42 Amazing Books Written By Black Authors
A diverse range of classics, contemporary must-reads, and memoirs you’ll definitely wanna fill your time with!
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Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin is the story of a preacher’s son in Harlem trying to understand his identity and what it means to be black, male, and gay in an increasingly conflicted America.
Promising review: “I am so happy to rediscover Baldwin, especially at this time in history. This is one of my favorite books. The inter-relations between the characters are vividly written. The book is written with an interweaving of the racial disparities of the period, yet it is not the main focus. Religion and all its complexities on the black church hit you full force and leave you wanting more. The ending allows you to draw your own conclusion regarding judgment and whether or not those who do evil really ever atone for their sins.” —Kindle Customer
You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson talks about what it means to be a black woman in modern day America, discussing micro-aggressions and the intersection of race and gender in a hilarious way.
Promising review: “Fantastic read. I was laughing out loud multiple times while reading this gem from Phoebe Robinson. In addition to laughs, she provides moving commentary on race and gender issues. Her chapter on The Angry Black Woman Myth, in which she describes the draining process of 'measure twice, cut once,' is fantastic. I plan to share this chapter, especially with fellow white people. I definitely plan to read any future works by this impressive comedian.” —KP
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenager caught between two worlds: the low-income neighborhood she lives in with her family and the predominantly white prep school she attends each day. After she becomes the sole witness of a police shooting (the shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil), her life is sent into turmoil as the wall she’s constructed between those two worlds begins to fall.
Promising review: “It’s a nuanced, thoughtful portrait of race relations (particularly white and black) in America, told from the viewpoint of a black teenage girl who experiences police brutality firsthand and struggles to cope with it, as do her family and communities. Yet all this is masterfully calibrated to not shy away from the hard issues, while not making it so heartbreaking as to be unbearable, ideal for its teenage audience.” —Erica
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde tackles views on feminism through the lens of being a black lesbian and how those two traits affect the way she navigates the world.
Promising review: “This is much more than a book or a collection of writings. It's an experience more like surviving a traumatic event, seeing a deep and distressing movie or having a long and difficult talk with someone who has been oppressed from all sides. It accomplishes that which no other book I have ever read has done. Lorde defies all the labels she and others use to describe her. It stares the weaknesses we all share right in the face and finds ways to fight if not conquer them. Lorde allows the reader to get inside her skin like no other writer, and for the first time ever, made me feel the anger, terror, fear, helplessness I have sensed in many if not all black people. And yet her greatest criticisms are not of whites, but especially of her black sisters and then her brothers. She clearly does not set herself apart because she knows she has had 'my boot on a sister's face.'” —AA Dude
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou tells the story of a young black girl who isn’t conventionally beautiful. It’ll inspire you to be unapologetically yourself, even in (especially in) the face of adversity.
Promising review: “Maya writes in such a natural, relatable way that the reader is inescapably drawn into her experiences. Her optimism, despite some very trying circumstances, is both contagious and empowering. It's also a testament to the talents and strength of people around her and the culture in which she was raised. As someone coming from such a different and more privileged upbringing, I was still mesmerized by her masterful storytelling.” —Kevin McCaffery
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deeply moving and personal narrative as written by a father to his son, focusing on what it means to navigate the world in a black body, especially in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Promising review: “A fierce and intensely written polemic, a must-read for anyone who cares about the real state of 'race relations' in our tragically conflicted America. This is, at one and the same time, a much-needed corrective for 'white' complacency and a most personal declaration of a questing soul who can settle for nothing less than truth in coming to know what it really means to be aware, sensitive and black in a society built on centuries of lying to ourselves about every aspect of black existence.” —Single Pilot IFR
Get it from Amazon for $18.62, Barnes and Noble for $18.93, or a local bookseller through Indiebound here.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae shows what it’s like to be just a little odd during a time when pop culture regards black people as being automatically ~cool~.
Promising review: “I love Issa Rae. I've followed her work. She is brilliant, beautiful, and hilariously funny. Misadventures of ABG is laugh out loud funny. She gives me 'Life' throughout this book. I'm also an awkward black girl. I'm so thankful for Issa sharing her story. I look forward to anything else she does. I know whatever is, it's going to be Bomb Ass Good!” —lbaby
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison discusses what it’s like to be a black man navigating a society of intolerance and ignorance, making readers realize the only way change can take place is if people are given voice and visibility.
