The best books for coming of age while Black

Who am I?

Besides having come of age while Black, I’ve published two coming-of-age novels about Black adolescents. Even before I became a writer, or an adult, I had had a particular interest in coming-of-age narratives. From Walter Dean Myers’ Harlem-located Young Adult novels to Toni Morrison’s Sula and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, I’ve always been attracted to such stories. However, what the book list offered here does is map a reading series for what I see as an exciting intellectual formation for a Black reader.


I wrote...

The Confession of Copeland Cane

By Keenan Norris,

Book cover of The Confession of Copeland Cane

What is my book about?

Copeland Cane V, the child who fell outta Colored People Time and into America, is a fugitive. He’s also just a regular teenager coming up in a terrifying near future East Oakland, California. A slightly eccentric, flip-phone-loving kid with analog tendencies and a sideline hustling sneakers, the boundaries of Copeland’s life are demarcated from the jump by urban toxicity, an educational apparatus with confounding intentions, and a police state that has merged with media conglomerates―the highly-rated Insurgency Alert Desk that surveils and harasses his neighborhood in the name of anti-terrorism.

Winner of the 2022 Northern California Book Award in Fiction, The Confession of Copeland Cane introduces us to a prescient and contemporary voice, one whose take on coming of age in America becomes a startling reflection of our present moment.

The books I picked & why

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Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

By Howard W. French,

Book cover of Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

Why this book?

This is a magisterial and moving historical work that Black people young and old can read to redress the criminal erasure of our history from the respectful discussion of the modern world. Howard French was The New York Times bureau chief for West Africa and the Caribbean for two decades and he brings to this masterpiece the broad perspective and narrative assuredness that one would expect from such an intellectual. Born in Blackness centers West and Central African political and economic history, as well as the Black diaspora brought about by transatlantic slavery, in French’s telling of the formation of our world. There’s really no way to summarize the boldness, the sheer breadth, and impressiveness of French’s achievement.

Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

By Howard W. French,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Born in Blackness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a sweeping narrative that traverses 600 years, one that eloquently weaves precise historical detail with poignant personal reportage, Pulitzer Prize finalist Howard W. French retells the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in America and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe's dehumanising engagement with the "darkest" continent.

Born in Blackness dramatically retrieves the lives of major African historical figures whose stories have been repeatedly etiolated and erased over centuries, from unimaginably rich medieval African emperors who traded with Asia; to Kongo sovereigns who…


How to Love a Jamaican: Stories

By Alexia Arthurs,

Book cover of How to Love a Jamaican: Stories

Why this book?

I simply love these bracingly contemporary stories of Black Jamaican women who span the gamut from self-absorbed teenagers to Rihanna-inspired celebrities and overtaxed elders. These narratives take place both in JA and the USA and weave together elements of our twenty-first-century Black diaspora. Each of Arthurs’ stories sings in its own way, with exquisitely rendered details and moments of moral clarity. I love that these stories chronicle such a wide variety of Black women’s lives in such depth and detail. 

How to Love a Jamaican: Stories

By Alexia Arthurs,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Love a Jamaican as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'In this thrilling debut collection Alexia Arthurs is all too easy to love.' - Zadie Smith

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret - these are the tensions at the heart of Alexia Arthurs' debut book about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Some stories ask big questions about the things that define a person, others explode small moments of deep significance and lasting effect. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City, How to Love a Jamaican offers a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

Vibrant, lyrical…


The Poet X

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Book cover of The Poet X

Why this book?

Elizabeth Acevedo is both an acclaimed spoken word artist and Young Adult novelist. The Poet X is her most well-known work, a super-popular book about coming-of-age Black and Latino in Harlem, New York City. It’s not hard to understand why Xiomara, a.k.a. “X,” is such a relatable and indeed enthralling character for teenagers to encounter, but I was impressed by Acevedo’s ability to draw my cold, old soul into X’s story and keep me on a box cutter’s edge of anticipation from the first page until the last. Acevedo’s work will be as important to new generations of young readers as the great Walter Dean Myers was to my youth.

The Poet X

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Poet X as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE THE CILIP CARNEGIE MEDAL 2019
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WATERSTONES CHILDREN'S BOOK PRIZE 2019
THE WINNER OF THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE MICHAEL L.PRINTZ AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE PURA BELPRE AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE BOSTON GLOBE-HORNBOOK AWARD

'I fell in love at slam poetry. This one will stay with you a long time.' - Angie Thomas, bestselling author of The Hate U Give

'This was the type of book where "I'll just do 50 pages" turned into finishing it in 2 reads. I felt very emotional, not just because the story and…


David Walker's Appeal: To the Coloured Citizens of the World

By David Walker,

Book cover of David Walker's Appeal: To the Coloured Citizens of the World

Why this book?

I’ve long been fascinated with Walker’s life and work. Ten years ago, I devoted a chapter of my dissertation to Walker and now I’m working with TED-ED on an animated video and related teaching materials about the man whom Frederick Douglass himself cited as the progenitor of the radical abolitionist movement.

When teaching African-American Literature courses, I’ve found Walker’s Appeal to be an especially effective entry point for Black students who are tired of stories of slavery and Black debasement. Walker, as a freeborn Black man from the slaveholding south (and later Boston), offers a different vision: of impressive erudition and entrepreneurship, of Pan-African pride and militant resistance.

David Walker's Appeal: To the Coloured Citizens of the World

By David Walker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked David Walker's Appeal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1829 David Walker, a free black born in Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote one of America's most provocative political documents of the nineteenth century, Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Decrying the savage and unchristian treatment blacks suffered in the United States, Walker challenged his "afflicted and slumbering brethren" to rise up and cast off their chains. Walker worked tirelessly to circulate his book via underground networks in the South, and he was so successful that Southern lawmakers responded with new laws cracking down on "incendiary" antislavery material. Although Walker died in 1830, the Appeal remained a…


The Residue Years

By Mitchell S. Jackson,

Book cover of The Residue Years

Why this book?

“Peoples,” the protagonist of Jackson’s coming of age novel is apt to announce, an African-Americanized riff on Shakespeare’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” which Jackson’s narrator voices from the recesses of his Mississippi, Portland neighborhood. Everything about this book is centered by the protagonist’s remarkable voice, a voice that very much inspired me to write my book. This is to say nothing of the deeply tragic, crack-era intergenerational family drama that The Residue Years tells.

The Residue Years

By Mitchell S. Jackson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'This novel is written with a breathtaking, exhilarating assurance and wit. Terrific' The Times

'A wrenchingly beautiful debut by a writer to be reckoned with' Jesmyn Ward

Mitchell S. Jackson grew up black in a neglected neighbourhood in America's whitest city, Portland, Oregon. In the '90s, those streets and beyond had fallen under the shadow of crack cocaine and its familiar mayhem. In his commanding autobiographical novel, Jackson writes what it was like to come of age in that time and place, with a breakout voice that's nothing less than extraordinary.

The Residue Years switches between the perspectives of a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in coming of age, slaves, and adolescence?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about coming of age, slaves, and adolescence.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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