17 books directly related to African American authors 📚

All 17 African American author books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Briefs

By John Edgar Wideman,

Book cover of Briefs

Why this book?

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.


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

By Elizabeth McHenry,

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

Why this book?

If you think that literary societies have nothing to do with African American community activism, then this book will make you think again. African Americans were excluded from schools, libraries, and most of the usual publishing outlets—but they still developed a vibrant culture that produced newspapers, pamphlets, and books, and they developed libraries and literary societies committed to reading these and other productions. McHenry expertly guides us through this relatively unknown but central culture of reading, tracing the rise of African American literary societies, the work of the Black Press, and the vital connection between reading, writing, and social reform efforts. These efforts were supported by broader African American organizational efforts, the creation of churches and mutual aid societies that provided refuge for readers and forums for writers, and McHenry explores the social and intellectual networks that developed from these efforts, as African Americans read their way to new visions of community and renewed commitments to ongoing activism.  


Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

By Glory Edim,

Book cover of Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

Why this book?

In this anthology, twenty-one Black women writers, including Jesmyn Ward, Gabourey Sidibe, Lynn Nottage, and Tayari Jones, write about the first time they saw themselves reflected in literature. This moving collection of essays is at once a love letter to books and an exploration of the intersection of race, gender, and the written word.    


Selected Poems

By Gwendolyn Brooks,

Book cover of Selected Poems

Why this book?

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.


How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

By Saeed Jones,

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

Why this book?

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.


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

By La Donna Forsgren,

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

Why this book?

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.


Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

By Ibi Zoboi,

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

Why this book?

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 will love this book.


Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible

By Katherine Clay Bassard,

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

Why this book?

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.   


Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

By Farah Jasmine Griffin,

Book cover of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Why this book?

Although her father died when she was only nine, the great scholar of African American life and literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin has never forgotten his admonition to her: “Read until you understand.” In this beautiful book, Professor Griffin guides us to an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Malcolm X, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, the artist Romare Bearden, and writers as different as the enslaved 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. As educators, we have read and re-read and read again. Every read reveals a new level of understanding and we are grateful for the journey on which Professor Griffin leads us.


Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir

By Brian Broome,

Book cover of Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir

Why this book?

This one is a true outlier, because I don’t know Brian Broome, but after reading his incredible memoir, I wish I did because he’s an amazing human and a wonderful storyteller. His book is dealing with blackness, queerness and the expectations surrounding black manhood and his struggle to reject violence in favor of love and ultimately, of self-love as well. I haven’t seen him up close, but in photos, he totally looks super pretty, so he has that in common with every one of these authors. I loved his book and can’t wait for his next.  


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

By Kevin Young,

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

Why this book?

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.


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

Why this book?

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).


Wow, No Thank You.: Essays

By Samantha Irby,

Book cover of Wow, No Thank You.: Essays

Why this book?

A writer with a hyperactive inner world makes a life with her partner whose existence seems wildly different from her own. It is easy to fall in love with Irby and her rollicking humor. Someone whose brilliance, independence, and talent sets her apart enters into marriage, stepmotherhood, and full small-town regalia. How does that work? Very well, in fact.


Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

Why this book?

Hurston, a prominent novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist during the Harlem Renaissance time, she finds her greatest recognition in her fictional book Their Eyes Were Watching God. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America.  A graduate of Barnard College, she attended graduate classes at Columbia University and receives several honors for her ethnographic research as a pioneer writer of “folk fiction’ about the black South.

Although she gained considerable fame for a brief time, she dies in near obscurity and poverty although a resurgence of her writings influenced a new group of black women writers. I especially valued reading Dust Tracks on the Road, her poignant autobiographical memoir first published in 1942 after reading Alice Walker’s essay of her search to find Hurston’s unmarked grave. 


Letter to My Daughter

By Maya Angelou,

Book cover of Letter to My Daughter

Why this book?

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. 


The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States

By Derrick R. Spires,

Book cover of The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States

Why this book?

This is a fascinating book that deals with one of the central dilemmas in American history—that a nation committed to high ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a republic made up of people from several lands could also be a nation committed to racial oppression and the denial of fundamental rights. It considers citizenship not as noun but as verb—a dynamic process, not just a legal affiliation. Spires gets at the complexity of American life, explaining approaches to citizenship that required savvy improvisation, community formation, and determined commitment to ideals that were violated by the dominant culture at every turn. Spires explores the tensions, the disagreements over directions and methods, that were part of this collective effort, and the concepts of citizenship that emerged from those productive debates. Among a great many other things, readers will learn a lot about African American intellectual life, writing, and community activism in the nineteenth century. 


Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood

By Cecelie Berry,

Book cover of Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood

Why this book?

This anthology brings together diverse Black women’s voices to discuss motherhood, they range from mothers who celebrate their role to women who ask why motherhood is cast upon all of us as a necessary step, they explore the joys as well as some of the painful realities of loss and postpartum depression. Reading these stories from varied perspectives in short essay formats makes it approachable and allows you to move through it at a pace that is comfortable for any reader.