Promising review: “I had to read the book for one of my English courses. It quickly becomes apparent why the book appears on every 'best books' lists out there. This is a masterpiece of fiction. However, it helps to read the book with commentary and notes. The messages of Ellison will come to light this way. Every person living in the US today should read the book. Unfortunately, so many people living in this country are still invisible.” —Liz S.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker tells the story of two sisters, focusing on Celie and her struggle to be seen, respected, and ultimately empowered, even though the forces of the universe are constantly throwing things at her. With the help of other black women uplifting her, she is able to find her inner worth.
Yes, there is more to this book than the iconic Oprah line, “All my life I had to fight!”
Promising review: “This book was amazing! I found myself experiencing a range of emotions. One moment I was crying and the next I was laughing. Celie's journey was truly inspiring. Witnessing her overcome her adversities and learn to love herself was powerful.” —Kindle Customer
A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James brings to life an unstable Kingston, Jamaica. Set in the ’70s, the fictional narratives create a unique landscape of Jamaican history.
Promising review: “A tremendously dense and insightful fictional account of some startling realities of Jamaica in the '70s and '80s. Beyond the storyline, the characters are frighteningly authentic, the dialogue, monologues and stream of consciousness draw you into the book until you are as exhausted as the final character. Marlon James wraps and traps you in his writing but you enjoy every minute of it. If you lived through that period in Jamaica it is a great deal of fun guessing, mixing and matching the fictional characters to the real ones. It shows how art can explain reality — for real. Bravo Marlon James!” —Luz M. Longsworth
We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union discusses her life and how she dealt with trauma, stigma, and colorism in Hollywood, but still came out on top.
Promising review: “Gabrielle Union doesn’t hold back in her new memoir where she talks about everything from her anxiety to being raped at gunpoint, her career, her blackness, and colorism. She also shares the ups and downs of her relationship with husband Dwayne Wade, her life in Hollywood, and her journey through infertility. I really enjoyed reading this book and it’s a good reminder that someone else’s life can look picture perfect from the outside but everyone has their struggles and their own journey to go on.” —C
Women, Race, And Class by Angela Y. Davis dives right into the feminist movement and how it’s always been tainted by racist and classist bias that hinders the true liberation of its Black sisters.
Promising review: “This is an eye-opening book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to begin understanding the intersection between women, race, and class, particularly as it relates to abolition and the women's suffrage movement. Davis writes in a compelling way that captures your attention.” —Roo
Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire is a poignant and lyrical group of deeply personal poems describing the nuance of Shire’s identity as a black, Muslim woman.
These poems are also featured in Queen Beyoncé's masterpiece, Lemonade!
Promising review: “I heard of Warsan Shire when I first watched a poetry video she made about women being too wild to take and that being the reason a man didn't love her. Her words in this book are raw, heavy, and the greatest I have ever read. She makes you physically feel the messages and stories that she tells, she makes you swallow whole bodies and countries in one line, along with all the complex narratives that come with them.” —Valentina Alexandre
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison tackles what it means to be a black girl attempting to achieve the white standard of beauty imposed by popular culture, while also shedding a light on African American family dynamics as they pertain to class and gender.
Promising review: “The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is a novel that one does forget. In The Bluest Eye, the reader is thrown into a world many Americans didn't know existed. It tells a story about one girl's quest to change her eye color to look more traditionally beautiful. Meanwhile, throughout the story the reader is introduced to many individuals that all have unique stories of their own. Just when you think that you dislike a character, you soon find out their life's story; your perception of them changes, albeit not always for the better.” —Todd O'Rourke
Assata: An Autobiography describes Assata Shakur’s precarious situation (as part of the Black Panther Party) and how she ended up as one of America’s most wanted during a time of outward fighting for black liberation.
Promising review: “Assata Shakur's story is one that depicts struggle while simultaneously defying the odds. It is introspective, heartfelt, frustrating and insightful. For those searching for a story that details the revolutionary's escape or her numerous trials in a gossiping form will be certain to have wasted their time. Instead, Assata: An Autobiography gives you the woman's experience in her most honest of voices, raw and powerful. Readers will also be schooled as she dedicates a few of her chapters to teaching the misinformed of America about its false history that we are led to believe as we go through the educational system. This book without question is a great read and those who are truly interested in hearing Assata's personal accounts first hand will find this liberating as well as refreshing.” —Kevin11
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe examines the colonization of Africa through the eyes of Okonkwo, an Igbo warrior fearlessly trying to resist the forced assimilation of his people by the British.
