The best books beautifully portraying the strength & vulnerabilities of African-American historical heroines

Why am I passionate about this?

I have a youthful spirit, but an old soul. Perhaps, that’s why I love African American history and gravitated to Black Studies as my undergraduate degree. My reverence for my ancestors sends me time and again to African-American historical fiction in an effort to connect with our past. Growing up, I was that kid who liked being around my elders and eavesdropping on grown-ups' conversations. Now, I listen to my ancestors as they guide my creativity. I’m an award-winning hybrid author writing contemporary and historical novels, and I value each. Still, it’s those historical characters and tales that snatch me by the hand and passionately urge me to do their bidding. 

I wrote...

My Name Is Ona Judge

By Suzette Harrison,

Book cover of My Name Is Ona Judge

What is my book about?

New Hampshire, 1796. “My name is Ona Judge, and I escaped from the household of the President of the United States. I was the favored maid of George and Martha Washington, but they deemed me a slave and thought me property. Now I must write the truth that I have lived, and tell my story…”

Meet Ona Judge, the young, brave lady’s maid who dared to risk her entire world by escaping enslavement. Take a walk through her early years and the circumstances that led to her harrowing escape. A dynamic dual timeline narrative based on a true story, this riveting novel will whisk you to another world and arrest your imagination.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sugar

Suzette Harrison Why did I love this book?

Once upon a time, I was the founder and president of a book club, Literary Ladies Alliance. Many moons ago, LLA chose Sugar as our monthly reading selection. I was absolutely floored by this unlikely, unconventional heroine of the same name as the novel set in a small southern town that wasn’t ready for this seductive storm, i.e. Sugar. I found her shockingly bold and beautifully unapologetic despite her disreputable past and “questionable morals.” She hungered for love, endured dangerous risks and scandal; and yet for me, Sugar moved with an air of voluptuous freedom that captivated my church girl imagination and respect. While Dianne McKinney Whetstone is my favorite author, Sugar is undoubtedly my favorite novel! I’ve read the book twice and would readily devour it again for its captivating journey back in time and its uncharacteristic, boldly unforgettable heroine. 

By Bernice L. McFadden,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

20th Anniversary Edition—with a New Foreword by Kimberly Elise

A novel by a critically acclaimed voice in contemporary fiction, praised by Ebony for its “unforgettable images, unique characters, and moving story that keeps the pages turning until the end.”

A young prostitute comes to Bigelow, Arkansas, to start over, far from her haunting past. Sugar moves next door to Pearl, who is still grieving for the daughter who was murdered fifteen years before. Over sweet-potato pie, an unlikely friendship begins, transforming both women's lives—and the life of an entire town.

Sugar brings a Southern African-American town vividly to life, with…

Book cover of The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner

Suzette Harrison Why did I love this book?

While the minute details of the plot may have faded, I still recall the feelings Sisterhood left me with, its essence. As the middle of three daughters, sisterhood is highly important to me. Although the women in the book weren’t biologically connected, their bond and unification were definite. I consider our protagonist Bonnie Wilder (despite her own personal challenges), her best friend, Thora, and the women of Blackberry Corner heroic in their efforts to rescue abandoned children—thus, touching on another topic important to me: motherhood. If you like small-town stories with lively, colorful characters, historical references, and a touch of drama dive into The Sisterhood of Blackberry Corner. The sense of satisfaction I felt when reading it remains with me still. 

By Andrea Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Filled with compassion, humor, and tenacity in the face of almost insurmountable odds, here is a rich, inspiring tale of friendship and family, sisterhood and mother love . . . and of finding grace where you least expect it. 

Canaan Creek, South Carolina, in the 1950s is a tiny town where the close-knit African-American community is united by long-term friendships and church ties. Bonnie Wilder has lived here, on Blackberry Corner, all her life, and would be content but for her deep desire to have a child. She and her husband Naz cannot conceive, and he refuses to adopt. Even…

Book cover of Miss Ophelia

Suzette Harrison Why did I love this book?

Part coming-of-age story, part slice of adult drama and misbehavior, this book impressed itself on my memory with its deceptive sweetness and heart-wrenching likability. It touches on teenaged pregnancy while examining infidelity stemming from a faulty marriage between a likable man and a bitter woman. I loved its honest examination of problematic, complex relationships—husband to wife, and child to adult. It is beautifully drawn, complex, and definitely on my "Books I can Re-Read Endlessly” list.

By Mary Burnett Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Part coming-of-age story and part slice of life, this is a literary novel about African-Americans in the rural South.

Set in rural Virginia during 1948, Miss Ophelia is a remarkable debut novel that explores the issues of abortion, illegitimacy, adultery, and skin color. Belly Anderson now in the autumn of her life, reminisces about the last summer of her childhood. A strong-willed and free-spirited eleven-year-old, she reluctantly leaves her home in rural Pharaoh and goes to Jamison to help her mean Aunt Rachel recover from surgery. Belly has two reasons for deciding to go to Jamison: She's left alone when…

Book cover of Mrs. Wiggins

Suzette Harrison Why did I love this book?

Clearly, I’m a fan of small, southern town tales depicting amazing African American females who make magic out of the injustices stacked against them. Well, meet Maggie Wiggins. She and her best friend, Hubert, turn life tragedies and situations into a “perfectly suited” marriage of deception. Outwardly, they live an enviable existence; but only they know the cost of their happiness. I love Mary Monroe’s ability to infuse humor into the most chilling situations, as well as her small town cosmoses and complicated, “countrified” characters. They frustrate me to no end, yet I find myself rooting for them, just as I rooted for Maggie to win. She does in the end but at such a horrific cost that I’ll never look at a bowl of gumbo the same way again. 

By Mary Monroe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of the classic, captivating, and scandalous Mama Ruby series, comes a church-going matriarch’s rags to riches Depression era story set in the Deep South. The respectable family she has built means everything to her, and she’ll do anything to keep them.
The daughter of a prostitute mother and an alcoholic father, Maggie Franklin knew her only way out was to marry someone upstanding and church-going. Someone like Hubert Wiggins, the most eligible man in Lexington, Alabama—and the son of its most revered preacher. Proper and prosperous, Hubert is glad to finally…

Book cover of Looking for Hope

Suzette Harrison Why did I love this book?

I’ve always been an avid reader despite not having peer-aged characters who resembled or represented me when I was a child. Fast forward to when my children were little: suddenly, there existed a plethora of African-American children’s literature. With pure delight, I indulged my little ones in magnificent books featuring characters that reflected them. Want to know a secret? I read those books for myself as well as for them. Recently, when finding a young African American girl at the center of Looking for Hope, I felt a delightful connection with my inner child. Make no mistakes. The young protagonist, Hannah “Mouse” Maynard, endures a horrific life event that alters her existence, interrupts her innocence, and thrusts her into a perilous, mature journey that fails to diminish her abiding sweetness. 

By Mbinguni,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Grief has a way of cementing our feet to the ground wherever we’re standing when it hits us. It takes hard work to get unstuck from that place, but we have to be willing to dig in.”
In this coming of age tale, Mbinguni weaves a narrative about Hannah “Mouse” Maynard and her transformation from a shy, quiet, girl into a strong and assertive woman. 

At 7-years-old, Mouse encounters a tragedy that forces her to face the evils of the world and leave behind everything she’s ever known. With their home destroyed, Mouse and her father travel from Maplewood, Georgia…

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The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?


Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…

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