80 books like Leaving Atlanta

By Tayari Jones,

Here are 80 books that Leaving Atlanta fans have personally recommended if you like Leaving Atlanta. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Passing

Georgina Hickey Author Of Breaking the Gender Code: Women and Urban Public Space in the Twentieth-Century United States

From my list on women in the city.

Why am I passionate about this?

My day job is teaching U.S. history, particularly courses on urban history, social movements, and race and gender. It is women’s experiences in cities, however, that have driven much of my historical research and sparked my curiosity about how people understand–and shape–the world around them. Lots of people talk about what women need and what they should be doing, but fewer have been willing to hear what women have to say about their own lives and recognize their resiliency. I hope that this kind of listening to the past will help us build more inclusive cities in the future.

Georgina's book list on women in the city

Georgina Hickey Why did Georgina love this book?

I did not take to this book right away. Both main characters seemed rigid and selfish in ways that put me off initially. When I came back to the novel some years (decades?) later, I could better see and appreciate the complexity of building a life in racist America of the 1920s. The rigidity that had initially put me off seemed much more understandable as a defense mechanism in a society that was largely hostile to them as women of color.

Giving the book another go, I’ve come to admire the way Larsen uses her characters’ decisions (about whether to pass as white, have children, trust the men they’ve chosen to live with, etc.) to explore complicated ideas surrounding color and race. There are also some scathing indictments of whites, particularly white men that raise some pretty big questions about how race and gender work together, even in our own…

By Nella Larsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties to her past. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others - and the…


Book cover of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Destiny O. Birdsong Author Of Nobody's Magic

From my list on novellas written by Black people on Black people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 

Destiny's book list on novellas written by Black people on Black people

Destiny O. Birdsong Why did Destiny love this book?

Every time someone asks me whether I, a Black woman with albinism, would have ever considered passing for white, I think of the unnamed protagonist of this book and his conflicting desires to uplift his own race while also escaping the dangers of being a Black man at the height of America’s obsession with lynching. (And let’s be honest, he also enjoys the social privilege and upward mobility that come with being mistaken for white.) Of course, the title tells us which choice he’s going to make long before we read it for ourselves, but I was still unprepared for the gutting last lines of this book. It is a master class in telling the story of the backward glance, and in what one loses by trying to save himself. 

By James Weldon Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a powerful, trailblazing novel that exposes the intricate relationship between race and class in late nineteenth-century America.

Complete & Unabridged. Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is introduced by Dr Sam Halliday.

After losing his mother at a very young age, the narrator is thrust from his comfortable, middle-class environment, afforded by his distant but aristocratic father, into the wider world.…


Book cover of Crick Crack, Monkey

Destiny O. Birdsong Author Of Nobody's Magic

From my list on novellas written by Black people on Black people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 

Destiny's book list on novellas written by Black people on Black people

Destiny O. Birdsong Why did Destiny love this book?

I sometimes see this book discussed as a YA novel, and it’s true that its protagonists, Tee and her younger brother Toddan, are facing some very typical kid-lit crises: the death of one parent and the departure of another, aunts and uncles with conflicting ideas about child-rearing, and the impossible choice of leaving home for what they’ve been told will be a better life, but what’s better than living on an island with everyone you already know and love? Even so, this impressive novella, penned by a Black woman who happens to be a Caribbean literary scholar, is rich with conversations about colonialism, respectability politics, and the importance of preserving one’s familial and African histories—in other words, remembering your ‘true-true name.’ Important lessons for every age. 

By Merle Hodge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The cultural and linguistic complexity of postcolonial Trinidadian society is cleverly portrayed in this beautifully written West Indian novel. Hodge uses the voice of the central character, Tee, to tell a story that begins with two young children forced to live first with their aunt Tantie and then with Aunt Beatrice. Tantie’s world overflows with hilarity, aggression, and warmth. Aunt Beatrice’s Creole middle-class world is pretentious and exudes discriminatory attitudes toward people of color in the lower classes. As we follow Tee from childhood to young adulthood, we share the diversity and richness of her struggle to exist in two…


Book cover of Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Triptych

Destiny O. Birdsong Author Of Nobody's Magic

From my list on novellas written by Black people on Black people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 

Destiny's book list on novellas written by Black people on Black people

Destiny O. Birdsong Why did Destiny love this book?

I wasn’t far into Love before it became crystal clear why its author fled her native Haiti after publishing it, in spite of the fact that the novella is ostensibly historical fiction. The narrator Claire’s depiction of a Duvalier-esque commandant is a scathing one, and in truth, no one escapes Claire’s acerbic wit, keen eye for detail, and incisive observations about colorism, class, and the perpetual violence that is engendered by colonial rule and persists long after its end. Claire is both an unreliable narrator—she is jealous, petty, and bitterly indignant about her treatment by her family—and yet, a trustworthy one. Love taught me how to create a Black woman narrator who does not have to be trusted (or even liked) to be listened to, believed. 