Promising review: “True to his upbringing, Achebe tells his tragic hero's tale, incorporating proverbs and folktales, ultimately demonstrating how each of us finds ourselves being defined by our experiences and interactions with those we consider family, friends, and community.” —NASwrites
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib uses music as a lens to discuss the systematic violence African Americans face while doing the most mundane, everyday tasks. Through this juxtaposition, it truly magnifies the black millennial experience.
Promising review: “This book is FULL of essays and I really believe there is something for everyone in here. The breadth of Abdurraquib's tastes, interests, and insights is truly remarkable. The essays about my own personal favorites like Serena Williams and Carly Rae Jepsen still managed to surprise me, and I find myself nodding along to essays about artists I don't even listen to. To categorize this as a book of music criticism is both accurate and inadequate. Abdurraqib uses music as a vantage point through which to examine and interrogate the world he lives in, and I continue to be inspired by how deeply he feels both the music and that world. Anyone who reads this book is fortunate to have the chance to see the world through his eyes and to feel it through his words.” —Liz
The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by Jennifer Lewis describes her humble beginnings, how she’s dealt with undiagnosed mental illness, and how she’s cemented herself as one of the most recognizable actors in Black Hollywood.
Promising review: “Ms. Lewis's memoir is a beautifully crafted story of love, life, and lessons that resonated with me on many levels. If people were not ashamed to look within and tell the truth about themselves, then this world would be a better place. Ms. Lewis talks, walks, and lives her truth. She was generous enough to share it with us so we do not make the same mistakes. Whether you are clinically diagnosed with a mental illness, going through a rough time or just want to read a refreshingly honest and humorous memoir, order this book! Go get it now….in these streets!” —Lion Babe 71
Waiting To Exhale by Terry McMillan details a genuine friendship between four black women and the misadventures they go through while trying to find ~the one~.
Promising review: “I read this book again after 13 years and guess what? I held my breath from the beginning to the end and let it out at the end. It is funny, well written, and it is real. Terry has this way of describing life as a single woman with anecdotes that you can relate to no matter your age. I laughed out loud. I scribbled quotable phrases. I whipped out my handkerchief. I enjoyed the book. A wonderful tale of getting to love and finding oneself.” —anonymous
The Autobiography Of Malcolm X chronicles the life of a revolutionary and how he used his unwavering Muslim faith as a basis to fight for black liberation until his assassination.
Promising review: “This is such an excellent work that I hardly have words for it. Rather than concentrate simply on being the self-reflection of a civil rights leader, Malcolm's voice shines through; not only about his life and the events that made him who he was, but also his political philosophy and the earnest search for a genuine equity in the US between white and black people. In my mind, every self-proclaimed conservative and liberal should really study this precisely because he takes both to task; especially those who are well-meaning but ultimately insulting of the 'Negro.' In the end, it is a moral challenge, and Malcolm as a guide leads us to discover our own prejudices within a multicultural society.” —Jeffery Fitzgerald
Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward depicts a young black girl and her family in coastal Mississippi during the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, and how they continuously protect each other through the thing we call life.
Pre-order the sequel here! It drops on May 18th!
Promising review: “Salvage The Bones will grant the reader a look into rural life amongst African-Americans. The prose is thoughtful and certainly literary. There is much packed into this novel, but it never feels crowded. At the heart of the book is the tale of a poor family and the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.” —Read-A-Lot
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses why feminism should be accessible to women, but also to men (in terms of awareness of one’s personal actions and decisions they make day to day).
This is the book Beyoncé quoted in her legendary album, BEYONCÉ y'all!
Promising review: “This is a quick, straightforward, funny, and smart piece of writing that EVERYBODY SHOULD READ. I appreciate that it does not have extremely complex vocabulary. It makes a compelling, empowering, but also grounded argument that appeals emotionally and intellectually.” —amazonfan
Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes gives insight into the inner workings of a black family during segregation, told through the eyes of Sandy Rodgers: a young black man trying to find his place in a divided America.
Though Langston Hughes is predominantly known for his poems during the Harlem Renaissance, but this is his first award-winning novel!
Promising review: “This work of Langston Hughes is bittersweet. It is every black family's story: hope in the future generation and the youngest in the family. Whatever difficulties individual family members are having, or how much pathology exists in individual members, they all pull together to move the youngest forward, toward a future they will never have. This work will make you laugh and cry.” —E. A. Stowers
Beloved by Toni Morrison sheds light on the aftermath of slavery, how trauma affected black people who had to go through such atrocities, and what sacrifices they made in order to survive.
