11 books like Jacob Lawrence

By Leah Dickerman (editor), Elsa Smithgall (editor),

Here are 11 books that Jacob Lawrence fans have personally recommended if you like Jacob Lawrence. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America

David G. Nicholls Author Of Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America

From my list on understanding the Great Black Migration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a lifelong reader and wanted to study literature from an early age. I grew up in Indianapolis, one of the cities reshaped by the Great Black Migration. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and found myself once again in the urban Midwest. My research for Conjuring the Folk led me to discover a trove of short stories by George Wylie Henderson, a Black writer from Alabama who migrated to Harlem. I edited the stories and published them as Harlem Calling: The Collected Stories of George Wylie Henderson. I'm a contributor to African American Review, the Journal of Modern Literature, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration

David's book list on understanding the Great Black Migration

David G. Nicholls Why did David love this book?

The Promised Land is written in an engaging, eloquent style that makes it an excellent introduction to the history of the Great Black Migration. A noted journalist, Lemann interviewed dozens of migrants and their descendants to create a richly textured story of their experiences. Layered onto this story is description and analysis of the political contexts for the migration, including the civil rights movement and the Great Society programs. He follows a group of Black Americans from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and, in some cases, back. He shows how the migration affected not just the migrants themselves, but America as a whole, for it shifted race relations from a regional to a national problem. Chicagoans like me will enjoy its wealth of local detail.

By Nicholas Lemann,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Promised Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller, the groundbreaking authoritative history of the migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. A definitive book on American history, The Promised Land is also essential reading for educators and policymakers at both national and local levels.


Book cover of 12 Million Black Voices

David G. Nicholls Author Of Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America

From my list on understanding the Great Black Migration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a lifelong reader and wanted to study literature from an early age. I grew up in Indianapolis, one of the cities reshaped by the Great Black Migration. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and found myself once again in the urban Midwest. My research for Conjuring the Folk led me to discover a trove of short stories by George Wylie Henderson, a Black writer from Alabama who migrated to Harlem. I edited the stories and published them as Harlem Calling: The Collected Stories of George Wylie Henderson. I'm a contributor to African American Review, the Journal of Modern Literature, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration

David's book list on understanding the Great Black Migration

David G. Nicholls Why did David love this book?

Richard Wright is perhaps best known for his acclaimed 1940 novel, Native Son. Following its publication, he was at work on a very different project: a photo-documentary history of the African American folk. Wright wrote the prose narrative, which describes in broad strokes the history of Black Americans from slavery to emancipation to the Jim Crow era and the Great Black Migration. The black and white photographs accompanying the narrative were selected by Edwin Rosskam from the archives of the Farm Security Administration. Taken during the Great Depression by such notable photographers as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, the photos provide visual documentation of the harsh conditions Blacks faced both south and north. My interpretation of 12 Million Black Voices is given in chapter six of my book

By Richard Wright,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 12 Million Black Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

12 Million Black Voices, first published in 1941, combines Wright's prose with startling photographs selected by Edwin Rosskam from the Security Farm Administration files compiled during the Great Depression. The photographs include works by such giants as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein. From crowded, rundown farm shacks to Harlem storefront churches, the photos depict the lives of black people in 1930s America--their misery and weariness under rural poverty, their spiritual strength, and their lives in northern ghettos. Wright's accompanying text eloquently narrates the story of these 90 pictures and delivers a powerful commentary on the origins and history…


Book cover of Jazz

Louise Hare Author Of Harlem After Midnight

From my list on capturing the magic of jazz.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved jazz ever since I learned to play the clarinet as a child. My two great loves in life have been music and books, so it made sense to combine the two things and write novels with a link to jazz. These books are some of my favourites with a jazz theme. I promise that even if you’re not a jazz fan, these are all excellent novels, to be enjoyed with or without music playing in the background!

Louise's book list on capturing the magic of jazz

Louise Hare Why did Louise love this book?

Set in 1920s Harlem, this book opens with a shock. A teenaged girl is dead, shot by the middle-aged man she was having an affair with.

The man’s wife takes a knife to the funeral, intending to cut the face of her dead rival. So how did it come to this? Morrison paints a picture of Jazz age Harlem, hopping between past and present to show not only the history of this ill-fated couple, but that of Black Harlem. 

