems, green blood bruised and roused by her progress along this narrow forest path.

Everfair: A Novel (2016) by Nisi Shawl

Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

I’ve constructed this list with deep gratitude to Nisi Shawl’s post “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction” 

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Line Fridays posts. Want to read more stories by black science fiction authors? Check out this list of stories available online compiled by Nnedi Okorafor

 Which of the First Lines in honor of black history month spoke to you? Did you buy it?