Mad props to Mama Toni, though.
Promising review: “Finally got around reading Beloved. Morrison is a true poet who writes a narrative. She can make descriptions of blood seem poetic, adding color to an otherwise gray scene. She's one of the best character writers I've read. When you finally learn the meaning behind Baby Suggs' name, you understand human longing in a word where humanity is almost absent.” —Edgar J. Sandoval
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay intimately tackles body image as it pertains to food and what it’s like to maneuver in a body that society says is less than ideal and in some ways, even invisible.
Promising review: “Wonderful and insightful. Hunger was painful and beautiful in so many ways. An easy, heartfelt read. I'd recommend this book to a lot of people, especially those with sexual abuse history or body image and self-worth issues.” —Jordean Soren-Jahnke
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the culture shock an educated Nigerian woman experiences as she comes to terms with being black in racially-charged America.
Promising review: “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes a great novel that puts into perspective and emotive language how it feels to immigrate to the US and England. Her writing style is intelligent and funny at times. That intricate dance between trying to fit in and coming to terms with your culture and past is something that is universal in all immigrants. How does one relate to those around you who see you as different? Then, as the years go on, as you assimilate into the new culture, that push and pull between wanting to belong, but knowing and accepting the differences is constant. It is complicated. This author was able to put it in a story where I was able to relate to most characters of all varying colors in the book. It makes it more than just a novel about a Nigerian young woman coming age, but something more humanistic as we all become more global. I loved it!” —goaliegirl
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander illuminates how institutional racism has been redefined and redesigned, leading to the continuous increase of black men being incarcerated as a contemporary system of racial control.
Promising review: “This is a book that should be read by every person living in America today. It unveils the reinvented post-Jim Crow system of structural racism with great and disturbing clarity. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with social justice.” —Margaret Sheffield
The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois eloquently discusses how it is below black people to beg American institutions for freedoms that are inherently theirs. Du Bois argues that the only way to tackle white supremacy is to organize, protest, and be heard.
Du Bois' writings played a major role in how African Americans fought and still fight for racial equality in the United States.
Promising review: “Entertaining, philosophical, deeply moving, and sure to leave a lasting impression. The book is a must-read. It's amazing how true many of Du Bois' statements are still true today as they were just after emancipation.” —london1375
Black Boy by Richard Wright tells the story of Wright’s early life during The Great Migration when many black families fled the Jim Crow south for the north and better economic and social opportunities (soon discovering that it really wasn’t the promised land).
Promising review: “This book is riveting. Richard Wright takes us through his difficult childhood of poverty and struggle, through his years as a young man who leaves the South as soon as he is able, and into a northern environment where racism is not as blatant as Jim Crow, but is still present. While some readers will not agree with the philosophical turn that Wright took in his Chicago days, any fair-minded person will appreciate the variables that contributed to that direction. Excellent reading!” —Raggae Girl
On Beauty: A Novel by Zadie Smith explores generational change, identity, and love through the lens of an interracial family living in Massachusetts as they come to terms with culture wars within their community.
Promising review: “A collision of three different cultures, two families, and the characters' struggle to understand their identity. There are really great characters that are portrayed, warts and all. You may not like many of them, but they have a solid reality about them.” —Kensingtonian
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor depicts a young albino Nigerian girl who discovers she has magical powers and is pulled into a secret magical society that hunts down others who use their powers for ~evil~.
Check out the sequel, Akata Warrior here!
Promising review: “This is definitely a book I'm going to read again. I loved the confusion and the growth that this character had. I enjoyed how it was a lead female character. I liked how she was always confused and figuring out her place in the world.” —cstolar
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison highlights trailblazers of change young children can look up to (especially young black women who want to see heroes who look just like them).
Promising review: “This book is everything! This has so much good info about famous black female leaders, and is paired with great illustrations as well. As an adult, you can even take away a few things from the book. I highly recommend for little girls (and boys) of color.” —sharon86
The Mothers by Brit Bennet explores how much the choices we make in our youth truly affect our future, while also dissecting the depths of true friendship and romantic relationships as we grow into ourselves.
