The best books by African American and Caribbean female writers

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Haiti where I was known as ti-blan—little white. And when we moved to central Florida, I remember the feeling of utter sadness and despair. I felt wrenched from the place I loved. The only person I could speak creole with was the janitor at the segregated white school. The teacher yelled at me for talking with him. Since then, I have been interested in this weird problem of race in America. I am drawn to women writers and Caribbean women writers. I love books that evoke place and language and tell me a story—but also deal with the specific urgent political questions of our times. 


I wrote...

Ruth and the Green Book

By Calvin Alexander Ramsey, Gwen Strauss, Floyd Cooper (illustrator)

Book cover of Ruth and the Green Book

What is my book about?

The story of the journey of a family traveling from Chicago to Alabama by car. "It was a BIG day at our house when Daddy drove up in our very own automobile—a 1952 Buick!... I was so excited to travel across the country!" Ruth's family encounters many of the obstacles that existed, from whites-only restrooms in gas stations to whites-only hotels: "It seemed like there were White Only' signs everywhere outside of our Chicago neighborhood." The Negro Motorist Green Book comes to the rescue, listing resources for black motorists in every state, and Ruth and her family make their way from safe haven to safe haven until they reach Alabama.

The books I picked & why

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why this book?

I remember reading this book in college and it hitting me like a lightning bolt. I loved her style and the flow of her language. Later I found out that Hurston had been to Haiti, the country of my birth and childhood, and she had written a book about voodoo. She also lived in Central Florida where I lived—so I felt an affinity with her landscape, her south. I could recognize the places and the people she was talking about. She was a trailblazer and a real outsider. She was repudiated by the other great African American writers of her generation like Richard Wright. Her politics were complicated and libertarian, but I think that is also her power: she had a unique vision.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Their Eyes Were Watching God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cover design by Harlem renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones

When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds ...

'For me, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece…


The Chosen Place, the Timeless People

By Paule Marshall,

Book cover of The Chosen Place, the Timeless People

Why this book?

One of my all-time favorites. I think it is about Haiti, or it is a fictional island “Bourneville” that is based on Haiti. The novel describes a place linked to its history of enslavement and the battle for freedom. She is a beautiful deep-thinking writer. She carefully shows a group of white ethnographers going to this island, and how their attempts to "help" led to tragedy. It illustrates the pitfalls with international aid organizations. How often they damage, instead of help. And the novel is timely to this day. 

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People

By Paule Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Chosen Place, the Timeless People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The chosen place is Bourneville, a remote, devastated part of a Caribbean island; the timeless people are its inhabitants—black, poor, inextricably linked to their past enslavement. When the advance team for an ambitious American research project arrives, the tense, ambivalent relationships that evolve, between natives and foreigners, black and whites, haves and have-nots, keenly dramatize the vicissitudes of power.
 
“An important and moving book . . . Marshall is as wise as she is bold, for in compromising neither her politics nor her understanding of people, she makes better sense of both.”—Village Voice


Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Book cover of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

Why this book?

Hartman’s work of non-fiction is lyrical, breathtaking, and brave. She tells about the lives of young black women in Harlem in early 1900, from their point of view and from a point of view of agency and empowerment. She speaks of them as having made choices, not as victims. This book gave me permission to write the book I wanted to write when I wrote The Nine. Her opening “A Note on Methods” is worth reading as its own text. She challenges the limitations of the archives for the marginalized. And she allows us to imagine our way into the lives of people who have been so-long effaced by historical texts, by institutions of control and exclusion.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading…


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

By Isabel Wilkerson,

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

Why this book?

This is just a must-read book of history. Wilkerson brilliantly tells the story of the Great Migration through the lens of three individuals. It is such an important chapter of American history that has long been overlooked. Over six million African Americans moved from the south to the north. It was a huge upheaval in the cities and towns all across the country—and how it happened, how it reshaped the country, how it had lasting effects on so many lives is painstakingly told here. But it is also a great and compelling read. I love non-fiction that reads like this, that carries you through with the power of the stories.

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

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste 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.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…


Luminous Isle

By Eliot Bliss,

Book cover of Luminous Isle

Why this book?

Eliot Bliss was a Jamaican born Anglo-Irish woman; she was also gay. Her stance as a Creole gay writer interests me. I also think she’s largely forgotten and should be read more. I related to her return to Jamaica (depicted in this novel) and her search for her sort of childhood home—that brings the realization that she both does and doesn’t fit in. She is white, she is gay so she doesn’t fit in British society where she feels out of place because of her Creole childhood and her sexuality, and she can’t fit in Jamaica because she is white and gay. And she sees clearly now the white oppressive colonials who were her family. It is a deeply felt search for home, both geographically but also in her body.

Luminous Isle

By Eliot Bliss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Luminous Isle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Caribbean, African Americans, and the Great Migration?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Caribbean, African Americans, and the Great Migration.

The Caribbean Explore 97 books about the Caribbean
African Americans Explore 502 books about African Americans
The Great Migration Explore 6 books about the Great Migration

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Out of Sheer Rage, Crime and Punishment, and The Three Mothers if you like this list.