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed Nobel Prize winner, a passionate, profound story of love and obsession that brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life. With a foreword by the author.

“As rich in themes and poetic images as her Pulitzer Prize–winning Beloved.... Morrison conjures up the hand of slavery on Harlem’s jazz generation. The more you listen, the more you crave to hear.” —Glamour

In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra…


Book cover of Cane

David G. Nicholls Author Of Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America

From my list on understanding the Great Black Migration.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a lifelong reader and wanted to study literature from an early age. I grew up in Indianapolis, one of the cities reshaped by the Great Black Migration. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and found myself once again in the urban Midwest. My research for Conjuring the Folk led me to discover a trove of short stories by George Wylie Henderson, a Black writer from Alabama who migrated to Harlem. I edited the stories and published them as Harlem Calling: The Collected Stories of George Wylie Henderson. I'm a contributor to African American Review, the Journal of Modern Literature, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration

David's book list on understanding the Great Black Migration

David G. Nicholls Why did David love this book?

Cane is an experimental, modernist work combining poetry, fictional vignettes, and dramatic dialogue as it portrays Black life in the sugar cane fields of the South and in the urban neighborhoods of recent migrants. I first read Cane while I was living in an apartment on the south side of Chicago, a destination for hundreds of thousands of Black migrants in the mid-twentieth century; the tracks of the Illinois Central railroad, their main transit route from the South, were just steps away from my home. The book drew my attention to the forces shaping my neighborhood, while it also led me to begin thinking about the connections between art and migration. It is a very lyrical and powerful book—and the subject of the second chapter of my book.

By Jean Toomer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative literary work-part drama, part poetry, part fiction-powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer's impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. This iconic work of American literature is published with a new afterword by Rudolph Byrd of Emory University and Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who provide groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer, place his writing within the context of American…


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

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

Growing up, Marlene learned about the Holocaust through stories about members of her mother’s family who died in the Holocaust. As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Fern learned little about the Holocaust. As whites, neither of us learned much about the Jim Crow era in the US or the northern migration of southern African Americans during that era.

Isabelle Wilkerson grew up knowing the stories of her parents’ migration north to Washington, DC. Those stories shaped her desire to chronicle the Great Migration (1915-1970), in which millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for better lives in northern cities. Although many achieved success that would not have been possible, they experienced the same interpersonal and institutional racism in the North that they thought they were escaping from.

Wilkerson, a journalist, gives us the sweep of history grounded by the stories of four African Americans. 

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

13 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…


Book cover of Invisible Man

Chris Harding Thornton Author Of Little Underworld

From my list on hilarious books that rip your heart from your chest.

Why am I passionate about this?

One of my favorite writers, Ralph Ellison, said art could "transform dismal sociological facts" through "tragi-comic transcendence." For me, finding humor in the horrific is a means of survival. It's a way of embracing life's tragedy and finding beauty. My two novels, Pickard County Atlas and Little Underworld, try to do that.

Chris' book list on hilarious books that rip your heart from your chest

Chris Harding Thornton Why did Chris love this book?

I’m pretty certain Invisible Man is The Great American Novel. Some lines make me laugh aloud: “I would remain and become a well-disciplined optimist and help them to go merrily to hell.” But the moments that really sing for me are those that ring with humor, horror, tragedy, and beauty all at once.

Near the end, during a moment when the nameless narrator hides and listens to some men telling a story, he aches with the urge to laugh while realizing what’s been said isn’t only funny: “It was funny and dangerous and sad.” The book reminds me that all of those things can be held in my head at once. 

By Ralph Ellison,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Invisible Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this deeply compelling novel and epic milestone of American literature, a nameless narrator tells his story from the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

He describes growing up in a Black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," before retreating amid violence and confusion.

Originally published in 1952 as the first novel by a then unknown author, it remained on the bestseller list for…


Book cover of Redwood and Wildfire

Caroline Stevermer Author Of The Glass Magician

From my list on historical fantasy for armchair travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write fantasy novels, including A College of Magics, River Rats, and When the King Comes Home. With Patricia C. Wrede, I wrote half of the Kate and Cecy series: Sorcery and Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician.

Caroline's book list on historical fantasy for armchair travel

Caroline Stevermer Why did Caroline love this book?

