My favorite books by contemporary African American authors and the southern landscape that shaped them

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a contemporary African American writer born and raised in the South. It was this sense of place that has shaped my artistic sensibilities. I was in my mid-twenties, searching, seeking for answers and direction on my own, when other Black southern writers were instrumental in pointing me in the right direction: Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, Ernest J Gaines, Alice Walker, Arna Bontemps, Albert Murray, just to name a handful. Their writings were revelatory. The same issues that they were dealing with a generation earlier were the same ones I was struggling with every day. It opened my eyes, mind, heart and creativity to put into perspective what I was feeling. 


I wrote...

Edge of the Wind

By James E. Cherry,

Book cover of Edge of the Wind

What is my book about?

In the highly suspenseful Edge of the Wind, the main character, a sensitive but deeply troubled 25-year-old Black man, Alexander van der Pool, is off his meds and has begun hearing voices, especially that of his alter ego, Tobi. Having been holed up in his sister's bedroom in southwest Tennessee for two months, Alex has done nothing but read and write poetry. Until one day, he is convinced writing poetry is his life's calling and sets out to visit a local community college to have his work evaluated. But life takes a terrible turn when those at the college reject Alex and his work. When they try to kick him out, he takes matters into his own hands and holds the literature class hostage.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays

James E. Cherry Why did I love this book?

This book epitomizes what it means to be Black and male in American society and how one’s poor choices or the choices that chose one can be overcome. Horton, a native of the segregated South and the by-product of educators, headed north to college and became swept away by the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. A major drug smuggler, he spent seven years in prison for his crime. But it was during that time, that poetry discovered him and upon his release he earned a B.A., Master, and PhD degrees. In fact, he describes himself as the only tenured professor with seven convicted felonies. In addition, Horton is an award-winning poet, essayist, musician, and devotes much of his time to outreach into the criminal justice system to provide hope for others. Dead Weight, with its theme of redemption, is destined to become an American classic and should be on the same shelves with The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

By Randall Horton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Dead Weight chronicles the improbable turnaround of a drug smuggler who, after being sentenced to eight years in state prison, returned to society to earn a PhD in creative writing and become the only tenured professor in the United States with seven felony convictions. Horton's visceral essays highlight the difficulties of trying to change one's life for the better, how the weight of felony convictions never dissipates.

The memoir begins with a conversation between Horton and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man statue in New York City. Their imagined dialogue examines the psychological impact of racism on Black men and boys, including…


Book cover of The Vain Conversation

James E. Cherry Why did I love this book?

In 1946, two African American couples were lynched in rural Georgia by a white mob. Grooms fictionalized that account from the perspective of one of the victims, perpetrators, and a pre-teen eyewitness and in the process comes to terms with redemption, race, and violence not only in the South but in the nation as well. Grooms has the ability to juxtapose the beauty of the Southern landscape with the horrors that have occurred there with breathtaking imagery and conciseness. This book not just deals with the victims of such horrific acts, but the often untold damage done to the progeny of those who perpetrated the act. This is a fiction that will always be relevant as long as a nation struggles with injustice, oppression, and white supremacy.  

By Anthony Grooms,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vain Conversation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An engrossing novel based on the true story of the 1946 lynching of two black couples in Georgia

Inspired by true events, The Vain Conversation reflects on the 1946 lynching of two black couples in Georgia from the perspectives of three characters-Bertrand Johnson, one of the victims; Noland Jacks, a presumed perpetrator; and Lonnie Henson, a witness to the murders as a ten-year-old boy. Lonnie's inexplicable feelings of culpability drive him in a search for meaning that takes him around the world and ultimately back to Georgia, where he must confront Jacks and his own demons, with the hopes that…


Book cover of Tougaloo Blues

James E. Cherry Why did I love this book?

Kelly Norman Ellis is the Chairperson for the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Literatures at Chicago State University. And like those who have made the “Great Migration” before her, she too has taken the South with her in this wonderful debut collection of poetry. In this book, she deftly taps into the Blues ethos to conjure vivid imagery of a Mississippi unique with its patois, cuisine, and customs that have unmistakably shaped her worldview as an adult. It was the South that would try to degrade and dehumanize Black life. But it was the same South where family and a village would instill pride, confidence, and self-worth. This is a book of a poet coming to terms with where she has come from and celebrating the journey. It reinforces the notion that everywhere you go, home is already there.

By Kelly Norman Ellis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This collection of poems explores the author's southern roots through a blues/narrative voice and revisits her Mississippi youth, while revealing the contemporary voice of a Black woman searching for place and community outside of her southern past.


Book cover of Table Scraps and Other Essays

James E. Cherry Why did I love this book?

This is where prose and poetry blossom into memoir. James’ account of growing up impoverished with an absentee father and how a small rural Louisiana community became her surrogate family is both moving and insightful. She engages in an exercise of self-examination of the things that made her a writer and the person she has come to be. There is much grace and beauty in these pages as she seeks a path of truth and understanding and mending a broken relationship with her estranged father. This story is both personal and universal and provides understanding of the human condition. There is much poverty, pain, humor, blues, disappointment, and love in this book. Always love.

By Juyanne James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Table Scraps and Other Essays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Table Scraps and Other Essays is for all intents and purposes memoir writing. At the heart of the twenty-two true stories is an African American female who, as a child, along with her siblings, must learn the value of hard work as hired hands. James's young spirit is often at odds with her growing family, especially with a father figure who ignores his duties as husband and provider. She has a strong, loving mother who insists on keeping the family together. James learns to trust and depend on the "guardians" of her small Louisiana community--teachers who are eventually forced to…


Book cover of Lucy Negro, Redux: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet

James E. Cherry Why did I love this book?

This book is reminiscent of Jean Toomer’s Cane. It blurs the lines between poetry, history, and the blues. Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets are at the heart of a book that is both breathtaking and spellbinding. But more than that, this book is a reclamation of the Black female body. Over the centuries the Black female body has been defined by everyone but the Black female. Williams redefines notions of beauty, dignity, and self-worth in a world that is antithetical to the Black female body. This book is a salvo across the bough of social, racial, and political history that has dehumanized Black life throughout the centuries. Not only does Williams, a Nashville native, reclaim all that has been distorted about the Black female body, she celebrates it as well.

By Caroline Randall Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lucy Negro, Redux as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Part lyrical narrative, part bluesy riff, part schoolyard chant and part holy incantation" - New York Times Lucy Negro, Redux, uses the lens of Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" sonnets to explore the way questions about and desire for the black female body have evolved over time, from Elizabethan England to the Jim Crow South to the present day. Equally interested in the sensual and the serious, the erotic and the academic, this collection experiments with form, dialect, persona, and voice. Ultimately a hybrid document, Lucy Negro Redux harnesses blues poetry, deconstructed sonnets, historical documents and lyric essays to tell the challenging,…


You might also like...

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in African Americans, drug trafficking, and Georgia (USA)?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about African Americans, drug trafficking, and Georgia (USA).

African Americans Explore 725 books about African Americans
Drug Trafficking Explore 12 books about drug trafficking
Georgia (USA) Explore 82 books about Georgia (USA)