10 books like The Three Mothers

By Anna Malaika Tubbs,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Three Mothers. Shepherd is a community of 8,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

Shepherd is reader supported.
We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund the project for readers and authors along with our membership program.

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Destiny O. Birdsong Author Of Nobody's Magic

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Destiny's favorite books.

Why did Destiny love this book?

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white man who has the audacity to yell the word “nigger” at a house party filled with Black people. It is a moment, as is the entire book. 

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Why should I read it?

4 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…


Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Song of Solomon

Kate Sweeney Author Of This One's for You

From the list on Hero’s Journey for introverts who love adventure.

Who am I?

I'm a deeply introverted person who has always loved epic stories. The hero’s journey is one of my favorite kinds of books, because it gives the reader a chance to put themselves into someone else’s shoes and experience the full spectrum of life, a complete transformation that can only be found in a journey away from home. I’ve wanted to take on the Hero’s Journey in my own writing for a long time, and got to do this in my most recent book, This One’s for You. The protagonist of this book is an introvert like me. He's one of the many characters that have inspired me to try some adventures of my own. 

Kate's book list on Hero’s Journey for introverts who love adventure

Discover why each book is one of Kate's favorite books.

Why did Kate love this book?

Song of Solomon is the book that made me fall in love with writing.

I have read it many times throughout my life, and each time I do, I come away with new insights and a sense of awe at the masterful storytelling. The hero of this journey is Milkman Dead, a Black man living in Detroit, Michigan during the Harlem Renaissance and early Civil Rights movement.

He becomes both the hero and the anti-hero as he embarks on a journey to the South to find his inheritance and the truth about his family. One of my favorite parts about this book is how it mixes so many genres together.

In many ways, it follows the structure of a classic Greek-style Epic, but it has elements of Historical Fiction and even Magical Realism. This is truly my favorite book ever written. 

Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Song of Solomon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Song of Solomon...profoundly changed my life' Marlon James

Macon 'Milkman' Dead was born shortly after a neighbourhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly.

In 1930s America Macon learns about the tyranny of white society from his friend Guitar, though he is more concerned with escaping the familial tyranny of his own father. So while Guitar joins a terrorist group Macon goes home to the South, lured by tales of buried family treasure. But his odyssey back home and a deadly confrontation…


Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Deborah L. King Author Of Glory Bishop

From the list on Black women by Black women.

Who am I?

I’ve been a Black woman for almost 40 years, and I’ve been writing about Black women almost as long. I grew up reading children’s books with brown faces and great stories, but the authors never interested me. Until I read Peaches, I had no idea that wholly relatable authors and stories existed. I began seeking them out. From authors like Virginia Hamilton and James Baldwin to Langston Hughes and even Donald Goines, I found stories of people with lives I recognized. I am far from an expert on Black literature. I am just grateful that during my formative years, I was exposed to some great Black authors. 

Deborah's book list on Black women by Black women

Discover why each book is one of Deborah's favorite books.

Why did Deborah love this book?

The story starts with Janie Crawford as a young teenager, forced into marriage to an old farmer she has no desire for.

It’s ok, though, because he doesn’t particularly want her either. He just wants help on the farm. Janie runs off and marries a politically ambitious man seeking a trophy wife. They move to a small town and he forbids Janie from associating with the “common folk.”

I love this story because Janie starts out strong with an independent streak, and grows even stronger throughout the story. I will note that the dialect takes some getting used to, but it’s a great story.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Their Eyes Were Watching God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cover design by Harlem renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones

When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds ...

'For me, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece…


Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward,

Book cover of Salvage the Bones

Jeffrey Dale Lofton Author Of Red Clay Suzie

From the list on the unique life of outsider children in the South.

Who am I?

I am a child of the South, hailing as I do from Warm Springs, Georgia, best known for Roosevelt’s Little White House. My family, indeed the entire community as far as I can tell, were in the thrall of conservative Christian values that had no room for people like me—gay (although I had no word for it for a long time) and physically misshapen (something to be hidden under layers of clothing). I was a boy and then teenager living on the fringes, always on the outside looking in, seeking approval or defiantly hiding to process the uniquely Southern dysfunction around me. I know these protagonists. They’re my people.

