Interview with Bonita C. Stewart & Jacqueline Adams, authors of ‘A Blessing’

Hot on the heels of the audiobook release for A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive, I chatted with authors Bonita C. Stewart and Jacqueline Adams about the need for diversity in our workplaces. If you’re looking for a perfect choice this Black History Month (and beyond), look no further than this well-researched and deeply personal call to action.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Listen in full to the complete interview by playing the video above!* Let’s start with the book’s title, which is a really powerful metaphor. Tell us about unicorns, blessings, and why you decided to write this book.

Bonita: So nice to be with you, Jemma, to discuss the exciting launch of our audiobook this week of A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive. In our careers, we have often been the only woman of color in a room. I was the first African-American female vice president at Google, and Jackie was the first African-American female correspondent whom CBS News assigned full-time to the White House. So given that we were first, we have often been considered “unicorns”: rare and valuable beings. Like a flock of geese, a group of unicorns, in fact, is called a blessing. And so we are. You are probably asking why write this book now? The social and racial protests of last summer have begun to drive some business and political changes, but Jackie and I began our project towards the end of 2018.

Jacqueline: When Bonita and I first conceptualized A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive—no surprise, we teamed up. We had a vision to change the narrative for women of color to create a substantive and scalable rallying cry around this notion of teaming up. Our book is a mission-driven legacy project. We’ve crafted a thesis, but we’ve grounded it in data, and we illuminate a number of points with anecdotal examples, lived experiences of ourselves, as well as eight other Harvard Business School Black female alums. To amplify our work, we reached out to a good friend, Scott Siff. He’s a highly respected pollster, and at the end of 2019, we used his firm’s quadrant strategies to survey 4,005 American women, so-called desk workers across four races—Black, Latinx, Asian, and White, as well as four generations—Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. Amongst our most significant findings are the components of what we’re calling “generational diversity.” We’ve coined this phrase to highlight nuances that we think are being overlooked in today’s diversity and inclusion conversations.

“We had a vision to change the narrative for women of color to create a substantive and scalable rallying cry around this notion of teaming up.”

Jacqueline Adams

Bonita: In fact, we found that Black and Latinx women, especially our younger Gen Z and Millennials, are more innovative, more likely to be first adopters of new technology. In fact, our respondents said that their work contributes to the social good to a far greater degree than White or Asian women did. Overall, these women are confident that they will control their careers and can find new jobs easily if or when they want them. In fact, the demographics of the US are changing, and by 2027, people of color from ages 18 to 29—which are our Gen Zs and Millennials—will be in the majority according to the census. This will be a significant tipping point that will begin to shape the future of the U.S. as well as our global economy. I know from my firsthand experiences leading large teams that the most important investments you will make are the people within your companies. From our research, we found that these Gen Z and Millennial workers are demanding workplaces that provide the support they need to thrive and, in essence, demanding a greater sense of belonging than those of us who are Baby Boomers experienced or expected. It sounds like a ton of research went into this book and I’m wondering what the co-author experience is like for researching and writing.

Jacqueline: Actually, it was wonderful. Bonita is a great collaborator. She’s more organized than I am! I tend to throw ideas against a wall and I’m good at pattern recognition and following along. But I think our two styles work well together. As we said, we did not start out to write a memoir. We wanted to write a leadership book. Data matters—as Harvard Business School alums—metrics matter. So those factors were important to us. The third person when an audiobook listener is listening is, of course, the narrator. As mentioned, Janina Edwards is a fantastic, prolific narrator, and she’s the one reading A Blessing. I was wondering how you came to be a part of that process in choosing her and if you were fans of audiobooks before embarking on this process?

Bonita: I will jump in because I love audiobooks! In this new era of constant screen time, it’s actually nice to give your eyes a bit of a respite and focus on other senses. I will say, from an audio perspective, it was so heartwarming to me to hear Janina, in chapter one “Our Natural Grit”—I hear for the first time my father’s speech, which is entitled “The Trail to Success,” being recited to me. This was through the medium of audio, and to hear his choice words that were handwritten over 70 years ago, I’m hoping for the audience that this will bring joy to them and perhaps a bit of a teary eye to everyone when they hear his poem and life framework around what he called the four seeds of the trail to success, which includes character, concentration, culture, and courage.

Jacqueline: It was important to Bonita and me to team up with Black women and men in every aspect of the creation of our book, A Blessing. We specifically asked that a Black woman narrate the book. Just as we hoped, Janina Edwards is an absolute treasure. She reads with understanding. She gets our content and our context. Janina’s voice truly has become our voices.

“[Janina Edwards] reads with understanding. She gets our content and our context. Janina’s voice truly has become our voices.”

Jacqueline Adams

Even more than that, Janina also did a wonderful job reading the words of former Black Entertainment Television CEO Debra Lee in our preface, and also the words in our foreword of former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault. Janina has a wonderful ability to differentiate the voices of our various contributors to the book as well. As a former broadcast journalist, I’m no pushover! I always have had high standards and Janina more than exceeded my expectations. That’s so good to hear! A narrator really can make or break a book, and as audiophiles, we so love to hear a great narrator bring a book to life. We’re so excited for our listeners to get to hear Janina bring yours to life. Your book, as we sort of alluded to, is releasing at a really unique time in our shared history. Why is this book an important read for right now?