As brilliantly written as it is sometimes difficult to read, this fantasy novel set in the early 20th century travels from rural Georgia to Chicago, part of the Great Migration. Hairston says "I wrote Redwood and Wildfire to celebrate folks like my great-aunt and grandfather who faced impossible choices." In so doing, she has told stories history has all but forgotten. I began to read this book because I knew it contained a passage involving a visit to the 1893 Columbian Exposition—The White City—but my favorite parts of this novel involve the show folk and the Black film industry in Chicago. Hairston's characters don't just do magic. They are magic.

By Andrea Hairston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville, which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This 'dreaming in public' becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and 'native' born into Americans.

Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a 'city of the future.' They are gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors, struggling to call up the wondrous world they imagine, not just on stage and screen, but on city streets, in front parlors,…


Book cover of Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City

Roxanna Asgarian Author Of We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America

From my list on how our systems are failing vulnerable children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an investigative journalist and author, and a decade ago I began digging into the child welfare system—what we call the patchwork web of child protection agencies around the country. The more I learned, the more I realized how this system, which is ostensibly to help children in need, is actually perpetrating deep and lasting harm on generations of children and families. These books have helped me understand how we punish poor people instead of helping them, and how our racist systems harm Black and Indigenous children. They’ve also helped me to sit with the reality of child abuse, and begin to see a different way of preventing harm and healing those who’ve been hurt. 

Roxanna's book list on how our systems are failing vulnerable children

Roxanna Asgarian Why did Roxanna love this book?

Andrea Elliott, a New York Times reporter, spent nearly a decade reporting on Dasani Coates, a Black child growing up in a New York City shelter, and the result is a deeply humane look at a family in poverty.

This Pulitzer-winning book makes clear that the child protection system is a downstream solution to problems that begin with the failure of our society to meet families’ basic human needs.

As Dasani’s journey becomes public in a front page New York Times series, she is afforded an opportunity to escape poverty and become educated in an elite institution, but Elliott shows that plucking a favored child out of her family—even for the most positive of reasons—is still painful for the child.

By Andrea Elliott,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Invisible Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A “vivid and devastating” (The New York Times) portrait of an indomitable girl—from acclaimed journalist Andrea Elliott

“From its first indelible pages to its rich and startling conclusion, Invisible Child had me, by turns, stricken, inspired, outraged, illuminated, in tears, and hungering for reimmersion in its Dickensian depths.”—Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies

ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Atlantic, The New York Times Book Review, Time, NPR, Library Journal

In Invisible Child, Pulitzer Prize winner…


Book cover of Tougaloo Blues

James E. Cherry Author Of Edge of the Wind

From my list on contemporary African American authors.

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. 

James' book list on contemporary African American authors

James E. Cherry Why did James 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 Here, Bullet

Barbara Nickless Author Of Blood on the Tracks

From my list on what it is like to go to war and come home.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an award-winning and bestselling author who teaches creative writing to veterans as part of a collaboration between the Department of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m also an Air Force brat who grew up around military folk. After traumatic events gave me personal experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, I better understood why veterans don’t talk about their time in war. The books on this list are some of my favorites for capturing the terror of battle and the difficulty of reintegrating into a society that gives little thought to the human cost of war. 

Barbara's book list on what it is like to go to war and come home

Barbara Nickless Why did Barbara love this book?

This collection of poems by an Iraq war veteran opens a door into the crazy, horrifying world of America’s time in Iraq. I used this book while teaching a section on poetry to combat veterans at the local university. For some of these men and women, the poems offered their first glimpse into the power of verse. Turner showed my students how, through the searing beauty of words made into images, it was possible to capture—and thus contain—the horrors of war. As Turner writes:

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

By Brian Turner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A first-person account of the Iraq War by a solider-poet, winner of the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award.

Adding his voice to the current debate about the US occupation of Iraq, in poems written in the tradition of such poets as Wilfred Owen, Yusef Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau), Bruce Weigl (Song of Napalm) and Alice James’ own Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire), Iraqi war veteran Brian Turner writes power-fully affecting poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty, and skill. Based on Turner’s yearlong tour in Iraq as an infantry team leader, the poems offer gracefully rendered, unflinching description but,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Great Migration, African Americans, and human migration?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Great Migration, African Americans, and human migration.

The Great Migration Explore 7 books about the Great Migration
African Americans Explore 727 books about African Americans
Human Migration Explore 20 books about human migration