The best African American authors books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about African American authors and why they recommend each book.

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Briefs

By John Edgar Wideman,

Book cover of Briefs

John Edgar Wideman is the first African-American writer I can clearly point to who took microfiction seriously enough to write an entire collection. His stories are filtered through the lens of Blackness, but that is not the major reason why I like this book. Wideman does things with language that force me to completely step back and rethink things. I find myself reading his words aloud, simply because they feel as though they transcend the page. If it were not for Wideman, I would not feel as comfortable revealing the authenticity of my experience in my work.


Who am I?

I am the author of ten collections of microfiction and poetry. I came to microfiction after having written several novels and short story collections. I just felt that I was saying more than I wanted to say. Microfiction has allowed me to completely distill my stories to the essence of what makes them tick. Of the 26 books I have written, the microfiction collections are my favorites because every word and idea is carefully measured. I am presently working on my next collection of microfiction and have no immediate plans to return to writing at longer lengths. Oddly, writing small has freed me up so I can experiment with various genres, structures, and ideas. I honestly feel microfiction has made me a much better writer.


I wrote...

The Library of Afro Curiosities: 100-Word Stories

By Ran Walker,

Book cover of The Library of Afro Curiosities: 100-Word Stories

What is my book about?

A young boy wrestles with what it means to have long hair. A woman finds herself accepting a relationship she knows is not good for her. A generation of successful graduates places greater value on materialism than love. Aliens and more aliens. Mystery. Intrigue. Love (and love lost). And, yes, Blackness. All in one hundred 100-word stories.

In Ran Walker's latest collection of 100-word stories, he leaves few stones unturned as he pushes the limits of the form in engaging, surprising, and even humorous ways. Welcome to The Library of Afro Curiosities.

Selected Poems

By Gwendolyn Brooks,

Book cover of Selected Poems

Everyone should read this book and own this book, which contains key poems from A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen (the book for which Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950), The Bean Eaters, as well as new poems. Brooks’s sonnets are like a knife in a heart made vulnerable. I could read these poems—especially “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith”—again and again. Gwendolyn Brooks was the best American poet of the twentieth century, bar none.


Who am I?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.


I wrote...

Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

By Hollis Robbins,

Book cover of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

What is my book about?

Forms of Contention tells the story of 250 years of African American sonnet influence: who wrote sonnets and when, who published sonnets, who praised and who opposed the form, who wrote about them critically, how sonnets were included in anthologies, how sonnets have been in and out of fashion, and how sonnet writers contended with each other’s works. The story of the sonnet’s appeal to African American poets from the nineteenth century through the tumultuous twentieth and into the twenty-first, even as sonnet writing remained a vexed pursuit for black poets, for black poetry anthologizers, for Black Arts advocates, and for Black Studies academics, is rich and surprising.

Forms of Contention argues persuasively that the sonnet form should no longer be considered a European form but is in fact an African American poetic form, since some of the best practitioners for the past generations have been Black poets.

How We Fight for Our Lives

By Saeed Jones,

Book cover of How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

From childhood through college and a burgeoning career, the author’s honest and unambiguous voice matures as he paints a vivid picture of growing up poor, Black, and gay. Despite societal and familial challenges, having a loving single mother committed to his education helped him to navigate to success. Page after page, readers will find something relatable in unexpected ways.


Who am I?

The first twenty-five years of my life appeared to be atypical for an inner-city African American boy from a large family. Only a small number of children were bused to more “academically advanced” schools. I earned that honor by frequently running away from the local school. Overcoming the challenges of being a minority in a demanding, predominantly Jewish, school district eventually benefited me greatly. In the early 1970s, my parents did something unprecedented for a working-class African American family from Queens: They bought an old, dilapidated farmhouse in Upstate New York's dairy country as a summer home. What other unusual life experiences that impact people of color have taken place on the American tapestry? 


I wrote...

Mugamore: Succeeding without Labels - Lessons for Educators

By Jonathan T. Jefferson,

Book cover of Mugamore: Succeeding without Labels - Lessons for Educators

What is my book about?

Written from a unique in-depth child's point of view, this book is designed to trigger a paradigm shift from automatically labeling children to patiently allowing them to grow into themselves. The author compares common disabilities chapter-by-chapter in sync with the child's intentions (or lack thereof). This sharing of the educational lives of two children, coupled with peer reviewed literature and research, provides powerful motivation for change.

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

By Bethany Hegedus, Tonya Engel (illustrator),

Book cover of Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou

Soaring words honor the phenomenal wordsmith, Maya Angelou. Tough topics are tackled with compassion. The broad range of colors in the illustrations echo the broad range of emotions in this beautiful tribute to a national treasure. A forward by Ms. Angelou’s grandson and helpful backmatter cradle the text (like the cover art cradles).


Who am I?

I’m a picture-book author who wrote about Mahalia Jackson so more people would feel the sense of awe about her that I do. When I first read how she was treated by our own country, I was furious. But her amazing grace allowed me to focus on the positive aspects of her life, like she did.


I wrote...

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

By Nina Nolan, John Holyfield (illustrator),

Book cover of Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

What is my book about?

