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A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope

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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.

ISBN-13: 9781984835659

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication Date: 03-10-2020

Pages: 368

Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

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.

Read an Excerpt


Patrice Caldwell

When I was fourteen, a family friend gifted me a copy of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. I still remember that moment. The Black woman on the front cover. The used-­paperback smell. The way I held it close like it carried within it the secrets of many universes.

I devoured it and all of her others. I found myself in her words. And I’m not the only one.

It seems only fitting that the title of this anthology comes from Butler’s Parable of the Talents, a novel that is ever relevant.

The full quote is “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn.”

Storytelling is the backbone of my community. It is in my blood.

My parents raised me on stories of real-­life legends like Queen Nzinga of Angola, Harriet Tubman, Phillis Wheatley, and Angela Davis. Growing up in the American South, my world was full of stories, of traditions and superstitions—like eating black-­eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck or “jumping the broom” on your wedding day. Raised on a diet of Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Star Wars, I preferred creating and exploring fictional universes to living in my real one.

But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were, more often than not, rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder, Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?

Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.

Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. We ­are constantly under attack.

And yet still we rise from our own ashes.

We never accept no.

With each rebirth comes a new strength.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-­seeking hairstylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.

As my parents used to remind me, Black people have our pain, but our futures are limitless.

Let us, together, embrace our power.

Let us create our own worlds.

Let us thrive.

And so our story begins . . .

Table of Contents

Introduction Patrice Caldwell 1

When Life Hands you a Lemon Fruitbomb Amerie 4

Gilded Elizabeth Acevedo 30

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls her First Death and, Subsequently, her Best Life Rebecca Roanhorse 51

The Rules of the Land Alaya Dawn Johnson 67

A Hagiography of Starlight Somaiya Daud 85

Melie Justina Iceland 105

The Goddess Provides L.L. McKinney 132

Hearts Turned to Ash Dhonielle Clayton 155

Letting the Right One in Patrice Caldwell 180

Tender-Headed Danny Lore 202

Kiss the Sun Ibi Zoboi 220

The Actress Danielle Paige 246

The Curse of Love Ashley Woodfolk 269

All the Time in the World Charlotte Nicole Davis 282

The Witch's Skin Karen Strong 298

Sequence J. Marcelle Corrie 318

A Note from the Editor 339

About the Contributors 343

Acknowledgments 352

Discussion Questions 356