Bonita: I’ve studied leadership for a long time and our book is perfectly timed for leaders because we see this dawning of a new era of leadership that’s happening right now which encompasses IQ, which is intelligence, and bringing along EQ, emotional intelligence. Now, this new era includes CQ, which is cultural intelligence. The complexity of today’s workplace is creating this new blue ocean opportunity for companies that are really eager to activate diversity as a competitive advantage. So what we did in the book, which is resonating right now, is we assess that there are deficits in the C-suite on corporate boards and in the management ranks, as well as some of the meager VC funding for black entrepreneurs.

“The complexity of today’s workplace is creating this new blue ocean opportunity for companies that are really eager to activate diversity as a competitive advantage.”

Bonita C. Stewart

We compared this against the burgeoning assets that are really fueling the situation right now, the first one being the education trends. The census says that Black women are the most educated slice of the US population. Secondly, we looked at entrepreneurship. Studies say that Black women-owned businesses are growing astronomically and in fact, in 2019, have more than $422 billion in revenue. Lastly, consumer spending. Nielson reports $1.5 trillion in consumer spending by Black women, which is more than the GDP of Australia. We could be our own country! Clearly, this gap that we see between the assets and the deficits provides an opportunity for what we believe companies should be doing in terms of harnessing untapped talent, which indeed makes us hopeful.

Jacqueline: We found some evidence of women of color winning every single day. Just open any newspaper or magazine and consider that now we have a woman of color as Vice President of the United States. At the inauguration, a fabulous young black woman, Amanda Gorman, was given what we call the ultimate stretch assignment by Dr. Jill Biden. Miss Gorman just thrilled us with her poetry! More and more organizations, we find, are acting on the data that diversity in business does drive profitability. With societal and governance pressures growing alongside the changing demographics that Anita mentioned, as well as the unshackled ambition of women of color, imagine the return on investment for companies who approach this talent pool of color with a business model that creates the sense of belonging that we describe, a sense of well-being for underrepresented talent. We believe that adopting this model would drive top-line and bottom-line results, effectively creating a scalable model for revenue inclusion. What is something that we can all do starting today to set more unicorns up for success in our workplaces and to make our workplaces more diverse?

Bonita: Well, I would say we now have people that have been reading the book, so imagine listening to this book. It will become a playbook for the unicorns that are out there. Also, we have a living log. Within the book, they will have the opportunity to ask questions. We have eight contributors so we have anecdotal stories along the way, including lived experience. But more importantly, we have the data to actually back up why the playbook exists. We think it’s something that could be activated, and I would say stay tuned. We have our new research that will be coming out that we’ve completed for 2020, and they can visit our website and stay in touch with us at That’s exactly what we want: for women of color, as well as the allies, to lead, empower, and thrive.

A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive by Bonita C. StewartJacqueline Adams, narrated by Janina Edwards

Publisher Summary:

A Blessing presents a fresh, bold analysis of African American female leadership. An unapologetic look at our often-overlooked role in America’s social, political, psychological and economic history, it is armed with data that should be empowering for today’s ‘unicorns.’

The book offers a ‘playbook’ to help Black unicorns ‘team up’ and find innovative ways to support one another as they climb, what research shows, are lonely, stressful, jagged yet ultimately rewarding ladders of opportunity.

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!

8 Non-Fiction Black History Audiobooks to Listen to This Month

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

– Ida B. Wells

With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, more and more people have been taking the time to educate themselves on privilege, oppression, and black history.

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve pulled together a list of Non-Fiction audiobooks on black history that can help you along on your journey. For even more resources, check out our full list here.

Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain, narrated by Various

Publisher summary:

A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the four-hundred-year journey of African Americans from 1619 to the present—edited by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Keisha N. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire.

Four Hundred Souls is a unique one-volume “community” history of African Americans. The editors, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, have assembled ninety brilliant writers, each of whom takes on a five-year period of that four-hundred-year span.

This is a history that illuminates our past and gives us new ways of thinking about our future, written by the most vital and essential voices of our present. 

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The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, narrated by Karen Chilton

Publisher Summary:

Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Michelle Alexander’s unforgettable argument that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

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The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza, narrated by Alicia Garza

Publisher Summary:

In 2013, Alicia Garza wrote what she called “a love letter to Black people” on Facebook, in the aftermath of the acquittal of the man who murdered seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. Garza wrote: 
Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter. 
With the speed and networking capacities of social media, #BlackLivesMatter became the hashtag heard ’round the world. But Garza knew even then that hashtags don’t start movements—people do. 
This is the story of one woman’s lessons through years of bringing people together to create change. Most of all, it is a new paradigm for change for a new generation of changemakers, from the mind and heart behind one of the most important movements of our time

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Vanguard by Martha S. Jones, narrated by Mela Lee

Publisher Summary:

The epic history of African American women’s pursuit of political power — and how it transformed America.
In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women’s movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own.
In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women’s political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons.