Promising review: “The Mothers is such a phenomenal story. I absolutely loved Brit Bennett's writing and the characters that she created. They all seemed so realistic, it was beautiful. It's a story about life and love and loss and how the decisions we make can affect and change our lives. It's about how life happens.” —Caitlyn Pickerill
Soar: How Boys Learn, Succeed, and Develop Character by David C. Banks tackles how best to facilitate educational growth for young black and brown men through individual stories of the real-life experiences of students at The Eagle Academy For Young Men.
Promising review: “This book is a case study on the value of commitment to our young men's education. It should be read by not only parents and students, but by TEACHERS who influence the development of our young men.” —Duce
Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry includes her most famous poems like “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”: they continuously influence multiple generations of black women to be proud of their magic.
Promising review: “Maya Angelou, in the Complete Poetry (which is simply a collection of her separately published books of poems), is confident and self-possessed. She explores her femininity, her spirituality, and African American history usually with allegories that relate in more ways than one to her personal experiences.” —Jim Watts
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is the chronicle of an independent 20th century black woman, (Janie Crawford) as she discovers herself through love, poverty, and ultimate purpose.
Though written in African American Vernacular English, the depth in which Janie describes her life is truly awe-inspiring.
Promising review: “Hurston is one of the talented Harlem Renaissance authors. She inspired many of today's authors, one being Alice Walker. Hurston's story features a woman, who doesn't want to conform to the stereotypical role of women in her lifetime. The woman's journey to find her identity is enjoyable. The use of the Southern Black dialect of the time period might challenge some readers, but the flow of the story makes the challenge worthwhile.” —Pam
The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a satire about a black man going on trial before the Supreme Court for attempting to re-institute segregation and owning slaves. Through the absurd narrative, Beatty examines what it really means to be apart of a “post-racial” America.
Promising review: “This is a glorious, very personal accounting of a wonderfully transitional period in American Social History. The book is poignant, funny, and personal. It is also deeply human and satisfying for any of us looking to make sense of our own lives, of where we are going and what we have been through as a country and as a people. I think these sorts of memoirs are extremely important to look at in terms of where we are now as a nation.” —Russell Gollard
Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America is a heartwarming portrait of the legendary baseball player written by his daughter. She shares memories of how he inspired his family, friends, and fans to be the best versions of themselves.
Promising review: “This is a wonderful book written by a daughter about her father. The father happens to be Jackie Robinson, an important man in baseball and in African-American history. She remains down to Earth and describes the life the family led and how her father affected the family and history.” —Lynn Ellingwood
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler tells a tale of time travel: the main character, Brenda, continuously gets pulled back into the past where she is enslaved like her ancestors before her. Butler, with this narrative, sheds light on what modern day African Americans would actually do when faced with one of the greatest historical horrors.
Promising review: “The late great Octavia Butler makes you feel, hear, and fear slavery like never before. You are transported back to 1819 with Dana. And the very feeling that every modern African American has. 'I wouldn't be a slave, they'd have to kill me' is absolutely refuted as the human instinct to survive and escape unbearable pain is presented in full detail. Beyond amazing!” —MomOf5
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward is a coming of age story of a young black man in Mississippi trying to reconcile the two parts of his identity while navigating through life with his dysfunctional, but loving family.
Promising review: “What a powerful, gritty, moving novel about family and life and death. I don’t have the words to do this book justice! What a talent Ward is. Her writing is dark yet compelling. Her descriptions and how she moves the story forward; I swear it was like one of her ghosts reached out and pulled me right into this book. I literally felt it! I don’t know how anyone could give this anything other than five stars. A classic in the making!” —Toto66
Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson transports you into the ’70s where the author describes the duality of Brooklyn through the backdrop of four friends on the precipice of adulthood.
Promising review: “Wonderful book. Jacqueline is a novelist as well as a poet, and both aspects shine through in this book. It follows four young girls in Brooklyn during the '70s, as they grieve, share joyful times together, and hold each other up! Jacqueline really understands this age group, as seen in the relationships that are formed. Great read.” —Catherine M Schrader
A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo depicts vivid narratives of modern Africans rising up to battle the atrocities happening in their countries, proving ordinary people can, in fact, make a difference.
Promising review: “What an incredible, searing, authentic voice, and what an important, timely story. Alexis is a power to be reckoned with, and this book is a truly stunning debut. Each of the stories she weaves together is different, yet each of them are interconnected, demonstrating the power of the human spirit and resilience.” —Laura Burns
Reviews here have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Now when your mother says go and read a book, you have a huge-ass selection!
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