By Marie Vieux-Chauvet, Rose-Myriam Rejouis (translator), Val Vinokur (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The only English translation of “a masterpiece” (The Nation)—a stunning trilogy of novellas about the soul-crushing cost of life under a violent Haitian dictatorship, featuring an introduction by Edwidge Danticat
 
Originally published in 1968, Love, Anger, Madness virtually disappeared from circulation until its republication in France in 2005. Set in the barely fictionalized Haiti of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s repressive rule, Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s writing was so powerful and so incendiary that she was forced to flee to the United States. Yet Love, Anger, Madness endures.
 
Claire, the narrator of Love, is the eldest of three daughters who surrenders her dreams of…


Book cover of Triptych

Polly Iyer Author Of Murder Deja Vu

From my list on characters who overcome adversity.

Why am I passionate about this?

One review of my books mentioned that I make heroes out of damaged people, so it’s natural I would read that kind of book. I love to see lost souls, losers, battlers for justice, and the underdogs rise above all the elements that hold them down. I think most people root for the underdogs, whether in life, in sports, or the weaker in any competition. It’s in our nature to do so. I’m a wife, mother, writer, former commercial artist, former store owner, former importer, which makes me ripe to be something new. But I think I’m done. I’ve shot my wad, done my best at whatever, and it’s always been fun.

Polly's book list on characters who overcome adversity

Polly Iyer Why did Polly love this book?

Will Trent is a most unlikely hero of a series, especially as a GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) agent. Why? Will is severely dyslexic. He can barely read and write. So why is he a top agent? His disability gives him an unusual way of looking at crimes, making his disadvantage an important element in solving those crimes. Raised in a series of orphanages and cruel foster homes, Will is like the injured puppy you want to care for and make his life better. His relationship with women is complicated, including his first-love Angie, who shares some of the same orphanage experiences; Amanda, his demanding boss; Faith, his partner; and Sarah, his true love. Will is naïve and street-smart at the same time, which makes him a fascinating hero.

By Karin Slaughter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Atlanta police detective Michael Ormewood is called out to a murder scene at the notorious Grady Homes, he finds himself faced with one of the most brutal killings of his career: Aleesha Monroe is found in the stairwell in a pool of her own blood, her body horribly mutilated. As a one-off killing it's shocking, but when it becomes clear that it's just the latest in a series of similar attacks, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are called in, and Ormewood is forced into working with Special Agent Will Trent of the Criminal Apprehension Team - a man he…


Book cover of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Kyle Burke Author Of Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War

From my list on the history of American conservatism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of modern US and global history at Hartwick College in upstate New York. I have been reading and researching the history of conservative and right-wing movements in the United States and the wider world for almost two decades. My first book, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2018. My articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Jacobin, Diplomatic History, Terrorism and Political Science, H-War, and H-Diplo. I’m currently at work on two projects: a history of the transatlantic white power movement and a film documentary about the short-lived white supremacist nation of Rhodesia and its contemporary legacies.

Kyle's book list on the history of American conservatism

Kyle Burke Why did Kyle love this book?

The rise of the right was in many ways a southern phenomenon as the Old South transformed into the Sun Belt. White Flight explores how white supremacy and fears over desegregation propelled the conservative movement in Atlanta and on the national stage. As federal initiatives spelled the end for segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, southern whites managed to preserve racial discrimination through more subtle avenues. Whites fled Atlanta’s urban core for its suburbs where they reformed the world of white supremacy, giving birth to new causes such as tax revolts, tuition vouchers, and the privatization of public services.

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the civil rights era, Atlanta thought of itself as "The City Too Busy to Hate," a rare place in the South where the races lived and thrived together. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, however, so many whites fled the city for the suburbs that Atlanta earned a new nickname: "The City Too Busy Moving to Hate." In this reappraisal of racial politics in modern America, Kevin Kruse explains the causes and consequences of "white flight" in Atlanta and elsewhere. Seeking to understand segregationists on their own terms, White Flight moves past simple stereotypes to explore the…


Book cover of Daring to Educate: The Legacy of the Early Spelman College Presidents

Nancy Woloch Author Of The Insider: A Life of Virginia C. Gildersleeve

From my list on women’s colleges and their histories.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a teacher of US women’s history and educational history, I have long been interested in women’s colleges—in their faculties, administrators, students, alumnae, goals, and achievements. Most recently, as the biographer of a woman educator (a dean of Barnard College in the early 20th century), I became more deeply involved with the literature on single-sex schools. Major books focus on the older women’s colleges, the “Seven Sisters,” but devote attention to other colleges as well. I am impressed with the talents of historians, with their skill at asking questions of their subjects, with the intensity of mission at the women’s schools, and with changing styles of campus culture.

