Best Arts & Humanities of 2022

Contemporary activism, moments and words of joy, and a memorable debut. The best arts and humanities titles of 2022.

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Arthur Riley, Cole. This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us. Convergent. ISBN 9780593239773.

Arthur Riley’s memorable debut not only transports readers through the depths of stories about three generations but also makes space for reflections on pressing questions about faith and survival. That combination results in the liberating sense of belonging and connection and the powerful yearning to live life fully in one’s skin, no matter the color.

Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic. Lookout. ed. by Valerie Boyd. ISBN 9781940596471.

Boyd, who passed away in February, left readers with this extraordinary gift of essays and poems by writers of color, those most harshly affected by systemic racism and COVID. With this work, Boyd, Pearl Cleage, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Tayari Jones, Kiese Laymon, Imani Perry, Deesha Philyaw, Khadijah Queen, Alice Walker, and more have made significant contributions to history.

Fierstein, Harvey. I Was Better Last Night. Knopf. ISBN 9780593320525.

A bighearted, hilarious, life-affirming memoir of four-time Tony Award–winning actor and playwright Fierstein’s gay activism and life in the theater. Besides tales of creating Torch Song Trilogy and Kinky Boots and starring in Hairspray, he also deals with his alcoholism. The Broadway bio of the year.

Gay, Ross. Inciting Joy: Essays. Algonquin. ISBN 9781643753041.

Gay looks directly at political divisiveness and injustice to pose the ultimate what-if question: What if society focused on love and what brings us together? The answer is a simple response of joy, which Gay showcases in beautiful, poignant, resonant essays that will undoubtedly spark inspirational dialogue among readers and, hopefully, a movement to incite joy daily and everywhere they go.

Lewis, Jenifer. Walking in My Joy: In These Streets. Amistad. ISBN 9780063079656.

Lewis, the outspoken, hilariously profane, and wildly entertaining actor and activist, follows up her no-holds-barred memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood with a new and equally entertaining collection of autobiographical essays that alternate between moving confessionals and fiery calls to eradicate oppression.

Megale, S. C. Hockey’s Hidden Gods: The Untold Story of a Paralympic Miracle on Ice. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781538166642.

In this story about the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team’s overcoming hardships to win gold, Megale firmly reminds readers that disability does not mean the inability to dream and pursue goals. This engaging title has a can-do attitude at its forefront and indicates just how powerful a determined mindset can be and how one person—or, in this case, a team—can silence naysayers.

Moser, Patrick. Surf and Rescue: George Freeth and the Birth of California Beach Culture. Univ. of Illinois. ISBN 9780252086526.

A well-researched, informative, and compelling tribute to George Freeth (1883–1919), of part Native Hawaiian descent, who was the first to demonstrate and teach surfing in Southern California and is considered the father of several ocean lifesaving techniques and tools.

Rodgers, Mary & Jesse Green. Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers. Farrar. ISBN 9780374298623.

The daughter of one half of the musical theater duo Rodgers and Hammerstein settles scores with this blisteringly funny and sharp-tongued posthumous memoir. It ranks among the writing of Carrie Fisher and Nora Ephron for its bounty of stinging zingers that people will feel compelled to read aloud to their friends. Utterly delightful.

Steele, David. It Was Always a Choice: Picking Up the Baton of Athlete Activism. Temple Univ. ISBN 9781439921739.

Much has been written about the moment in 2016 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem at a 49ers game to protest racism and police brutality, but Steele’s book stands out. It spotlights both activists who jeopardized their athletic careers to speak out and those who choose to remain silent and just play. This book looks pointedly at the stakes and the impacts of athletes’ political statements, from the 20th century to the current moment.

Winans, CeCe. Believe for It: Passing on Faith to the Next Generation. K-LOVE. ISBN 9781954201347.

From best-selling and multi-award-winning gospel artist Winans comes a book that combines memoir and spiritual guide. Written in a conversational style, it gives readers the best insight yet as to who Winans is. In this title that’s filled with hope for the near future and for the next generation, her voice on paper is as resounding as her gifted singing voice.

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