Jeffrey's book list on the unique life of outsider children in the South

Discover why each book is one of Jeffrey's favorite books.

Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Salvage the Bones is a deeply personal, heartbreaking story of Esch and her siblings navigating life as Hurricane Katrina approaches. But more than the chaos of nature’s fury, it is their interior lives—their day-to-day struggles absent any meaningful help from outsiders—that bring Ward’s pages to vivid life. She shows us just how complex growing up can be, especially for a child faced with bringing a new life into the world. And, yes, I’ll leave it there, exhorting you to read Salvage the Bones for more.

Salvage the Bones

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

_______________ 'A brilliantly pacy adventure story ... Ward writes like a dream' - The Times 'Fresh and urgent' - New York Times 'There's something of Faulkner to Ward's grand diction' - Guardian _______________ WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD Hurricane Katrina is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. He's a hard drinker, largely absent, and it isn't often he worries about the family. Esch and her three brothers are stockpiling food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets;…


No Name in the Street

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of No Name in the Street

Dean A. Strang Author Of Keep the Wretches in Order: America's Biggest Mass Trial, the Rise of the Justice Department, and the Fall of the IWW

From the list on offering ideas to explore.

Who am I?

I am a lawyer, law professor, and author of legal history books. Mostly, though, I have much to learn. Importantly, then, I believe in the possibilities of learning. But how? Teaching, in the transitive sense of cramming something into another person's head, is impossible; yet learning is infinitely possible. Ideas are what excite us to learn. In widely varied ways, I have found engaging ideas in—and have learned importantly from—each of these books.

Dean's book list on offering ideas to explore

Discover why each book is one of Dean's favorite books.

Why did Dean love this book?

A key work in the last part of Baldwin's life, as he was reassessing everything after the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and others in 1965-68. The reader can sense the aching effort Baldwin makes to retain hope and his sense of the worth of engagement with a world that so often rejected the essential him. Letting us, as his readers, into that doubt and pain and torment was an act of great honesty and, at bottom, love. Very few people could use the English language as powerfully as Baldwin (and he could do it in both spoken and written word, which puts him in a smaller group still). This book is a reminder of that power, too.

No Name in the Street

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Name in the Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary history of the turbulent sixties and early seventies that displays James Baldwin's fury and despair more deeply than any of his other works, and powerfully speaks to contemporary conversations around racism.

"It contains truth that cannot be denied.” — The Atlantic Monthly

In this stunningly personal document, James Baldwin remembers in vivid details the Harlem childhood that shaped his early conciousness and the later events that scored his heart with pain—the murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his sojourns in Europe and in Hollywood, and his retum to the American South to confront a violent America…


Notes of a Native Son

By James Baldwin,

Book cover of Notes of a Native Son

Duncan Jepson Author Of All the Flowers in Shanghai

From the list on about protest.

Who am I?

I have been an activist working on issues relating to human rights and youth protection for over fifteen years and during that time I worked as a lawyer and was lucky enough to make films and write two novels. Eventually, I would concentrate solely on activism and my reading would become very specific and as the focus of my activism changed and I directed my energies to corporate accountability my reading changed course again. The list I offer is from talented writers on important subjects, all write extremely well about things that matter to a human rights activist.  

Duncan's book list on about protest

Discover why each book is one of Duncan's favorite books.

Why did Duncan love this book?

Baldwin writes both fiction and non-fiction beautifully and intimately and if you don’t know his non-fiction work then this is a very good place to start. Across a number of essays, he elegantly sets out the deep struggle faced by Black Americans and articulates how a different humanity, in America and beyond, and a different future can be realized. 