Even as a young girl, Mahalia Jackson loved gospel music. Life was difficult for Mahalia growing up, but singing gospel always lifted her spirits and made her feel special. She soon realized that her powerful voice stirred everyone around her, and she wanted to share that with the world. Although she was met with hardships along the way, Mahalia never gave up on her dreams. Mahalia's extraordinary journey eventually took her to the historic March on Washington, where she sang to thousands and inspired them to find their own voices.

Sistuhs in the Struggle

By La Donna Forsgren,

Book cover of Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance

We tend to think about the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s as dominated by militant male voices. This book explores the rich contributions of black women artists to the movement—by amplifying the voices of women artists in their own words. The book is a collection of oral histories, drawing on dozens of interviews with influential Black women artists. Some of them are recognizable, like playwrights/poets Sonia Sanchez and Ntozake Shange. Others are less familiar names whose influence should be appreciated more fully. This is a rich celebration of the impact of women artists during a key period of African American cultural change.


Who am I?

I am a theater historian whose research focuses on African American theater of 1940s-50s. While other periods and movements—the Harlem Renaissance (1920s), the Federal Theatre Project (1930s), the Black Arts Movement (1960s), and contemporary theater—have been well studied and documented, I saw a gap of scholarship around the 1940s-50s; I wondered why those years had been largely overlooked. As I dived deeper, I saw how African American performance culture (ie. theater, film, television, music) of the later-20th Century had its roots in the history of those somewhat overlooked decades. I’m still investigating that story, and these books have helped me do it.


I wrote...

The American Negro Theatre and the Long Civil Rights Era

By Jonathan Shandell,

Book cover of The American Negro Theatre and the Long Civil Rights Era

What is my book about?

You may know of the American Negro Theatre (ANT), a neighborhood theater company in Harlem that lasted for about ten years. The writers this company produced—Abram Hill, Theodore Brown, Owen Dodson—are not household names. You may not recognize the title Anna Lucasta: a comedy about an African American family that the ANT turned into a runaway Broadway hit in the 1940s. But the legacy of this theater company—and the work of its writers, its actors, and its productions—was key for creating the popular African American culture we all do know.

To fully understand the emergence of Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and The Cosby Show, you need to know about the American Negro Theatre and its transformative artistic legacy.

Star Child

By Ibi Zoboi,

Book cover of Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

My love affair with Octavia Butler began early when I encountered her short story collection, Bloodchild, in college. I was so taken with the questions she was asking about the nature of being human, our seemingly innate need to form a hierarchy and dominate others, and possibilities for freedom and transformation. The best part was that she did it all through a sci-fi lens...one that she infused with a distinctly Black feminist perspective. I had never read anything like it. And now, we finally have a biography for young people (and really for everyone) about her life, her mind, and preoccupations as a young woman. Ibi Zoboi has deftly penned what she is calling a "biographical constellation" of a young Butler, written primarily in short poems, but also including micro-essays on the social context of her youth, and copies of some of her first writings. Anyone with an imagination…


Who am I?

I love stories and storytelling of all kinds – from YA to memoir to journalism to children's picture books. If there is a story worth telling I will pursue it, regardless of genre. I'm particularly fascinated by stories that are out of the mainstream, are hidden, or come from people and cultures at the intersections of place, race, and gender. See No Color, about a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, was my first YA novel, and it was followed by Dream Country, which chronicles five generations of a Liberian and Liberian American family. I co-edited an anthology on BIPOC women's experiences with miscarriage and infant loss, What God Is Honored Here?


I wrote...

See No Color

By Shannon Gibney,

Book cover of See No Color

What is my book about?

Alexandra Kirtridge is a 16-year-old baseball prodigy. She's also a mixed Black girl adopted into a white family, who wonders about her racial identity, where she fits in in her family and among her peers. Then she discovers letters from her Black birth father that her white adoptive parents have kept from her and is propelled into a journey that changes her life forever.

Transforming Scriptures

By Katherine Clay Bassard,

Book cover of Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible

Drawing upon her expertise in African American literature, Katherine Clay Bassard writes about the ways Black women poets, novelists, preachers, and orators from the 1700s through the 1900s used biblical themes and images to challenge the dominant culture’s oppression of women and people of color. African American women used a variety of scriptural images, including the Queen of Sheba and the “black but comely” female speaker in the Song of Songs, to argue for Black women’s dignity. Bassard celebrates African American women’s creativity and their shrewd employment of scriptural passages to engage in resistance to racism and sexism.   


Who am I?

As a historian with expertise in the early church, Middle Ages, and Reformation, I am obsessed with finding the writings and stories of women of the past. Whenever we discover works written by an unknown or forgotten woman in an archive or historical record, my co-author Marion Taylor and I excitedly email one another: “We rescued another woman!” I study the history of biblical interpretation and the history of women in religion. In most of my books, these two interests intersect—as I write about men throughout history who viewed stories of biblical women through patriarchal lenses and how women themselves have been biblical interpreters, often challenging men’s prevailing views. 


I wrote...

