Celebrating literature by black authors

There is a long history of fine literature written by black authors. Despite having to overcome numerous obstacles to be published, writers such as James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston have provided ground-breaking fiction. But there are so many more black authors to discover and enjoy, from the past and today....

In modern fiction, Colson Whitehead is leading the way by winning many awards. The Underground Railroad won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and he won the Pulitzer Prize again in 2020 for The Nickel Boys. Zadie Smith excels in novels, essays and short stories. Her debut novel, White Teeth, put her on the map in 2000 as she explored Britain's relationship with its former colonies. Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize in 2019 for Girl, Woman, Other. Ta-Nehisi Coates asks probing questions on culture, society and politics with his non-fiction.

From the past, consider the likes of Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Alex Haley. These are the more well-known writers but there are others. Chester Himes, who wrote detective stories, is rarely mentioned today. James Weldon Johnson was an important figure during the Harlem Renaissance for his poetry, novels, and anthologies. Anne Spencer's poetry was also significant during the 1920s.

Classic fiction

Invisible Man

Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison

The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 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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Roots

Roots
by Alex Haley

Through the story of one family - his family - Alex Haley unforgettably brings to life the monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him: slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workmen and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects...and one author.

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The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison

Chronicles the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in 1940s Ohio: Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola. Pecola, unlovely and unloved, prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged blond white schoolfellows. She becomes the focus of the mingled love and hatred engendered by her family's frailty and the world's cruelty as the novel moves toward a savage but poignant resolution.

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A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry

The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. Sacrifice, trust and love among the Younger family and their heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration.

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Native Sun

Native Sun
by Richard Wright

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright's novel tells the unforgettable story of Bigger Thomas, a brutal murderer caught in a cycle of racism and poverty in inner-city America.

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The Color Purple

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

This is the story of two sisters - one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South - who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence. Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person -- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

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Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain
by James Baldwin

With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy's discovery one Saturday in March of 1935 of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a Pentecostal storefront church in Harlem.

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Not Without Laughter

Not Without Laughter
by Langston Hughes

In telling the story of Sandy Rogers, a young African American boy in small-town Kansas, and of his family - his mother, Annjee, a housekeeper for a wealthy white family; his irresponsible father, Jimboy, who plays the guitar and travels the country in search of employment; his strong-willed grandmother Hager, who clings to her faith; his Aunt Tempy, who marries a rich man; and his Aunt Harriet, who struggles to make it as a blues singer - Hughes gives the longings and lineaments of black life in the early twentieth century an important place in the history of racially divided America.

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Contemporary fiction


Americanah

Americanah
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion - for each other and for their homeland.

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The Revisioners

The Revisioners
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The Revisioners explores the depths of women's relationships - powerful women and marginalized women, healers and survivors. It is a novel about the bonds between mothers and their children, the dangers that upend those bonds.

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Half Blood Blues

Half Blood Blues
by Esi Edugyan

In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...

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Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age
by Kiley Reid

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

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Real Life

Real Life
by Brandon Taylor

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

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The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood - where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a "tour de force" (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

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The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children - the violent and capricious separation of families - and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today's most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

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Homegoing

Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi's extraordinary novel illuminates slavery's troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed - and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.

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Books to read right now


White Fragility

White Fragility
by Robin Diangelo

The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.

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How To Be an Antiracist

How To Be an Antiracist
by Ibram X. Kendi

In this rousing and deeply empathetic book, Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Antiracism Research and Policy Center, shows that when it comes to racism, neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem.

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So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race
by Ijeoma Oluo

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

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Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see Black, White, and Latino youth clustered in their own groups. Is this self-segregation a problem to address or a coping strategy? Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides.

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

Cited in court decisions and Oscar speeches and praised by public policy folks, politicians, law professors, grassroots activists, and prisoners themselves, Michelle Alexander's groundbreaking book argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it."

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Other essential non-fiction


Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier

This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life.

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

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Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
by Gilbert King

Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI's unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as "one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.

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Rosa Parks: My Story

Rosa Parks: My Story
by Rosa Parks, Jim Haskins

Many readers of this absorbing autobiography will be familiar with the incident for which Rosa Parks is best known: on December 1, 1955, she refused to surrender her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus. What this book provides is a framework that will enable its audience to put this historic moment into a broader context, and to appreciate the monumental effect on one woman and on an entire nation.

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Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth
by Richard Wright

Richard Wright's powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment--a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

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