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Excerpt Alert: COOL. AWKWARD. BLACK. edited by Karen Strong

Real or imaginary, geekdom is where it’s at. Get ready to dive into Cool. Awkward. Black., a multi-genre YA anthology that celebrates “the geek,” with stories by some of today’s top bestselling, critically acclaimed Black authors.

Contributors include Amerie, Kalynn Bayron, Terry J. Benton-Walker, Roseanne A. Brown, Elise Bryant, Tracy Deonn, Desiree S. Evans, Isaac Fitzsimons, Lamar Giles, Jordan Ifueko, Leah Johnson, Amanda Joy, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, Shari B. Pennant, K. Arsenault Rivera, Julian Winters, and Ibi Zoboi.

Cool. Awkward. Black. is coming to shelves January 10. Remember to snag your copy here and scroll down to read an introduction from editor Karen Strong!

Editor Introduction

I was a quiet girl who read comics and fantasy. A Star Wars fan who cos-played Princess Leia with huge afro puffs. A Black girl living beyond what others envisioned for her; a studious teen who loved coding and astronomy, an artistic daydreamer who danced on pointe shoes and composed music. None of these spaces seemed to truly cater to a Black girl from the American South. I didn’t see many dark-skinned girls who had adventures or superpowers in the pages of the comics and novels I read. Nobody taught me about the Black women scientists making vital discoveries. Where were all the brown girls who performed onstage or wrote film scores? The scarcity of Black people in these spaces made it easy to believe that what I loved maybe couldn’t love me back.

I wasn’t proud of myself when I won an academic award during my freshman year of high school—I was ashamed. It didn’t help that my nerdy interests and straight As had already made me a target for bullying. But then my father told me something that I still remember to this day: Your brain is the most beautiful thing about you. Knowledge was an asset, and if I kept feeding my brain everything it loved, then it would take me anyplace I wanted to go—much farther than the country dirt roads of my small town. My father’s words convinced me that the labels other people gave me were wrong, because they were too small to contain me. I began to understand that I was the only one who could define my identity.

The good news is that I eventually found my people. Black geeks who loved to code. Blerds with epic comic-book collections, and brown bookworms with library cards. Black girls who embraced science and math, and Black boys who were passionate about the arts and music. With our shared interests and passions, we created communities that thrived, and I embraced the truth that my Blackness has no boundaries.

I believe stories are important. Black teens deserve to see themselves at the center of storytelling. But just as importantly, I believe everyone can benefit from reading about Black teens who push past the limitations set upon them. We all need to see Black teens celebrating their passions, embracing their magic, falling in love, and saving the world (or themselves). These eighteen stories from bestselling, critically acclaimed Black authors span many genres and introduce an exciting new voice, Shari B. Pennant. I chose this rising star from an open submission call of over one hundred fifty stories.

In the pages of this anthology, you’ll meet a girl invited to a secret magical book club, a boy who can summon souls of the dead with music, and a group of teens searching for UFOs on their last summer trip before college. You’ll find stories of sweet romance, dark magic, self-discovery, fledgling superpowers, and geeky shenanigans.

Cool. Awkward. Black. is a celebration of Blackness beyond the mainstream. A shout-out to the lovers of manga and anime. A head nod to the cosplayers and gamers. An homage to the book nerds and STEM geeks. An invitation to the devotees of the arts and the stars. As a teen, it would have meant everything to have a book like this. It’s a gift to see a reflection of yourself on the page and realize the true power of your identity.

I hope these stories can reveal that truth and beauty for you.

Penguin Teen