Voices Long Silenced: Women Biblical Interpreters Through the Centurie

By Joy Schroeder, Marion Ann Taylor,

Book cover of Voices Long Silenced: Women Biblical Interpreters Through the Centurie

What is my book about?

This is the first-ever 2000-year history of women who interpreted the Bible. Countless Jewish and Christian women studied and wrote about scripture from 100 to 2000 CE, but their stories remained largely untold. Co-author Marion Taylor and I combed historical records, unearthing fascinating accounts of women from diverse communities throughout the world. Female rabbinic experts, nuns, mothers, mystics, preachers, suffragists, and household managers interpreted Scripture through writings, music, and art. We narrate the struggles and achievements of women who gained access to education and biblical texts. We lament writings that perished, whether deliberately destroyed or lost simply because no one bothered to save them. Often interpreting scripture differently than men did, women argued for expanded roles in the church, synagogue, and society.

Forgotten Readers

By Elizabeth McHenry,

Book cover of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies

One of the important themes that emerges from Black history is the importance of literacy in gaining freedom and seeking respect and equality. Elizabeth McHenry shows how African Americans used not just individual literacy but book clubs and social clubs organized around reading to achieve their goals. I loved reading about this quiet, behind-the-scenes element of the fight for participation in American civic culture


Who am I?

As an avid reader, I'm curious about where books come from and what they do. How does a story get to be a book? How does someone become an author? What is happening to us as we read? I worked in publishing, and eventually, I started teaching other people how to become editors and publishers. As a faculty member, I had time to study and write about book history. I joined the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing when it was formed and became its president. The conferences helped me to learn about the history of books throughout the world and from pre-print times to the present.


I wrote...

Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

By Beth Luey,

Book cover of Expanding the American Mind: Books and the Popularization of Knowledge

What is my book about?

Even in an age of Google and Wikipedia, we continue to rely on books written by historians, scientists, economists, and other researchers to learn more about important subjects. My book looks at serious nonfiction—its authors, publishers, and readers—in the United States since World War II, the moment when the GI Bill opened college to thousands, and when paperbacks became widely available. I used the books themselves, publishers’ archives, authors’ correspondence, and surveys to learn why and how scholars and others write serious books for serious readers, and what those readers expect from the books they choose.

African American Poetry

By Kevin Young,

Book cover of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

Kevin Young’s anthology is the latest in a long line of Black poetry anthologies; the first was James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Young duly acknowledges. Most of Young’s choices I agree with; some I don’t (at least one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s great sonnets should have been included); but in the main it is a terrific anthology of poets historical up to the present day. I counted almost 40 sonnets among the poems included. Readers who are interested in the dates the poems were published can turn to an extensive set of notes in the back, which are really helpful.


Who am I?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.


I wrote...

Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

By Hollis Robbins,

Book cover of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

What is my book about?

Forms of Contention tells the story of 250 years of African American sonnet influence: who wrote sonnets and when, who published sonnets, who praised and who opposed the form, who wrote about them critically, how sonnets were included in anthologies, how sonnets have been in and out of fashion, and how sonnet writers contended with each other’s works. The story of the sonnet’s appeal to African American poets from the nineteenth century through the tumultuous twentieth and into the twenty-first, even as sonnet writing remained a vexed pursuit for black poets, for black poetry anthologizers, for Black Arts advocates, and for Black Studies academics, is rich and surprising.

Forms of Contention argues persuasively that the sonnet form should no longer be considered a European form but is in fact an African American poetic form, since some of the best practitioners for the past generations have been Black poets.

Letter to My Daughter

By Maya Angelou,

Book cover of Letter to My Daughter

This book is written by the late, great Maya Angelou and it is a must-read. As an African American woman the wisdom passed on by our matriarchs is not only needed but essential. Letter to My Daughter, is just that, a letter to me. It encompasses the wisdom of a well-lived life and a strong desire to pay it forward. This is not just a book it is a teaching tool that will leave its reader with a sense of grounding that only a long afternoon conversation with a wise elder can. Grab a glass of sweet tea and glean. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a reader since childhood and books have simply become a part of my life’s tapestry. They have comforted me in times of stress. They have provided me with ripples of joy. And simply kept me up almost all night. The books that I have recommended underscore the changing cultures of the human condition all centered around three universal themes, faith, mental illness, and family. When drafting my first novel I dived into simply capturing aspects of the human condition. As a mental health clinician I see the many tides of life and how the human condition has many times been couched within family dynamics. 


I wrote...

Revelation: A Novel

By Bobi Gentry Goodwin,

Book cover of Revelation: A Novel

What is my book about?

Angela Lovelace is a well-trained social worker. She has been working for Child Protective Services for nearly five years and she has never had one sleepless night. But after she sees her father’s tattered picture on the apartment wall of a little boy whose addict mother just died, she sets out to uncover the truth. 

While Angela conducts her investigation, she finds her family and personal life spiraling out of control. Her brother simultaneously navigates the ravages of substance abuse, her sister struggles with infertility, and her father simply tries to keep the family together. The Lovelace family must look to their faith in God and each other to discover something they had all along, resilience.

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