The best books on biracial marriage/families that take fascinating angles

Why am I passionate about this?

Sixty-one years ago I, a young white woman, married a Black man and together we had two children. Raising them (and then watching my biracial children grow to maturity) started my career, professionally and personally, as an anti-racism activist and scholar. They also caused me to question “race”: how did this myth come to be accepted as reality? How could people who were segregated as Negro, as my children were called in the 1960s, have come out of my body, called “white”? As a writer and avid reader, I am fascinated by every aspect of “racial identity.” 


I wrote...

Book cover of Loving before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White

What is my book about?

Committed to the struggle for civil rights, in the late 1950s Joan Steinau Lester marched and protested as a white ally. She soon fell in love with and married the Black writer Julius Lester, establishing a partnership that was long and multifaceted but not free of the politics of race and gender.

Loving Before Loving is a riveting and deeply personal memoir. Braiding intellectual, personal, and political history, Lester tells the story of her fight for love and justice before, during, and after the Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 decision striking down bans on interracial marriage.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Vanishing Half

Joan Steinau Lester Why did I love this book?

This novel blew me away because it captured the challenges of biracial people so beautifully.

It shows two different strategies that twin daughters employ to cope with the pervasive racism they encounter—one living as Black, one fleeing her family to pass as white—and embody real-life choices that thousands of light-skinned Black people confront.

Beautifully written, the novel furthers the complexities by inserting another tale of passing into the story: a woman passing as male, for greater occupational opportunities.

Brilliant book, rightfully celebrated!

By Brit Bennett,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Vanishing Half as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES TOP BESTSELLER
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE

'An utterly mesmerising novel..I absolutely loved this book' Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize 2019

'Epic' Kiley Reid, O, The Oprah Magazine

'Favourite book [of the] year' Issa Rae

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years…


Book cover of One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life - A Story of Race and Family Secrets

Joan Steinau Lester Why did I love this book?

I have bought multiple copies of One Drop as gifts for biracial family members, as well as friends.

Broyard is the daughter of Anatole Broyard, celebrated New York Times book critic in the 1960s and 70s. Only after his death did even his wealthy white wife and mixed children discover his Black heritage. The public—self included—was equally shocked.

Bliss Boyard researches his Louisiana roots, meets her Black cousins, and writes a fascinating, deeply personal story of “race,” showing its often bizarre contours as some family members may be classified as “white,” others “colored” or any number of other categorizations, from “octoroon” on.

A healing narrative, beautifully told.

By Bliss Broyard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Drop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two months before he died of cancer, renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard called his grown son and daughter to his side, intending to reveal a secret he'd kept all their lives and most of his own: he was black. But even as he lay dying, the truth was too diffi cult for him to share, and it was his wife who told Bliss Broyard that her WASPy, privileged Connecticut childhood had come at a price. Ever since his own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and begun to 'pass' in order to get work, Anatole had learned to…


Book cover of Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White

Joan Steinau Lester Why did I love this book?

Scholars Lewis and Ardizzone write a deeply researched but popularly written non-fiction account of a major 1924 scandal: the marriage of a wealthy white scion of a prominent New York Family to a “colored” woman, who works as a servant.

The trial of the title is one in which the new husband, prodded by his father, sues his wife for annulment, charging that she deceived him about her racial identity.

It is clear she didn’t, but will his money and position dictate the trial’s results? The book probes deeply into racial identity, how it’s defined, and what it means to be Black, white—or ambiguously both.

A page-turner I read in a day and a half.

By Earl Lewis, Heidi Ardizzone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love on Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Upon marrying Leonard Rhinelander in 1924, Alice Jones, a former nanny, became the first black woman to be listed in the Social Register as a member of one of New York's wealthiest families. When their marriage became a national scandal, Alice and Leonard found themselves thrust into the glare of public scrutiny-and into a Westchester courtroom. Earl Lewis and Heidi Ardizzone tell the story of the marriage and the annulment trial that opened the lives of two vastly different families to the media. Tracking the public obsession withthe case, they unfold a story with a dramatic cast of characters. Would…


Book cover of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora

Joan Steinau Lester Why did I love this book?

A memoir by a young biracial woman who travels to Israel, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and the U.S. South, searching for her own identity. 

The pleasure in the memoir comes from her journey. She is a good storyteller and takes us inside her often uncomfortable encounters with folks she has romanticized as being the “real” Black folks. Raboteau discovers, after searching for ten years all over the world, that rather like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, her true home lies within. 

One of the things I loved about the book was her well-told conversations and visits with people in countries I knew little about. The book was the winner of American Book Award.

By Emily Raboteau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Searching for Zion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A decade in the making, Emily Raboteau’s Searching for Zion takes readers around the world on an unexpected adventure of faith. Both one woman’s quest for a place to call “home” and an investigation into a people’s search for the Promised Land, this landmark work of creative nonfiction is a trenchant inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement.
At the age of twenty-three, award-winning writer Emily Raboteau traveled to Israel to visit her childhood best friend. While her friend appeared to have found a place to belong, Raboteau could not yet say the same for herself. As a biracial woman…


Book cover of The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

Joan Steinau Lester Why did I love this book?

One of my all-time favorite books, it is a beautifully told memoir by a Black man who grows up with eleven siblings, his eccentric white Jewish mother, and a Black stepfather who does not live with the rest of the family but piles everyone into his old car on the weekends for outings.

There is so much love permeating this memoir—which took the author ten years to write—that it deserves its place as an American classic. A New York Times bestseller for two years, I can’t recommend it enough!

By James McBride,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Color of Water as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_______________ 'A triumph' - New York Times Book Review 'A startling, tender-hearted tribute to a woman for whom the expression tough love might have been invented' - The Times 'As lively as a novel, a well-written, thoughtful contribution to the literature on race' - Washington Post _______________ MORE THAN TWO YEARS ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST _______________ From the New York Times bestselling author of Deacon King Kong and The Good Lord Bird, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, came this modern classic that Oprah.com calls one of the best memoirs of a generation and that…


You might also like...

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

Book cover of Wrightsville Beach

Suzanne Goodwyn Author Of Wrightsville Beach

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing all my life, but was never able to find my voice until I had my daughters. It was for them I wrote “Wrightsville Beach”. I wanted to show them what a good relationship should look like and how their decisions make a difference in where they will go. I want my readers to relive that feeling of falling in love and to be sent in unexpected directions, as life so often does to us. I want you to enjoy it so much, you don’t want to put the book down until it’s finished and once you do, to sit and reflect on it, savoring the feeling it has left behind.

Suzanne's book list on smart women trying to figure it all out

What is my book about?

Two years ago, devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Hank Atwater went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested. Since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess feel connected to each other in a way neither has ever felt before.

But when Hank’s past leads to a frightful incident, it ends their relationship. Jess leaves to work on the beach with sea turtles, thinking about what really happened that summer with Hank, while Hank sets out to find his own path in hopes of one day winning her back.

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

What is this book about?

Two years ago, Hank Atwater made a terrible mistake. Devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Rob, he went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested for aggravated assault. Sober since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck.

Working a dead-end delivery job, Hank uses surfing and running to deal with being ostracized as he waits for his probation to end. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in multiracial people, New York State, and Africa?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about multiracial people, New York State, and Africa.

Multiracial People Explore 71 books about multiracial people
New York State Explore 739 books about New York State
Africa Explore 255 books about Africa