Nancy's book list on women’s colleges and their histories

Nancy Woloch Why did Nancy love this book?

Recent concern with intersectionality (instances where categories of race and gender overlap) makes research into Black women’s colleges vital. Founded in 1881 as a Baptist female seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College became a leading women’s liberal arts college. The book tracks the impact of four college presidents from the outset to the 1950s. The authors show how the formal academic curriculum, extra-curriculum (college-sponsored activities), and hidden curriculum (informal and even inadvertent influences) instilled an imperative to excel.

By Yolanda L. Watson, Sheila T. Gregory,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Presents the history of Spelman's foundation through the tenure of its fourth president, Florence M. Read, in1953. The story is brought up to date by the contributions of Spelman's current president, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and by Johnnetta B. Cole.

The book chronicles how the vision each of these women presidents, and their response to changing social forces, both profoundly shaped Spelman's curriculum and influenced the lives and minds of thousands of young Black women.


Book cover of Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War's Aftermath

Wendy Hamand Venet Author Of Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War

From my list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Hamand Venet is an emeritus professor of history at Georgia State University. She is the author or editor of three books about Atlanta, Sam Richards’s Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front (edited work); A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta; Gone but not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War.

Wendy's book list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia

Wendy Hamand Venet Why did Wendy love this book?

This book looks at Atlanta’s role in the emergence of a “New South” and the way that journalist and civic leader Henry Grady used the story of Atlanta’s wartime burning and destruction and its postwar rebuilding to rebrand the city. While supporting segregation in the South, Grady urged northern Whites to invest in the New South economy and denied that the region had a race problem. Black Atlantans presented an alternate narrative, one that emphasized the war as a first step in the fight for freedom and equality. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 left Grady’s New South concept “tattered and frayed”; the term was seldom used after that.

By William A. Link,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Atlanta, Cradle of the New South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After conquering Atlanta in the summer of 1864 and occupying it for two months, Union forces laid waste to the city in November. William T. Sherman's invasion was a pivotal moment in the history of the South and Atlanta's rebuilding over the following fifty years came to represent the contested meaning of the Civil War itself. The war's aftermath brought contentious transition from Old South to New for whites and African Americans alike. Historian William Link argues that this struggle defined the broader meaning of the Civil War in the modern South, with no place embodying the region's past and…


Book cover of Atlanta, 1847-1890: City Building in the Old South and the New

Wendy Hamand Venet Author Of Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War

From my list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Hamand Venet is an emeritus professor of history at Georgia State University. She is the author or editor of three books about Atlanta, Sam Richards’s Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front (edited work); A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta; Gone but not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War.

Wendy's book list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia

Wendy Hamand Venet Why did Wendy love this book?

This book provides an excellent overview of Atlanta’s rise from humble beginnings as a rail hub before the Civil War to a thriving commercial center by the end of the century. Russell argues that the war accelerated Atlanta’s commercial and industrial development, but its path was already set before General William T. Sherman’s army arrived during the Civil War. White business elites dominated city politics until the election of Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1973.

Book cover of Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta

Wendy Hamand Venet Author Of Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War

From my list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia.

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Hamand Venet is an emeritus professor of history at Georgia State University. She is the author or editor of three books about Atlanta, Sam Richards’s Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front (edited work); A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta; Gone but not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War.

Wendy's book list on 19th century Atlanta Georgia

Wendy Hamand Venet Why did Wendy love this book?

Founded as a rail center in the 1830s, Atlanta was dependent on commercial ties with the North which explains the city’s Unionism before the Civil War. In the pivotal election of 1860 where Lincoln carried the northern states and a “southern rights” candidate carried the deep South, Atlantans voted overwhelmingly for Unionist candidates John Bell and Stephen A. Douglas. Although their numbers diminished after secession, a small cadre of Unionists remained in the city during the war, including Cyrena Stone, whose secret (and fascinating) diary is both a major source for and an appendix in this book.

By Thomas G. Dyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the American Civil War, a small group of Unionists found themselves trapped in the largest Southern city between Richmond and New Orleans. Atlanta was a Confederate bastion. The military ruled, and it brooked little dissent. But, as this work demonstrates, the Confederate military hadn't reckoned on Cyrena Stone. A Vermont native, Cyrena moved to Atlanta with her husband, Amherst, in 1854. After war broke out Amherst escaped to the North, but Cyrena remained behind. Hiding her small Union flag in her sugar bowl, suppressing but not moderating her well-known pro-Northern views, she belonged to a secret circle of Unionists…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Georgia (USA), Atlanta, and serial killers?

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