The best novels about the complexities of being Black in America

The Books I Picked & Why

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

By Anna Malaika Tubbs

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation

Why this book?

A fascinating exploration into the lives of three women ignored by history, the mothers of Martin Luther King Jr, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X. By tracing the intellectual, political, and emotional strands of each woman’s life, Anna Malaika Tubbs uncovers hidden complexities within black motherhood that illuminate our understanding of the past while also shedding light on the overlooked contributions of black women today.


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Passing

By Nella Larsen

Passing

Why this book?

A beloved novel from the Harlem Renaissance that follows the fraught relationship between two childhood friends, one who passes for white and one who chooses not to. The forthcoming adaptation, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, is a faithful and gorgeous reimagining of the novel. Shot beautifully in black and white, it movingly captures the tense friendship at the heart of the book.


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Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon

Why this book?

I first read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison when I was studying abroad in the UK, so this book found me when I was beginning to think, more deeply ever, about what it means to be both black and American. This is a story about a search for hidden gold that, instead, uncovers a hidden family history. It’s a perfect novel.


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Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why this book?

In this short novel, Zora Neale Hurston somehow manages to capture the challenges faced by Black women seeking liberation in a racist, misogynist world while never losing sight of the liberating power of Black joy.


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Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones

Why this book?

I read Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones in college, and I marveled over Ward’s ear for language and her attentiveness to the rich emotional lives of her character. A beautiful, big-hearted novel.


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