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Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, narrated by Christopher Dontrell Piper

Publisher Summary:

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

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Ida B. the Queen by Michelle Duster, narrated by Michelle Duster

Publisher Summary:

Journalist. Suffragist. Antilynching crusader. In 1862, Ida B. Wells was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi. In 2020, she won a Pulitzer Prize.

Ida B. Wells committed herself to the needs of those who did not have power. In the eyes of the FBI, this made her a “dangerous negro agitator.” In the annals of history, it makes her an icon.

Ida B. the Queen tells the awe-inspiring story of an pioneering woman who was often overlooked and underestimated—a woman who refused to exit a train car meant for white passengers; a woman brought to light the horrors of lynching in America; a woman who cofounded the NAACP. Written by Wells’s great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, Ida B. the Queen pays tribute to a transformational leader and reminds us of the power we all hold to smash the status quo.

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The Dead Are Arising by Tamara Pain, Les Pain, narrated by Dion Graham

Publisher Summary:

Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X—all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become dozens of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction. The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism.

Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.

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Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude, narrated by Eddie S. Glaude

Publisher Summary:

Mixing biography—drawn partially from newly uncovered interviews—with history, memoir, and trenchant analysis of our current moment, Begin Again is Glaude’s endeavor, following James Baldwin, to bear witness to the difficult truth of race in America today. It is at once a searing exploration that lays bare the tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, and a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves in order to call forth a new America.

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New to Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!

10 Audiobooks by Up-and-Coming Black Authors

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve rounded up the most exciting up-and-coming Black authors who are making waves in the literary world. From a satire about a cult-like start-up to a terrifying story of medical experimentation, these audiobooks are perfect for anyone who is looking to diversify their to-listen lists.

Read on for our 10 featured debut novels, or browse the full booklist for even more exciting authors to discover.

Luster by Raven Leilani, narrated by Ariel Blake

Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules.

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The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson, narrated by Shayna Small

It’s 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.

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Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour, narrated by Zeno Robinson

Darren, an unambitious twenty-two-year-old, lives in a Bed-Stuy brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential as the valedictorian of Bronx Science. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Midtown office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother’s home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC’s hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor.

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The Prophets by Jr. Robert Jones, narrated by Karen Chilton

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.

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Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump, narrated by Korey Jackson

Claude just wants a place where he can fit. As a young black man born on the South Side of Chicago, he is raised by his civil rights–era grandmother, who tries to shape him into a principled actor for change; yet when riots consume his neighborhood, he hesitates to take sides, unwilling to let race define his life. He decides to escape Chicago for another place, to go to college, to find a new identity, to leave the pressure cooker of his hometown behind. But as he discovers, he cannot; there is no safe haven for a young black man in this time and place called America. 

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Real Life by Brandon Taylor, narrated by Kevin R. Free

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.  

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, narrated by Janina Edwards

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions.

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Lakewood by Megan Giddings, narrated by Adenrele Ojo

When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. 

On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.

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Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, narrated by Inés Del Castillo

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.

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Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as the Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But the Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!

Celebrate Black History Month with These Audiobooks

It’s February, which means it’s time to celebrate Black History Month. Whether you’re looking for an informative historical listen, a powerful memoir, or even a notable fiction audiobook, we’ve got something for you. Click here to see our full booklist for Black History Month.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Colson Whitehead, JD Jackson 

From Colson Whitehead, author of the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad, comes his heartbreaking follow-up, The Nickel Boys.

Whitehead is at the height of his powers in The Nickel Boys, as he brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, narrated by Maya Angelou

If you’re looking for a listen that is joyous and painful, and as mysterious and memorable as childhood itself, look no further. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is an American classic that is beloved worldwide. It captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas became a #1 bestseller and was the Goodreads Choice 2017 Winner. Not only that, but Bahni Turpin also won Best Female Narrator at the 2018 Audies for her narration of the audiobook.

Thomas’ debut novel follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter as she moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

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The Great Stain by Noel Rae, narrated by Steven Crossley 

Noel Rae weaves firsthand accounts together in The Great Stain to create a narrative from an intensely consequential chapter in human history: the transatlantic slave trade.

Rae has provided all viewpoints to eliminate any historical blindspots, and to ensure that the full story is told. The Great Stain tells of good and evil, of greed and kindness, and of a civilization as it develops, evolves, and continues to move toward the future. Full of in-depth research, this audiobook is an important work of history that is relevant to the world today.

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, narrated by Shvorne Marks 

Named by both The Times and NPR as one of the 100 Best Books of the Year, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.

In Queenie, we meet the relatable Queenie Jenkins — a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places. As she continues to make questionable decisions, she tries to quiet the noise from the outside world as she discovers who she really is and what she really wants.

Read more and sample the audio →

New to Get your first book free, PLUS a bonus book from our VIP selection when you sign up for our one-month free trial. Digital audiobooks make audible stories come to life when you’re commuting, working out, cleaning, cooking, and more! Listening is easy with our top-rated free audiobook apps for iOS and Android, which let you download & listen to bestselling audiobooks on the go, wherever you are. Click here to get your free audiobooks!