Notes of a Native Son

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Notes of a Native Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#26 on The Guardian's list of 100 best nonfiction books of all time, the essays explore what it means to be Black in America

In an age of Black Lives Matter, James Baldwin's essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written. With films like I Am Not Your Negro and the forthcoming If Beale Street Could Talk bringing renewed interest to Baldwin's life and work, Notes of a Native Son serves as a valuable introduction.

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was…


Book cover of The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin

Magdalena J. Zaborowska Author Of James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

From the list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Poland during the Cold War, I learned that writers and intellectuals could be jailed, exiled, or even killed for their ideas. I came to James Baldwin over two decades ago in search of literature that told of freedom and humanism beyond national borders and simplistic binaries. As a Black queer man driven away from his homeland, Baldwin linked his personal pain, heartbreak, and torment to his public life, authorship, and activism. His art and life story have both inspired my labors as a bilingual and bicultural literary critic and biographer and provided a template for my own journey as an immigrant, mother of a Black child, teacher, writer, and scholar.

Magdalena's book list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Discover why each book is one of Magdalena's favorite books.

Why did Magdalena love this book?

This book grew out of the labor of love both scholarly and personal. It brings together three generations of scholars and diverse, interdisciplinary approaches to this complex and still largely misunderstood and underappreciated Black queer writer and theorist of 20th-century US identity. Michele Elam’s introduction deftly reevaluates and situates Baldwin as a 20th-century master for contemporary readers here and now, while the essays collected here provide cutting-edge scholarship and much nuance and fresh insight. Theoretically rich and with several exquisitely written essays, it touches upon all of the major aspects of the writer’s fascinating life and works.

The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin

By Michele Elam (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Companion offers fresh insight into the art and politics of James Baldwin, one of the most important writers and provocative cultural critics of the twentieth century. Black, gay, and gifted, he was hailed as a 'spokesman for the race', although he personally, and controversially, eschewed titles and classifications of all kinds. Individual essays examine his classic novels and nonfiction as well as his work across lesser-examined domains: poetry, music, theatre, sermon, photo-text, children's literature, public media, comedy, and artistic collaboration. In doing so, The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin captures the power and influence of his work during the…


James Baldwin

By Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin

Book cover of James Baldwin: Collected Essays

Kara Cooney Author Of When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

From the list on power and the powerless.

Who am I?

I'm a specialist of ancient Egyptian social history, who against the better judgment of (practically all) her colleagues uses the ancient past to make the present understandable. If we don’t fetishize the ancient Egyptians as separate and magical, they have something to teach us, whispering to us from the past through papyri, temples, and archaeological sites. After all, Egyptian history is 3000 years plus in its time span, an astounding data set of a people using same approximate language, government system, religion, and culture. Some of us look hungrily to replicate that kind of lasting and divine power. I am obsessed with power—how it works, why we are helpless to it, and who gets exploited by it. The ancient Egyptian kings effectively packaged their power not only as necessary, but as moral and good, ancient marketing that continues to work on our minds.

Kara's book list on power and the powerless

Discover why each book is one of Kara's favorite books.

Why did Kara love this book?

I am recommending this book because one can’t understand power without being beholden to it systemically and repeatedly, all the while dissecting power’s discontents. Baldwin’s words may seem to strike only to America’s core, but every marginalized person will find truth in them. As an Egyptologist, I rely on Baldwin to tell me what oppressed people in an authoritarian regime thought but could not commit to paper.

James Baldwin

By Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

James Baldwin was a uniquely prophetic voice in American letters. His brilliant and provocative essays made him the literary voice of the Civil Rights Era, and they continue to speak with powerful urgency to us today, whether in the swirling debate over the Black Lives Matter movement or in the words of Raoul Peck's documentary "I Am Not Your Negro." Edited by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the Library of America's Collected Essays is the most comprehensive gathering of Baldwin's nonfiction ever published.

