Cover image for A phoenix first must burn : sixteen stories of black girl magic, resistance, and hope
A phoenix first must burn : sixteen stories of black girl magic, resistance, and hope
Physical Description:
354 pages ; 22 cm
When life hands you a lemon fruitbomb / Amerie -- Gilded / Elizabeth Acevedo -- Wherein Abigail Fields recalls her first death and, subsequently, her best life / Rebecca Roanhorse -- The rules of the land / Alaya Dawn Johnson -- A hagiography of starlight / Somaiya Daud -- Melie / Justina Ireland -- The Goddess provides / L. L. McKinney -- Hearts turned to ash / Dhonielle Clayton -- Letting the right one in / Patrice Caldwell -- Tender-headed / Danny Lore -- Kiss the sun / Ibi Zoboi -- The actress / Danielle Paige -- The curse of love / Ashley Woodfolk -- All the time in the world / Charlotte Nicole Davis -- The witch's skin / Karen Strong -- Sequence / J. Marcelle Corrie.
Added Author:
Black girls, including gender non-conforming individuals, star in this collection of sixteen stories of fantasy, science fiction, and magic.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order

Stillwater Public Library1On Order



Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

With stories by: Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Patrice Caldwell, Dhonielle Clayton, J. Marcelle Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Nicole Davis, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, L. L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.

Evoking Beyoncé's Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler's heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

Author Notes

Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder and fund-raising chair of People of Color in Publishing--a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children's book editor before shifting to writing full-time.In 2018, she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree and featured on The Writer's Digest podcast, PBS's MetroFocus , and Bustle's inaugural "Lit List" as one of ten women changing the book world.She currently lives in New York City in an apartment overflowing with tea and books and is obsessed with purple lipstick. Visit her online at, Twitter @whimsicallyours, and Instagram @whimsicalaquarian.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--A collection of short stories that features characters across the black diaspora and blends magical realism with issues affecting the black community. In "Gilded," a girl gifted with healing and the ability to manipulate metal is forced to decide between buying her freedom from a corrupt slave owner and a boy who insists she use her magic to claim her freedom. A prickly hairdresser gets her hair done and her mind regulated by a master braider in "Tender-headed," and in "Kiss the Sun," soul-stealing fire spirits debate the benefits of being light or dark skinned. In other stories, a sorcerer's apprentice partners with a dragon to stop the machinations of her corrupt mentor, a dethroned princess harnesses the power of a god she doesn't believe in to reclaim her throne, and an actress deals with the perils of being a young black witch with a daytime television program. This book is a wonderful assortment of genre-bending narratives. The stories allow readers to view racism and gender conformity through the prism of science fiction and fantasy, and the collection infuses the genre with color and complexity. VERDICT This is a title for public and school libraries interested in diversifying and strengthening their short story collections.--Desiree Thomas, Worthington Library, OH

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lovers of Octavia Butler will find her spirit in this smoldering anthology of 16 short stories that center black female and gender nonconforming characters within fantasy and speculative fiction. Written by authors of varying backgrounds, including Elizabeth Acevedo, Justina Ireland, and Rebecca Roanhorse, the stories cover timely themes such as colorism, mental health, ancestry and tradition, and sexual and gender identity. Alaya Dawn Johnson's folkloric "The Rules of the Land," about the child of a sea entity and a human, considers bearing the weight of a parent's decisions. Ibi Zoboi's "Kiss the Sun" and Ashley Woodfolk's "The Curse of Love" explore self-love and self-preservation amid sacrifice. Some are lighthearted, such as Ireland's "Melie" and Danielle Paige's "The Actress," while others skew heavier, such as the editor's "Letting the Right One In," which calls upon queer black women to embrace and explore their identities. Caldwell writes in the introduction, "Black people have our pain, but our futures are limitless. Let us, together, embrace our power." These stories do, exploring the beauty, bravery, fear, history, and empowerment of being black. Fiercely fantastical and achingly honest, this book delivers a more inclusive means of self-discovery. Ages 12--up. Agent: Pete Knapp, Park Literary. (Mar.)

Kirkus Review

Sixteen #ownvoices authors offer up fantasy and science fiction short stories centering black girls.In her introduction, editor Caldwell extols the importance of representation and storytelling in black communities and asks "Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don't Black people exist in speculative worlds?" The diverse contributors to this vibrant and varied collection include acclaimed YA authors such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Dhonielle Clayton, Justina Ireland, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Ibi Zoboi. Their stories run the gamut from lighthearted to intense. Some use fantastical or SF elements to explore relevant and timely issues such as colorism, violence against black communities, and abuse of minority groups. Multiple stories are delightfully queer. There's the girl working as an alien interrogator on another planet who's starting to think things might be more complicated than she realized in Amerie's (editor: Because You Love To Hate Me, 2017, etc.) "When Life Hands You a Lemon Fruitbomb." In Alaya Dawn Johnson's (contributor: Three Sides of a Heart, 2017, etc.) "The Rules of the Land," the daughter of a sea woman makes a deal with her powerful and enraged kin to save her people. All these well-spun tales are enjoyable and accessible to readers of any background. Magical and real, this collection lives up to its goal with stories as diverse as the black experience.#BlackGirlMagic indeed. (Fantasy. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

If you're looking for your next deep dive into sf and speculative fiction, look no further. Editor Caldwell here collects 16 stories that embrace and reimagine the histories of Black women and their resistance, hope, and liberation. Featuring an array of well-known and breakout #OwnVoices authors, this volume boasts ample variety in style, voice, and approach that ensures readers will find at least one story to enjoy (though likely many more). Standouts include Dhonielle Clayton's Hearts Turned to Ash, about a girl faced with the choice of how to restore her heart after matchmaking magic goes awry. Then there's the clever and witty Tender-Headed by Danny Lore, about an attitudinal hair braider who needs to have her own head fixed up. Ibi Zoboi offers up Caribbean folklore with a story of a skin-shedding soucouyant, calling us to question the weight of our complexion in how we value ourselves, and Amerie calls readers to reconsider the primordial soup story of humanity with her intergalactic tale. Readers will appreciate the wide representation of the African diaspora and will also take note of the multiplicities of lived experiences, cultures, and gendered and sexual expression. That the stories center Black girlhood creates layers of depth in these racialized and gendered experiences alongside the joys and trivialities of stories often missing from the mainstream. Luminous reading.--Melanie Kirkwood Copyright 2020 Booklist