With burning passion and jabbing, epigrammatic wit, Baldwin fearlessly articulated issues of race and democracy and American identity…


James Baldwin

By David Leeming,

Book cover of James Baldwin: A Biography

Magdalena J. Zaborowska Author Of James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

From the list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Poland during the Cold War, I learned that writers and intellectuals could be jailed, exiled, or even killed for their ideas. I came to James Baldwin over two decades ago in search of literature that told of freedom and humanism beyond national borders and simplistic binaries. As a Black queer man driven away from his homeland, Baldwin linked his personal pain, heartbreak, and torment to his public life, authorship, and activism. His art and life story have both inspired my labors as a bilingual and bicultural literary critic and biographer and provided a template for my own journey as an immigrant, mother of a Black child, teacher, writer, and scholar.

Magdalena's book list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Discover why each book is one of Magdalena's favorite books.

Why did Magdalena love this book?

This is still the most comprehensive and detailed account of the writer’s life and works. Leeming worked closely with Baldwin as an assistant and secretary after first meeting him in Istanbul. 

I love this book, for it was my introduction to Baldwin and his life as an exile and one of the most powerful social and cultural critics of twentieth-century America. It’s written accessibly—the life-story narrative flows easily and one feels the author’s compassion for and understanding of the writer’s evolution, process, as well as his specific works. 

It has taught me that the best biographies both reveal and conceal their authors’ personal investment in their subject and their own life stories. And that the best biographers must skillfully and passionately play with both.

Years ago when I first read it, it was helpful in overcoming my initial terror as an immigrant from the Other Europe, the terror that I…

James Baldwin

By David Leeming,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The most revealing and subjectively penetrating assessment of Baldwin's life yet published." -The New York Times Book Review. "The first Baldwin biography in which one can recognize the human features of this brilliant, troubled, principled, supremely courageous man." -Boston Globe

James Baldwin was one of the great writers of the last century. In works that have become part of the American canon-Go Tell It on a Mountain, Giovanni's Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen-he explored issues of race and racism in America, class distinction, and sexual difference.

A gay, African American writer…


Nothing Personal

By Richard Avedon, James Baldwin,

Book cover of Nothing Personal

Magdalena J. Zaborowska Author Of James Baldwin's Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile

From the list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Poland during the Cold War, I learned that writers and intellectuals could be jailed, exiled, or even killed for their ideas. I came to James Baldwin over two decades ago in search of literature that told of freedom and humanism beyond national borders and simplistic binaries. As a Black queer man driven away from his homeland, Baldwin linked his personal pain, heartbreak, and torment to his public life, authorship, and activism. His art and life story have both inspired my labors as a bilingual and bicultural literary critic and biographer and provided a template for my own journey as an immigrant, mother of a Black child, teacher, writer, and scholar.

Magdalena's book list on James Baldwin as a Black queer exile

Discover why each book is one of Magdalena's favorite books.

Why did Magdalena love this book?

This book should be much better known outside of academic circles! It grows out of a friendship between the famous photographer, Richard Avedon, and James Baldwin, who both attended the famous DeWitt Clinton high school in the Bronx. Avedon’s gorgeous photographs are accompanied by Baldwin's experimental, impressionistic prose, combining into what some scholars have characterized as a “photo - text.” Decades before we began drowning in the onslaught of Internet-provided visual media, it bound the pleasures of reading and seeing great art in one elegantly edited volume; I recommend reading it out loud. For those of us endowed with sight it is a veritable feast!

Nothing Personal

By Richard Avedon, James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Personal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Avedon and Baldwin's American Journey

Richard Avedon and James Baldwin's landmark 1964 book finally back in print

This meticulous reprint of Richard Avedon and James Baldwin's Nothing Personal explores the complexities and contradictions still at the center of the American experience - especially timely in the age of Donald Trump. Deploying both image and text, Avedon and Baldwin examine the formation of identity, and the bonds that both underlie and undermine human connection. An accompanying 72-page booklet features a fresh essay by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Hilton Als, and many of Avedon's unpublished outtakes, correspondence, preliminary layouts and ephemera.

In 1963-64,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr..

James Baldwin Explore 16 books about James Baldwin
Malcolm X Explore 7 books about Malcolm X
Martin Luther King Jr. Explore 34 books about Martin Luther King Jr.